THE BLOG
09/06/2011 01:39 pm ET Updated Nov 06, 2011

Star Power for Humanity

This past week I hosted a group from the Tokyo University of Science at a seminar on the Manoa Campus of the University of Hawaii. Two presentations, in particular, were provided as the optimal solutions for Japan: the Blue Revolution and Heavy Ion Fusion.

The future of Japan was dramatically changed on 11March2011. I reported on the tsunami that was generated by the 9.0 earthquake, and flew into Narita Airport the following day. I reported on the Great Tohoku cataclysm and spent more than a month at the periphery of the tragedy with a few more postings.

Japan is in deep trouble. They are on their way to abandoning nuclear fission, and have meager solar, wind and biomass potential. They have onsens (geothermal spas) throughout the country, but most of their geo-resources are incapable of even replacing the nuclear powerplants being decommissioned at Fukushima. Their fossil fuel deposits are negligible and their current knee-jerk reaction is to import more liquified petroleum gases, and, even coal. If global warming is real, and all scientific reports are overwhelming about this prospect, the coming carbon tax will make this decision foolhardy.

Solar power from space, hot dry rock, marine methane hydrates and any of the more exotic options are 50 or more years away from commercialization. The ITER fusion project will take a generation or two to commercialize, if ever. What can they do?

Well, in the seminar I advanced the ocean as their greatest hope, plus heavy ion fusion was articulated by Charles Helsley, president of Fusion Power Corporation. I have published several articles in the Huffington Post on the former, but HEAVY ION FUSION is an old, but new concept that is a huge mystery.

Just so that we are on the same page, there are two kinds of nuclear power: fission and fusion. This is no doubt a poor analogy, but fission is to the Atomic Bomb as fusion is to the Hydrogen Bomb. Fission uses isotopes of uranium and plutonium and was all but eliminated as a future resource for humanity, first by Chernobyl, then more recently at Fukushima. Compound this problem with the threat of dirty bombs for terrorism and nuclear waste storage. Of course, you can't totally ignore the wishes of the masses, for they mostly now mistrust anything nuclear.

While fusion is nuclear energy, our Sun uses this reaction, and so do all the stars in the Universe. Thus, the term, Star Power.

There are two types of fusion: magnetic confinement (that donut or torus shaped machine, as being developed as ITER in France at a cost that is now expected to exceed $20 billion, just for the prototype), and inertial confinement, epitomized by laser experiments at our national laboratories. Both of these methods have undergone more than half a century of intensive research at a cost of more than $22.4 billion...and only in the USA. Look at it this way, we will spend three times more on the Stealth bomber just this coming year and this amount is only 72 days of the war in Afghanistan. Or, get this, $22.4 billion is one-fifth of Wall Street executive bonuses this past year!

Thus, let those conventional fusion experiments proceed, but I would like to interest the world in something called Heavy Ion Fusion (HIF), an offshoot of that laser fusion pathway. I have a kind of personal regret about this, because in the late '70's, I was working for Edward Teller (way below him) on laser fusion at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. A few of my colleagues were the individuals who, in the early '80's, "invented" Starwars for incoming President Ronald Reagan. While I have given credit to them for initiating the spark that ended the Cold war, possibly because of this developing new thrust, I have heard they they might have helped eliminate funding for heavy ion fusion R&D. Thus, this promising technology was buried about a third of a century ago.

Let me deviate here for another example of a horrible decision, for in the fifties, our braintrust selected uranium/plutonium as the preferred fuel for nuclear powerplants over thorium. Why? Because they wanted the wastes to build atomic bombs. If only we went with thorium and heavy ion fusion, we would today be in great shape to progress into the the future. With Peak Oil and Global Warming now looming, I fear the worst.

So, back to HIF, imagine a fuel cycle that produces synthetic fuels by taking carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere (to reduce global warming) and generate all the electricity you need as a by-product. The waste product will not be uranium and plutonium which have half lives of hundreds of thousands of years, but, minor radioactive compounds with short half-lives, and the whole process can be made commercial in a decade. According to credible scientists, there are no show stoppers.

Presently, Germany has the international lead on this effort. If Japan is in energy trouble, ditto for Germany, because, like Japan, current nuclear powerplants will be abandoned in about a decade, and Europe is not particularly endowed with sunlight, high winds and ample lands for biomass.

Just one such facility (and, a "problem" is that this type of fusion is best built only in very large sizes) could well replace all the nuclear powerplants in Japan at a cost of $50 billion. Remember, $50 billion is about a third of the bonus salaries our Wall Street executives got this past year.

I have neglected to explain exactly what Heavy Ion Fusion is, but click on Fusion Power Corporation for all the answers you need. HIF is the only sustainable energy alternative I know capable of providing ample amounts of electricity, gasoline and jet fuel, while maintaining a net zero carbon balance. The proponents further indicate that a commercial facility can be brought online in ten years.

Will Germany prevail? Can this fledgling American firm, Fusion Power Corporation, do it? I don't know, but STARPOWER is certainly worth a shot.