Several weeks ago I went on a binge reading about Polywell fusion. The brainchild of Dr. Robert Bussard, Polywell fusion is a variety of inertial electrostatic confinement, a combination of the inertial confinement (IFE) and magnetic confinement (MFE) approaches to plasma containment. The idea is to use a polyhedron of electromagnetic coils into which electrons are introduced. The electrons become concentrated by the magnetic and electrical fields at the center of the device, creating a well of electrostatic potential that confines the ions for fusion. Advantages claimed for this approach are that it does not release any radioactive byproducts, and that it is highly scalable. One consequence of the latter is that the time and expense required for development is considerably less than with, e.g., the Tokamak design. For more information, see the Wikipedia entry on Polywell fusion and the Talk-Polywell discussion forum.
In 2006, Dr. Bussard gave a talk at Google — primarily to solicit funding. This talk is interesting not only as an introduction to the idea of Polywell fusion, but also for Dr. Bussard’s remarks on aspects of the institutional culture of science.
Should Google Go Nuclear?
Low-level funding for Polywell fusion was provided to Dr. Bussard’s company, Energy Matter Conversion Corporation, by the Navy from 1992 to 2005. Funding was resumed in 2007, shortly prior to Dr. Bussard’s death. Last month, the Department of Defense announced a contract of $7,855,504 for “validation of basic physics,” to be completed by April, 2011.
We could fund thousands of such ideas for less than the cost of cap and trade.