American Morning

Tune in at 6am Eastern for all the news you need to start your day.
July 5th, 2010
10:00 AM ET

Nuclear fusion the 'Holy Grail' of green energy?

(CNN) – There are a lot of options on the path to better, greener power: solar, wind, hydro-electric. But for a small and devoted group, the way to move ahead is nuclear fusion. Believe it or not, but that tech-savvy guy next door may just be building a fusion reactor in his basement. Our Carol Costello introduces us to one of these amateur scientists.

Filed under: Tech
soundoff (10 Responses)
  1. William

    far too many of those who have commented here (particularly Smith and mr 'Trained Physicist' are missing the point.

    First off, Smith is ignoring the fact that the principal objective of the Fusor and its' derived designs is not to utilize reactions that produce large quantities of neutrons. their true aim is to 'burn' fuels that produce the bulk of their energy output in charged particles – Aneutronic reactions. the inertial electrostatic confinement method is the only current method that can contain such reactions for long enough durations for fusion to occur due to the reactants being contained not by a magnetic field as in the tokamaks and their ilk, but by their attraction to a charged potential well. the problem with fusors is that too many of the the reactant ions strike the ionising grid – a problem which the bussard polywell has greatly reduced. in any case, the future use of aneutronic reactions would minimize both the shielding needs and the radioactive waste problems currently incurred with neutron-based reactions.

    Mr. 'Trained Physicist', while acknowledging some of the history of the Fusor and it's descendant designs, has ignored (either willfully or not) the reasons for why the world's researchers focus so single-mindedly on tokamak derived designs. there is one simple overriding reason: money. Magnetic confinement techniques were proven to be ineffective back in the 1960's – no matter how large the confinement vessel, energized plasma will eventually manage to jump across the field lines and strike the walls of the chamber, thus losing their energy. Governments continue to throw money at this failed concept – which has garnered the saying 'the russians gave the world tokamaks because they already knew they wouldn't work' in the fusor community.

    pound for pound, dollar for dollar, IEC derived designs do more fusion than any tokamak. it is easy to say that tokamaks are more experimentally verified than IEC, but that is a circular logic fallacy – of COURSE they are.. they've had tens if not hundreds of billions of dollars invested into them! how much has IEC had invested? not much considering that most researchers working with them work out of their basements or garages.

    July 8, 2010 at 4:20 pm |
  2. Brian H

    This is just playing with inefficient fusion.

    For a real project that plans to reach scientific proof of unity this year (2010), check out the site. The goal is to have a design for a 5MW generator that will be licensed to all comers (manufacturers) world-wide within about 3 years. The capital and operating costs will be about 1/20 of current alternatives.

    It will cause a global revolution.

    July 6, 2010 at 7:38 pm |
  3. Trained physicist

    Many brilliant men and women share Mr. Suppes passion for developing nuclear fusion as an economically viable energy source. This passion drives these men and women to devote their careers to understanding and overcoming the challenges of making a "star on earth." Mr. Suppes has set up an experiment that has been performed by a variety of scientists and tinkers since the 1960's. This device is a nice way to make neutrons from fusion, but does not scale to an economical reactor. This is not my opinion, but based on rigorous peer reviews of the physics of fusor-like devices. While it is exciting to envision a small, relatively inexpensive fusion reactor, the reality is that the scientific theories with the best experimental verification dictate that an economical fusion reactor will be on the scale of the multi-billion dollar National Ignition Facility or ITER. This story celebrates a man who believes there is a shortcut in the laws of physics. Meanwhile, there are hundreds of accomplished physicists and engineers throughout the world whose ingenuity and creativity truly move us closer to developing the world's first fusion reactor. CNN should have done better.

    July 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm |
  4. vt

    Experiments like this exist in many universities and labs across the world. I've known many graduate students experimenting new configurations on a small scale. To claim he has achieved fusion is really far fetched. All you can say is that he has built a plasma confinement device. He should first publish his results in a reputed journal before making tall claims to media.

    July 6, 2010 at 1:56 am |
  5. Lisa

    Wow that was worthless. You guys are really good at marketing but that report had no meat at all.

    July 6, 2010 at 1:07 am |
  6. Smith in Oregon

    There seems to be a very large amount of utter ignorance in regards to painting 'Nuclear Fusion' as Green Energy.

    Nuclear Fusion creates an extreme amount of very energetic Neutron streams which would over a very short time kill everyone in the vicinity if it were not very heavily shielded. Ok, heavily shielded, go that.

    AND after a year or less of being blasted by highly energetic Neutron streams the very large and extremely heavy duty reactor vessel would become radioactive itself. Ok, how radioactive?

    Low to medium radioactive. A commercial Fusion reactor vessel would weigh many thousands of TONS. Consequently you would end up dealing with thousands of TONS of low to medium radioactive WASTE when retiring or replacing the reaction vessel every 5 – 10 years. Replacing it? Yes, years of blasting the hell out of the reactor vessel with streams of Neutron beams blasts microscopic holes right thru it, weakening it and forcing it's replacement over time.

    How GREEN are Fusion Reactors on a commercial scale? Not that GREEN. You STILL end up with thousands of TONS of radioactive material to store away from all human exposure for 1 Million years.

    Fusion Reactors are not GREEN, class Dismissed.

    July 5, 2010 at 6:09 pm |
  7. Kadara

    Interesting, but nothing that hasn't been done before unless he's using some unique way of containing the plasma. ITER should solve most of the problems with fusion in the next couple of decades, and then designs should be available for comercial reactors.

    July 5, 2010 at 2:43 pm |
  8. Ms. Lunceford

    Can someone tell me how to get a hold of the amateur scientist that creates nuclear fusion as seen on "Nuclear fusion the Holy Grail of Green Energy"?

    July 5, 2010 at 2:02 pm |
  9. William

    CNN... you are WAY behind the curve on this story. the history of this particular reactor design does back to the late 1960s... it is the brainchild of Filo Farnsworth, the inventor of the original Television. Suppes is only one of *hundreds* of amateur experimenters who have built and are operating Fusors currently, ranging from high school students all the way up to full-blown university research programs.

    your downplaying of the Fusor design via your somewhat derogatory comparison of the Fusor to larger, phenomenally expensive Tokamak derived designs is a clear logical fallacy – one that the scientific community has pursued for the last 60 years now to the exclusion of other ideas and the wasting of untold billions of dollars in investment capital. Also, this story unjustly (and derogatively) compared Suppes and his colleagues to 'professionally trained' scientists. it is independent researchers like Suppes and his colleagues who make true breakthroughs, because they are not beholden to political whim or conventional 'wisdom'.

    I would suggest you get this story properly up to date by doing a piece on the child of the Fusor – the Bussard Polywell, which is currently undergoing development at the EMC2 Fusion Develo0pment Corporation. Also, your correspondents should read up on the history of fusion research – it will give them insights as to why we don't have breakeven yet.

    July 5, 2010 at 12:34 pm |
  10. Jack Yedvobnick

    I'm very disappointed in Costello for two reasons:
    1- not doing any research on fusion power before doing the story. If she had, she would have found out that scientists have successfully developed a fusion reactor that had a net gain in energy output. But its far from being a practical energy source and ...
    2- By basically treating this guy as a borderline "nut case" and not asking more astute questions like- what's your IQ? He may be a genius, but we wouldn't know, due to her poor journalistic instincts!

    Carol.... go back and do it right this time!

    July 5, 2010 at 11:26 am |