This year the annual paean in PAW to phantom energy development at PPPL was generated by the laboratory director himself on the President’s Page.
Steven Cowley *85 states that “fusion — the process powering the sun — is the perfect way to deliver the carbon-neutral, safe, and abundant source of energy that the world needs.” That’s exactly right: This energy source is called solar electric and is being implemented worldwide to the extent of many gigawatts each year.
As for terrestrial fusion energy, seawater contains only the deuterium component of fusion fuel, while tritium, the other component, must be manufactured in nuclear reactors.
Cowley states, “We cannot yet make electricity from fusion at a reasonable cost.” But no one has ever made even a token amount of electricity from a fusion device at any cost. Perhaps that’s because 80 percent of the energy from terrestrial fusion is in the form of barrages of neutron bullets, which nobody has tried to convert to electricity. In the face of numerous irreducible energy drains, it is unlikely that net electricity from a terrestrial fusion-reactor system will ever be achieved at any cost, and nobody will even attempt that for many decades, if ever.
It’s fortunate that producing net electricity from terrestrial fusion energy is probably impossible, because those same neutron barrages generate tremendous volumes of nuclear waste. Princeton’s TFTR and Europe’s JET had to deal with this issue in the 1990s, and no magnetic confinement fusion project has dared to use tritium fuel in the subsequent quarter-century.
Editor’s note: Jassby retired in 1998 as principal research physicist at PPPL.