FMBR Editorial: April, 2007
The Fusion Torch
William C. Gough and Bernard J. Eastlund
In the 1960s we were young scientists working in the Research Division of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) on a new and infinite energy source for the world – controlled fusion power. It was considered a long-range research and development effort. We therefore projected ahead to the twenty first century and recognized the major energy needs, resource depletion, waste production, and environmental issues including global warming that our world would face as the developing nations industrialized and population increased. These projections have now become reality. To significantly mitigate these problems we proposed in 1969 a concept known as the Fusion Torch. Basically this concept would apply the ultra-high temperature plasmas (ionized gas) found in fusion research devices and future fusion reactors to reduce any material to its basic elements for separation. Thus, we could effectively close the material cycle from use to reuse.
The concept was presented to the scientific community, received international recognition, appeared in major publications like Scientific American, and was endorsed by Nobel Laureate Dr. Glenn Seaborg who was the AEC’s Chairman at that time. However, the fusion power program was in its infancy and there was little political pressure for environmentally desirable energy alternatives, and very little thought about alternative applications for recycling or the future implications of the developing world. We had presented an idea before the technology and our culture were ready.
Since 1969 the controlled fusion program continued as a limited funded plasma research activity – annually equivalent to about one day of the Iraq War. Never the less, during that 35 years fusion plasma physics has become a mature engineering science and exceptional progress has been made towards the plasma conditions required for a fusion power plant and the Fusion Torch -- the conditions necessary for breakeven fusion power production have advanced four orders of magnitude. The internationally sponsored fusion reactor being designed for construction in France is targeted to reach breakeven conditions. This completes the half million improvement in plasma conditions that magnetic fusion needed in 1969. In addition, the idea of breaking apart solid and gaseous materials in ultra-high temperature plasmas has now been experimentally demonstrated. Once broken into the basic elements the particles must be separated. There are many possible separation techniques and in 1971 we discussed eight of these including the plasma centrifuge and electromagnetic processes. Since that date there have been significant advances in particle separation technologies. Dr. Eastlund in the 1990’s obtained patents for separation techniques specifically applicable to Fusion Torch environments.
We believe that today’s world fusion program should redirect its primary focus from electrical production to Fusion Torch applications. Such applications represent a unique capability of controlled fusion technology and are not an inherent possibility in any other energy option. The focus of the current fusion program is upon using the deuterium-tritium (D-T) fuel cycle. This produces copious amounts of very fast neutrons and requires an inefficient heat cycle. A D-T cycle would be an effective radioactive waste transmutation device that could incorporate the Fusion Torch principles. However, for the primary Fusion Torch application we propose an environmentally friendly fusion fuel that is effectively neutron free – the p-B11 cycle. This uses boron, an abundant nontoxic element.
The United States and Turkey are the world’s largest producers of boron. One familiar use is as a natural laundry booster sold since 1891 as “20 Mule Team Borax” from the Mojave Desert of California. Over 80% of boron is the isotope B-11 required for fusion. The p-B11 fusion fuel cycle will require another one or two orders of magnitude above the D-T fuel cycle. It is our hypothesis that this increase is technologically feasible and has many advantages. Because the energy is released as charged particles rather than as neutrons, the cycle is well suited for high efficiency direct electrical conversion, hydrogen and portable fuel production, and materials recycling using the Fusion Torch concept.
One implication of the Fusion Torch concept is a new approach to global economics. Mainstream economics either ignores the economy’s relation to the environment or assumes that the environment is a subset of the economy (like resource extraction or waste processing). Thus, our society has become infatuated with an economics of throw-a-way growth. The long-range implications of the Fusion Torch would make that mode of economics obsolete and move society into the antithesis of the growth economy. Society would then be based upon steady-state economics since the cycle from use to reuse would be closed. Thus, instead of nations trying to maximize their gross domestic product, and hence the flow of materials, future societies must minimize their physical flow of production and consumption and reduce their gross domestic product. The environmental implications are immense.
In summary we are proposing a major national (and worldwide) effort to use advanced fusion concepts to assure raw material availability, stop waste buildup, reduce environmental pollution, and enhance our long-term security. The biological and physical sciences are now accelerating our understanding of the interplay between the body/mind/spirit. We are all interconnected with each other and the entire ecosystem. Our thoughts and actions will determine our future. The 1969 Fusion Torch paper closed with the statement: “The vision is there, its attainment does not appear to be blocked by nature. Its achievement will depend on the will and the desire of men to see that it is brought about.”
William C. Gough, FMBR Chairman of the Board and Bernard J. Eastlund
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