Elusive Fusion Power: Our Greatest Challenge? It Will Not Invent Itself

We seek him here, we seek him there,
Those Frenchies seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven? — Is he in hell?
That damned, elusive Pimpernel __ The Scarlet Pimpernel

Controlled nuclear fusion is like the Scarlet Pimpernel: damned elusive, and furiously sought by the French, among others. But the massively exorbitant effort to harness fusion that is located in France, looks ever more elusive by the year.

Perhaps what is needed is a more clever approach (or approaches).

h/t The Fusion Blog

Nuclear Fusion Offers the Highest Energy Density of Current Approaches

Nuclear fusion is commonplace inside the core of stars. But down here on Earth, fusion is far more difficult to control where humans make their homes. But the quest is worth pursuing, given the quantities of energy involved.

The chart below displays a number of current and past approaches to earth-based nuclear fusion for electric power and heat. Nuclear fusion is such a tantalizing prospect because of its potential to revolutionise human existence, providing unlimited heat and power into the indefinite future. Fusion is likely to be the primary power source for future human societies on Earth and in outer space.

Approaches to Nuclear Fusion Source

Approaches to Nuclear Fusion

Sure many of these ideas will fail, but if one hits net power, it will fundamentally change human civilization, forever. Fusion is coming along much faster than folks realize. It also has the potential to make a much wider and deeper impact on human civilization than most appreciate.


Look at the comparative energy densities of various forms of energy which are potentially available to humans, and notice the advantage that nuclear reactions provide. If humans intend to build a decent future for their progeny, they will take these things into account when planning their energy research budgets.

Energy Density Comparison from Wikipedia Fusion, Fission Orders of Magnitude Better than Chemical and Other Energy Sources

Energy Density Comparison from Wikipedia
Fusion, Fission Orders of Magnitude Better than Chemical and Other Energy Sources

A combination of nuclear fusion and advanced nuclear fission would provide humans with as much heat and power as they might conceivably need. The small amount of hydrocarbon power that might be needed for niche uses would be entirely unobjectionable to anyone with a working brain.

Clean, unlimited, affordable energy opens the door to an expansive and abundant human future. If, on the other hand, human societies follow the ruinous energy prescriptions of Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, and the other usual suspects, their descendants can look forward to living in caves, in ever dwindling and sickeningly deprived generations, over time. Echoes of Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos.

Fusion in a quantum femtosecond

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12 Responses to Elusive Fusion Power: Our Greatest Challenge? It Will Not Invent Itself

  1. Improbus says:

    Maybe you could share this outlook with some Republicans. It seems they have never met a resource extraction industry they didn’t like. Orange Foolius thinks coal is the answer.

    • alfin2101 says:

      I suspect that in the US more Democrat party members have opposed nuclear power than Republican party members. That is irrelevant.

      The truth is that coal, gas, oil are all needed to bridge the gap between current energy technologies and future, more advanced, largely nuclear reaction powered energy technologies.

      The reason Germany, Japan, China, India, and so many other countries are increasingly turning to coal, is because for all its faults, coal works!

      Reliable and plentiful energy of an affordable nature is a life or death issue for societies. Ideology such as the lefty-green cult should not signify in energy policy planning.

      Solar and wind have the unfortunate characteristic of being unpredicably intermittent, depending on weather patterns. For high latitudes such as Germany or Canada, the problem is even more dire for wind/solar. The expense is a killer, as more of Germany’s energy consumers are discovering to their horror.

  2. Lab Guy says:

    I used to read the science magazines in the 80’s. Fusion was a big topic at that time but for the billions spent no one could ever seem to get anything working.

    • from the 80s to the early 2000s, virtually nothing happened. There was excitement over a proposal for what became ITER, but there was a delay of about 25 years before it got funding to go ahead.

    • alfin2101 says:

      Very true. The 1980s: Space Colonies, Fusion, Radical Life Extension, Intelligence Boosting, Timothy Leary’s SMI2LE, Human level AI, and many more audacious futuristic ideas were commonly discussed with sober and realistic expectations.

      But it is much easier to imagine futuristic technologies than to invent them and make them economically, socially, and politically feasible. “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”

      Part of the job of working out the future is determining which things can be done now, which will have to be done later, and which can likely not be done at all.

      Obviously fusion is not one of the things that can be done now. It takes massive stars to initiate and control nuclear fusion, and the radiation output is very hazardous for long distances in all directions without protection. The idea that humans could safely achieve something similar on a small scale, using man-made materials and human-generated energies, is a bold assumption. And yet some of the world’s most canny and wealthy persons are investing in the idea. Why? The payoff is so huge.

      Many things that a few people have accomplished were previously unimaginable by the masses — including most experts! The best attitude to adopt toward fusion is the same attitude one might well adopt toward most things in life: open minded scepticism.

  3. bob sykes says:

    We have 40 years of failure in fusion research. It doesn’t look to change soon.

    Back in the 1970s, Science published a series of articles on the then new tokamak machine, the father of the ITER machine. They concluded that a fusion reactor would be so big that its power output would cost 10 times the next most expensive power source, at that time nuclear fission.

    Once the coal runs out, we will have to turn to the marine gas clathrates.

    • painlord2k says:

      We have 40 years of failures of government’s fusion research.
      Currently a number of groups privately funded (some by groups with very deep pockets) are working on it. Everyone is trying a different approach and everyone is doing this on a scale way smaller than the government projects.

      I believe one of these will succeed way before any government funded project.

  4. Dan_Kurt says:

    re: “Nuclear fusion is commonplace inside the core of stars.” AF

    That is an assumption.

    Two facts that should make pause over Solar Nuclear fusion’s core location’s veracity are (1) missing neutrinos, and (2) inverted heat profile of solar atmosphere: cooler to warmer in Photosphere, Chromosphere, Corona as the first law of thermodynamics says heat transfers from hotter to cooler not the reverse.

    Dan Kurt

    • Jim says:

      The current understanding of stellar evolution which includes the nucleosynthesis occurring in the cores of stars agrees pretty well with astronomical observations of stars and explains the various cosmic abundances of the elements.

      • Dan_Kurt says:

        I presume you are the owner of Jim’s Blog.

        You didn’t address my two points. (I am not impressed, btw, with magnetic reconnection.)

        Dan Kurt

        • alfin2101 says:

          Astrophysics is outside my field, but seems likely to me that gravitational confinement at the core is necessary — although perhaps not sufficient — to force nuclei into close enough proximity to fuse. As for the heating of the photosphere –> corona, we know that energy can be transmitted over a distance (via energetic waves or particles) only to be turned into heat when it reaches its destination. In such cases a more expanded view of the thermodynamics involved is needed.

          Dielectric heating (eg microwave oven), induction heating, etc. We know that very strong fields pervade and surround active stars, in a complex dynamic manner that is beyond my ability to monitor properly.

          Please feel free to leave links to books, articles, research studies, etc.

          As always, we have a perfect right to our own opinions. Facts, on the other hand, require a lot of supporting evidence.

  5. Dan_Kurt says:

    re:”Please feel free to leave links to books, articles, research studies, etc.” AF

    Here is just one. http://www.thesurfaceofthesun.com

    I am not associated with this site and don’t necessarily advocate its viewpoint but give it as an example of just one point of view of the subject because of the non satisfactory nature of the standard model.

    Dan Kurt

    p.s Three days ago I attended a lecture by a retired professor of Astronomy and listened to him show his explanation of the theory of stellar evolution (Hertzsprung-Russell Diagram). He showed his mathematical model of approximating stellar evolution by solving simultaneous partial differential equations (four per simulation with four unknowns) by approximation and then iteration. He was pleased that his results which took thousands and thousands of calculations per star were so close to what one would find given mass and luminosity starting points and each star’s evolution followed the H-R path. He showed that his model elegantly mimicked the theory. My comment to him was that his math modeled what the theory predicted quite well but his model assumed that the theory was correct. He had no solution for double stars. And had no theory let alone model concerning standard nova theory. He joked that his single star modeling was complex but a star, a single star, was a simple subject to model numerically unlike modeling binary systems or modeling climate with its dazzling number of parameters most of which have to be ignored.

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