Oct 212009

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.


  2 Responses to “Polywell Fusion”

  1. It really is a shame because in the fusion area alone there are at least half a dozen ideas that are worth that level of funding.

  2. […] Like polywell fusion, the development of thorium reactors could be funded at a small fraction of the projected cost of cap and trade. […]

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