Fri Apr 13th, 2012 at 04:22:29 AM EST
Over on Slashdot, some MIT fusion researchers answer some community questions. If you're interested in the technology there's some interesting bits there and I recommend it.
But there's one piece that I want to quote, because the number in it really got me thinking:
front-paged with a title edit by afew
MIT Fusion Researchers Answer Your Questions - Slashdot
MIT Researchers: Questions 11 and 14 are similar and we have answered them together.
Any kind of question asking about a hypothetical massive increase in funding is tricky to answer. We probably couldn't even spend a trillion dollars if we wanted to - just because it would take a long time to get enough people trained in plasma physics and fusion energy.
We can say this: an increase in funding would allow for different paths to be tried in parallel, like stellarators, tokamaks (ITER), spherical tokamaks, etc. Plus, we could build a facility in the United States to study the problem of plasma-wall interactions, which is a very important topic that has not been adequately studied up to this point (see our answer above about what steps are needed to get to a reactor).
We think that we're roughly $80-billion away from a reactor. At current levels of funding (worldwide), that's about 40 years. Even given access to huge amounts of money, it's unlikely that a working reactor could be built in less than a decade - there are just too many facilities to build between current devices and a full-scale reactor in order to ensure success. But we could certainly do it faster than 40 years!
We want to note that "crash" programs like Apollo or the Manhattan Project succeeded because they took risks - they started work on building their systems before they had done all the homework. That is inherently risky, but these risks are mitigated by pursuing alternatives in parallel. Something similar could be done in fusion, given the money.
Now just recently I also saw this number in a diary by JakeS.
The discredited Daniel Cohn-Bendit made this statement:
If you enacted a 0.1% tax on every phone call happened in Europe, in addition to the tax on financial transactions, these could generate, according to calculations, between 50 and 80 billion euros per year that would go into Europe's coffers.
So - $80 billion eh?
Now the point of this diary is not to cheerlead for fusion - there are other energy technologies out there - for example:
$555 Billion Sahara Solar Energy Belt Takes Giant Step Forward | Inhabitat - Sustainable Design Innovation, Eco Architecture, Green Building
A giant step has been made in what will be the world's largest renewable energy project. While previously just a grand vision for the production of clean energy in the Saharan desert, the project now has a core group of backers and a signed agreement between 12 companies wanting to move forward with the $555 billion renewable energy belt. The 12 collaborators signed articles of association last week for the DESERTEC Industrial Initiative (DII), which will work to bring more companies and groups on board as well as focus on regulations and conditions to get the project successfully completed and generating pure power from the sun.
Let me emphasise again - this diary is not going to be about choosing an energy option - so there's no need to go comparing an $80 billion apple with a $500 billion orange in the search for a cleaner energy source.
Rather, my point is to develop a sense of what kind of infrastructure and/or scientific investments we should be making.
It seems to me that one of the hidden tragedies of the neo-liberal revolution is that we have lost an understanding of how big investments are needed to move society forward.
An example would be Bazalgette's sewer system in London.
£3 million in 1850 translates (depending on the measure used) to around £2 billion now. Now that was an investment in the capital city of an Empire... but you'd surely pay more to change the shape of our energy landscape.
The curse of the neo-liberal revolution is that it has cut away at our sense of investment and cut away at the institution - government - capable of investments of this size...
The neo-liberal mindset is in the process of destroying our society's ability to progress...