to Oil and Nuclear Fission Energy Generation
In a 2006 issue of Nature (Volume 442, pp. 230-231, 20 July 2006) Eugenie Samuel Reich reported S. Putterman’s belief that Rusi Taleyarkhan, leader of the group that developed the bubble fusion process, used DARPA funding, implying, the article appears to suggest, ‘misuse of federal dollars’, a serious allegation.
Professor Brian Josephson of Cambridge University has taken issue with Nature over what he considers to be unfounded allegations, published for no better reason than that they constitute a “worthwhile story”.
This is not the first time that research into alternative methods of achieving nuclear fusion for power generation has come under attack.
In March 1989, the initial claims for cold fusion were reported by Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons of the University of Utah. The resulting controversy ended in the rejection of cold fusion by the mainstream scientific community. Subsequent research has been fragmentary and largely unsupported. Reports claiming a degree of success have tended to be disregarded.
In a recent article in the online magazine Spectrum, members of the Bubble Fusion Project team, Richard T. Lahey Jr., Rusi P. Taleyarkhan, and Robert I. Nigmatulin, summarise the attractions of thermonuclear fusion.
In principle, the deuterium present in one cubic kilometer of seawater could supply all the world’s energy needs for several hundred years. Nuclear fusion promises cheap, clean, safe and virtually limitless energy, which existing fission-based generators do not. Unsurprisingly, billions have been expended world-wide in efforts to develop a feasible process.
There were high hopes when the British ZETA project began in 1954. Within four years the project was shut down in the belief that no further progress was possible with this design.
JET, the Joint European Torus, the largest nuclear fusion experimental reactor yet built, started construction in 1978 and the first experiments began in 1983. In 1997 JET achieved a world record peak fusion power output of 16 MW. In doing this it consumed over 22 MW, equalling a net power output of minus 6 MW. The ITER process now under development is expected to further increase fusion power production.
Thus, 50 years of “conventional” science with enormous expense have produced results which are no better than promising. The central problem, which has so far proved intractable, is that of creating and controlling a gas plasma under the conditions of extreme temperature and pressure existing at the centre of the sun.
It might be thought that in the present circumstances surrounding energy supply, pioneering attempts to solve the problems of nuclear fusion would be generally welcomed and supported; at least until they proved impracticable. Compared with the demands of big science, the costs are likely to be minute.
The attempt in Nature, based upon what appears to be shaky evidence, to discredit the Bubble Fusion Project is to be deprecated.
Professor Josephson is right to draw attention to this and is surely justified in concluding, “It is unusual, to say the least, for a journal such as Nature to take such a cavalier attitude to such matters.”