Look, it's a Large Helical Device!

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19 Responses:

  1. ultranurd says:

    Fusion-powered cybernetic cthuloid overlords?

  2. simoncion says:

    Man, that "high-rez" one linked to in the Long Now article looks like crap.

    Regardless... High energy physics is AWSOME! Thanks for the pictures!

  3. gwferguson says:

    Ooooo! Pretty! I wonder if someone could mod a home entertainment system to look like that.

  4. strspn says:

    Break-even is always just a few decades away....

    • strspn says:

      I like hot fusion, but my favorite hot fusion is 8 light minutes away. What do these people expect to do with the neutrons? No wonder the shielding looks modular, it probably needs to be replaced and disposed of with the hot trash.

      Using windmills to collect power is really the best solution. It's the only direct mitigation of global warming that extracts energy directly from the atmosphere. It's the most incremental form, in that you can install windmills pretty much in any open space and tie them to the grid. Just as you can add pumped-storage hydroelectricity to arbitrary points on the grid. It does NOT kill as many birds or fish as carbon-heated weather or carbonic acid-killed dead zones. Modern wind turbines have three very large, slow blades. Salmon can still spawn across rivers next to wind mills. Compared to the nasty shit in coal smoke, wind power is like night and day. Fusion is still much messier. Fusion gear is cool, but it's not precision gear.

      The corresponding precision gear is much cooler.

      • gryazi says:

        I don't disagree that we should be doing a lot more wind and solar, though if nothing else, the land use requirements necessarily make the deployments piecemeal. (It's unconscionable that we're still burning oil for heat when solar thermal is a no-brainer of a technology, and when retrofitting existing construction necessarily means you can still burn something when you need to to achieve 100% comfort at all times.)

        Fusion isn't all messy, though. The plasma/magnetic-confinement approach is necessarily big and imprecise, but the electrostatic confinement guys have quietly made some major advances. See the Should Google Go Nuclear? (large PDF) paper and the presentation by the same name. We can imagine meeting our current needs with renewables, but "too cheap to meter" still allows for some interesting possibilities. (Among other things, it'd make 'WiTricity' at 70% efficiency perfectly reasonable... and of course there are aerospace applications, where you may want as much energy as you can get but don't want to strap fissile material on top of what-you-hope-is-a controlled explosion, or want to power the launch with a ground laser outputs on par with 'our current needs.')

        Of course, even hot fission is clean compared to coal, but it's a serious setback that we can't see or smell it. If counters/dosimeters had become as cheap and common as transistor radios then this wouldn't be a problem, but nobody ever found an excuse to make that happen... and sadly, if one were found these days, too many people would jump at every click. (Maybe the geek impulse to turn cellphones into tricorders will still see it happen -- throw in a DC-to-light receiver, IR and UV imaging, and ionizing radiation would become just one more menu option for the curious.) I've always wanted one myself, but I'm a little skeeved that purchasing one might be far too interesting to the government. (Orwell, imagine getting pulled over with one on the rare chance that the cop recognizes it as one of those terrorist dirty-bomb things the DHS was talking about...)

        • strspn says:

          Each time you turned a coil on, the magnetic forces in
          the wires tended to push them apart; they had been
          moved a lot in those tests. We ran WB-6 on the 9th and
          10th of November, four times, and got these neutron

          On November 11th, we tried running WB-6 at a much
          higher voltage and drive. The coils had moved sut-ciently (they were just normal coils covered with varnish insulation) that at one corner they had worn through the varnish and shorted at the feed-through. When the battery bank discharged through the coils, it blew the machine apart.


          Dr. Bussard knew a man who was running a company like that, 10 minutes away from them, Jim Benson at SpaceDev in San Diego who had built the engines for Spaceship One. He had known him for 30 years, a very bright guy, who is absolutely intent on making fusion power happen for
          space flight that was Dr. Bussard's original goal, since it
          makes tremendous engines if it works.

          They got together with Jim Benson and transfered all
          the vacuum pumps, tanks, and power supplies in the
          laboratory to him, who also hired their three best laboratory people.

          Wait, after neutron saturation the machine flew apart and they gave the pieces to the people who've been breathing perchlorate fumes? What the hell did they do with it?

          As its attorney in this matter, I advise Google to not go nuclear.

      • bluelip says:

        but I still see the need to develop energy sources that can be used if we ever decide to send humans to the outer planets or further.

      • fnivramd says:

        Wind is a nice idea, to a point. It's cheap (in some places) so it's worth doing. But it's not reliable, which means that its serious proponents don't pretend it's an alternative to nuclear or coal plants for the backbone of the power generation solution, let alone a reason we shouldn't do long term fusion experiments. It's also hopeless if you don't have lots of semi-empty space (yes you can use farmland, but it depends what they're farming).

        Solar, wind and wave, and all of the "tree hugger friendly" generation plans I'm familiar with are interesting only as fractions of a bigger picture, a picture which is going to include burning something or fission, both of which make tree huggers unhappy. Keeping the lights on is more important than making tree-huggers happy (they seem to be an inherently miserable lot in my experience anyway). Fusion offers the possibility (as yet unrealised) of keeping the lights on while being much cleaner than fission.

        • strspn says:

          The fact is that wind and coal have been tied as the least expensive electrical power sources for three or five years now, since natural gas started taking off in price, both demand-driven limited by the cost of new turbines and the cost of extraction, respectively. When people look to build new plants, amortized cost per kilowatt hour is, has been, and always will be on the top of the list. As it stands, fission, natural gas, and even new hydro can't really compete with coal or wind anymore, even with the Price-Anderson Act and a gung-ho Republican administration. Environmental concerns are, in our regulated market economy, second place for better or worse. And do you wonder why people are hugging those trees? Some of them on the coast lines are hugging them so they won't be washed away by extreme weather. That's not granola earthy-crunchy, it's pure adrenaline, which is going to turn the hugging into a death-grip as soon as NOAA folds this hurricane season into their actuarial table inputs.

          So as we add more wind and the cost of fossil fuels and their externalities increase, the increasing relative proportion of hydro-power (likely with added pumps to convert existing dams to pumped-storage hydro) and possibly fission, depending on whether the Feds can pull their shit together enough to open Yucca Mountain, are very likely enough to shape intermittent wind sources. If not there are a lot of other possibilities including industrial-scale chemical batteries which I think would be very cool.

          If fusion wants to be taken seriously, they need a demo that (1) breaks even (2) for hours instead of microseconds, (2) without (a) exploding, or (b) showering everyone and everything near with wide-spectrum neutrons that make whatever they plow in to radioactive. While we get a lot of "just give us a few decades," from all of the fusion researchers across the board, there doesn't seem to be anything but hand-waving when they go to tell us how they are going to cool neutron shielding against a vacuum without making the coolant and whatever it gets pumped through glow along with the shielding. I'm not saying this is an insurmountable problem, and I love reading about all kinds of fusion research. But, as above, it often comes prefaced with "it's not always messy!" when describing what is, by any measure, catastrophic failure of the exploded variety. That is in fact part of the charm of fusion research, but the disinformation from the defenders can get downright creepy.

  5. azul_ros says:

    Oooh, shiny!! I'm assuming this is an industrial infrastructural item?

  6. Phocidae says:

    Clifford Stoll would approve. - Whatever makes 'ends meet,' I guess; - no immediate reason not to welcome Our new Cyber Plumbing Overlords; - colliding or not..