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Should Google Go Nuclear? 419

Baldrson writes "One of the founders of the US Tokamak fusion program, Dr. Robert W. Bussard, gave a lecture at Google recently now appearing as a Google video titled 'Should Google Go Nuclear?'. In it, he presents his recent breakthrough electrostatic confinement fusion device which, he claims, produced several orders of magnitude higher fusion power than earlier electrostatic confinement devices. According to Bussard, it did so repeatably during several runs until it blew up due to mechanical stress degradation. He's looking for $200M funding, the first million or so of which goes to rebuilding a more robust demonstrator within the first year. He claims the scaling laws are so favorable that the initial full scale reactor would burn boron-11 — the cleanest fusion reaction otherwise unattainable. He has some fairly disturbing things to say in this video, as well as elsewhere, about the US fusion program which he co-founded."
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Should Google Go Nuclear?

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  • by Salvance ( 1014001 ) * on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:28AM (#16894416) Homepage Journal
    If Google pursues this, I don't think they'll do so for financial reasons, but rather for PR reasons (just like they used the installation of a relatively large solar capacity as PR [blogspot.com]). But nowadays $200 Million isn't that much to Google, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them support the effort to some extent.
    • If Google pursues this, I don't think they'll do so for financial reasons, but rather for PR reasons

      I'm not so sure about that. At the rate their data centers are growing, power is everything to them. It's so important that they built one of their newest facilities on the Columbia River [nytimes.com], just so they could get close to a hydro plant for cheap electricity. Supporting a project like this would certainly be a PR slam-dunk for them, and I'm sure that hasn't escaped them, but if it has as much promise as it

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by can56 ( 698639 )
      If Google has money to burn (aka, fuse), and has promised $20 Million/year to the Samba project (see news.samba.org Nov 3/2006), I'd suggest they offer the same deal to this guy. Subject to the condition that he shows significant (or some) progress each term, and that other researchers can duplicate his equipment, experiments, and findings. Even crackpots may have a good idea.
    • No matter what you do. Some one some where thinks what your doing is Evil. Some people think Google is Evil because you can search for Porn and Other people this it is evil because it blocks some sites where such sites are illegal in that country. As for a nuclear energy it is an other case of Environmentalist shooting them selves in the foot. If it Ain't Solar, or Wind Energy they will complain, fuss and block that new technology. Nuclear energy is relatively clean where the toxic side effects are actu
  • Actually, the headline I wanted to use was "Google Now Officially a Nuclear Power; Microsoft Sets Pants to Brown Alert", but it was too long to fit in Slashdot's headline space...

    Actually, I think that Google would be far more trustworthy with nuclear weapons than Iran or North Korea.

    Obligatory science fiction refernce: Vernor Vinge's "The Ungoverned"

  • Fusion? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by headkase ( 533448 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:32AM (#16894430)
    I watched the google video link of the presentation for a bit to just be sure - and - he does say fusion. I thought that fusion was perpetually 20 years off? If it's fusion, this will be the most important breakthrough in decades. Clean power without all that nasty global warming consequences.
    • Re:Fusion? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Omnifarious ( 11933 ) * <eric-slash@@@omnifarious...org> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:54AM (#16894496) Homepage Journal

      It isn't just fusion. There's some fission involved too in the particular chain of reactions he wants to use. But it's fission of light elements, and Bussard claims it won't produce gamma rays or speeding neutrons.

      In fact, pure fusion reactions do produce neutrons that go flying off and have to be captured, which means that they produce harmful radiation. The seeming lack of neutrons is what makes many very skeptical of cold fusion claims. But the reaction chain he proposes involves fusion and fission and produces no neutrons or gamma rays.

      • So 1) what's the fuel, 2) what's the waste, 3) what's the risk of a meltdown, and 4) is any plutonium (or other weapons-grade material) produced?
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Omnifarious ( 11933 ) *

          I believe the fuel is tritium (one proton and two neutron hydrogen, radioactive and unstable, but not very much so) and boron. The end result is 4 stable helium nuclei. There is no plutonium or other weapons grade material produced. These are all nuclear reactions at the very low end of the periodic table. You might be able to build a hydrogen bomb, but there are lots easier ways to do that.

          From your confusion, I would suggest reading up on fission and fusion on Wikipedia.

        • Re:Fusion? (Score:4, Informative)

          by Broken scope ( 973885 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:49AM (#16894680) Homepage
          Fuel:Heavy water (Deuterium or Tritium)


          Meltdown:Meltdown is the wrong word. A failure of the containment could occur, but the reaction would die when exposed to outside conditions and the magnets could explode they would throw shrapnel around. however this would not a be a sudden or instant thing. Unlike a nuclear reactor the fuel is supplied at a constant rate, when fuel is removed the reaction stops. it would be equivilant to a large piece of machinery at a factory breaking falling over or exploding. Nothing is leaving the building and its gonna be expensive. However if this happens you need to be looking at the people running the thing, and ask them why they didn't turn it off.

          Weapon stuff:Well deuterium is used in a fusion weapons, but you can get the stuff isn't that hard to get, and you still need a fission reaction to start a weapon fusion reaction.

          So devices use have a system that catches neutrons that leave the reaction and converts them into tritium then feeds them back into the reaction.
          • Okay the actual reactor its self could be considered waste but few of the things have half-lifes of more than 100 years as opposed to 1000s of years with a fusion reactor. The amount of waste is also considerably less.
        • Re:Fusion? (Score:5, Informative)

          by mysticgoat ( 582871 ) * on Saturday November 18, 2006 @05:27AM (#16894788) Homepage Journal

          So 1) what's the fuel,


          2) what's the waste,

          Carbon and helium.

          3) what's the risk of a meltdown,

          No risk of meltdown, china syndrome, or other runaway problems. The worst case would be a conventional explosion.

          and 4) is any plutonium (or other weapons-grade material) produced?


          He talks a good physics snow job; glibly spicing his words with equations that provide a certain kind of high energy ambience without actually conveying any information to his audience. In his own way, he is quite the showman.

          However it did seem to me that he is saying that the theory behind his fusor engines has been proven, and that he is staking his reputation on that. I'm also pretty sure he is saying that the remaining problems are in the engineering, not the physics. So its like rocketships: we know it can be done but we don't yet know how to do it well enough to be really useful.

          • Well from what I remember on the subject Tokamak reactors were purposed by a russian scientist who worked with NASA. NASA in fact believed in it enough to consider it the best energy source for use on a planet figuring the need for continued manned missions to one location on another planet. However I don't remember the name of said scientist...

            Bussard himself is relatively famous as is, btw. His 'Bussard ramscoops' were adopted into science fiction with Star Trek: TNG (And abckwards adapted into the origin
      • by arivanov ( 12034 )
        They don't produce just that, they produce them at energies which can split U238 which "normal" or slowed down fission neutrons cannot split. In fact some of the tokamak outlines I have seen in articles 20 years ago (when they were saying that fusion is 20 years off) had an extra layer of U238 for a second stage fission reaction.
      • A system was developed that used lithium to catch those and feed them back into the reaction as tritium.
    • by Richard Kirk ( 535523 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:01PM (#16897880)
      I have worked a bit in nuclear and pulse power industries. I had never heard of this guy, though I had actually known about the ramjet. I have always had deep scepticism about nuclear fusion. It is touted as a clean source of power, but I knew that the traditional D-T fusion gives off this 14.5 MeV neutron and a powerful gamma. This is highly penetrating radiation, which will tend to make your whole plant radioactive. It could be stopped by 15 cm of Al, but it could also be stopped by a few mm of depleted uranium, which would then give out more energy. If you could build a fusion reactor, it might then make economic sense to shroud it in what is effectively a fast breeder reactor. Now a fast breeder aren't as dangerous as their stupid name suggests, but they aren't exactly clean consience-free energy either. Okay, that's where I come from. Now here is what I thought of the video.

      Within minutes, he had pointed out that his reaction did not produce neutrons. He clearly knew this is a key issue. He described the basic geometries of fusion reaction. He made a nice, clear description of the random walk nature of tokomak fields, and why that meant some of the contents would always head for the walls. His explanations involved nice, clear numbers, like how many times the ion should go through the dense region before it collided. This isn't a popular science gloss-over - I am pretty sure you are getting the real deal here. He argued the need for a 1/r-type field to contain the ions, and why this is best done using electrons guided by coils. I have some familiarity with saddle-field ion sources - not the same thing, but similar enough to recognize what he was talking about.

      For those of you familiar with Hollywood Science, 11 years of research with a load of failed designs may not seem like an investment. Actually, it showed a lot of steady progress, with many orders of magnitude improvement. The only faintly Hollywood bit was the final experiment, and that rang very true to me. The lab is being shut doown; the apparatus is going into storage. We may get to use it again, we may not. Why not turn the current supply all the way up? You can do it safely enough if you stand behind the filing cabinet. Oops, it fried. Oh well, we got some numbers anyway. Yup, that's what a lot of science is like. It is much slower and less dramatic then you would believe.

      The 'wiffle ball' effect is really cute. He is working with plasmas. You have charged stuff zipping about in magnetic and electrostatic fields. Unfortunately, that stuff is itself charged, and because it is moving, it has its own magnetic field. This usually means the plasma can work out within microseconds what it is not supposed to do, and start hosepiping, or wiggling, or whatever it was that it shouldn't. Just occasionally, you can use this self-will to your advantage. The microwave magnetron is an example (particularly cute that he used one inside his experiment to keep the ionization up). Well, I would see that you could concentrale positive ions using negative electrons, but wouldn't they hit each other and neutralize all the time? Well - no they don't, because the electrons will make fast lanes through the slower moving ions.

      He had worked on space engines. He is one of the mad atom smashers from the fifties. Okay, let's see how his proposal stacks up in traditional Mad Scientist terms. Usually a good Mad experiment involves at least two of (a) space, (b) H-bombs, (c) superconductivity, and (d) a small country. A mad experiment needs a budget that is a mere 10% of the US annual defence budget/spending of fossil fuels. And, usually there is the requirement for government funding to pay for the bits that won't make a profit. Some biofuel proposals get well into the Mad bracket. This project has clear aims and costs. It is not huge. You can build it. Either it will work or it won't. If it works, then we can put it into ships and conventional power stations. Project Plowshare it ain't.

      The only thing I might say against is that this may be just

  • Buttons (Score:5, Funny)

    by Jedi Alec ( 258881 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:33AM (#16894434)
    I wonder if it'll have an "I feel lucky" button...
    • by bersl2 ( 689221 )
      Yeah... the "off" button for the containment field.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by RsG ( 809189 )
        For a fusion reactor, that would be the off button. No containment = no reaction.

        This is actually one of the biggest safety advantages of fusion of fission. With a fission reactor, loss of control or containment doesn't stop the fission reactions from occurring, since fission occurs naturally in Uranium, whereas with a fusion reactor, loss of containment or control stops the reaction, as fusion does not occur naturally in Deuterium or Tritium under terrestrial conditions.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by kfg ( 145172 )
      Click it and if you are we lose Detroit.

    • I wonder if it'll have an "I feel lucky" button...

      more like "how did we lose two hundred million on this?" button.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:38AM (#16894454)
    " The Bussard ramjet method of spacecraft propulsion was proposed in 1960 by the physicist Robert W. Bussard and popularized by Carl Sagan in the television series and subsequent book Cosmos as a variant of a fusion rocket capable of fast interstellar spaceflight. It would use a large scoop (on the order of kilometers in diameter) to compress hydrogen from the interstellar medium and fuse it. This mass would then form the exhaust of a rocket to accelerate the ramjet." - from

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bussard_ramjet [wikipedia.org]
    • Roger Ramjet is his name,
      Hero of our Nation,
      Every time he has a wank,
      He calls it masturbation.

      I can't for the life of me remember what the proper words should be.
    • More than one science fiction writer embraced the Bussard Ramjet. It's an inventive idea especially for it's time. The real issue for interstellar travel has to do with the amount of free hydrogen in interstellar space. The drive avoids the problem of overcoming and the limiting factor of spcaeship mass, it's impossible to excellorate the mass of the fuel to near light speed. The math doesn't work the fuel availible can't overcome it's own weight. Ion drives are the most efficent but they still can't overso
  • IECs (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MadUndergrad ( 950779 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @03:53AM (#16894492)
    My friend's father is one of the guys responsible for Bussard's (now-dwindling) Navy funding. The few million he got for his first reactors came from them. From what I've heard from him, Bussard is really onto something with his devices. Now, I've never met him myself, nor do I have enough physics under my belt yet to be able to critique the device, but it does sound pretty reasonable.

    About the $200 mil, apparently the power output of these scales as something like the 7th or 9th power of the radius of the device (don't quote me on these numbers), so while the prototypes tested so far produce piddling amounts of power, not nearly break-even, they supposedly confirmed the principles, and the $200 mil model should be big enough to be power-positive. I really hope Google decides to sponsor this. I mean, if they can spend $1.6b on Youtube, what's $200m?
    • I really hope Google decides to sponsor this. I mean, if they can spend $1.6b on Youtube, what's $200m?

      Because Google is in the information-retrieval business, and not the power-generating business.

      Why doesn't GM make Starbucks Coffee? It's much more profitable than their cars.....
      • My first reaction is that if GM tried to make Starbucks coffee, they'd probably be sued by Starbucks.

        Joking aside, given how giant software companies with lots of money like Microsoft (I'm sure there are other examples, but it's late) like to spread out into other industries, it would make sense for Google to do the same, especially if it benefitted their core business in some way. After all, server farms don't power themselves.
      • Re:IECs (Score:5, Insightful)

        by DrSkwid ( 118965 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @06:29AM (#16894944) Homepage Journal
        But they are in the power-consumption business, and plenty of it.

        They aren't in the ATX Power supply manufacturing busininess either, but that didn't stop them designing a new one.
    • I mean, if they can spend $1.6b on Youtube, what's $200m?

      Well, for one that $1.6B was not actual cash, it was all restricted shares. I don't know the specifics off-hand, but typically such deals stipulate that few if any shares can be sold for about a year and even then they are only released bit by bit over the next few years.

      That doesn't mean the youtube founders can't immediately cash in, there is a whole banking subindustry similar to the "tax refund loan" business where a bank will loan you money (at
    • Do not get me wrong, but if this was positive, why is the Navy not funding it again? It strikes me that the Navy is going to need a really nice power source for a military that is planning to move to laser and electrostatic weapons. In fact, even the Airforce is playing with electric airplanes. And of course, if we can break our dependence on oil that supports terrorism (iran, venezuela, Iraq, etc), go back to cheap energy, AND quite producing global warming, that would be good for the military. So, why is
  • Dr. Robert W. Bussard

    Is this the same dude of Bussard Collector [memory-alpha.org] fame? Sweet.

    I can now officially have fantasies of being on a space faring hotel, with women wearing skin tight costumes...

  • Pseudoscience (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    The Bussard Ramjet is one of the finest pieces of Pseudo scientific speculation ever dreamed of and integrated into Science Fiction works. It is simple and elegant in concept, a machine that in theory would make interstellar travel easier than ever, but in reality unworkable. The Bussard Ramjet is a dream that cannot be.

    Mr. Bussard is a dreamer, and his ideas are beautiful; Star Trek has named a large component of its star ships after Bussard. His fertile imagination leads to great science fiction. Even the
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Omnifarious ( 11933 ) *

      I don't know enough to be able to evaluate the ideas. But from what I know of Tokamak research, it deserves every helping of scorn that he heaps upon it. It has been a ridiculously expensive failure. About as useful for advancing the cause of fusion power as string theory has been for advancing our understanding of physics.

      This post of yours is very elegantly written and completely trashes Mr. Bussard. In its way, it's exactly the same level of attack as he levels against other fusion research.

      In my m

      • Re:Pseudoscience (Score:4, Insightful)

        by DerekLyons ( 302214 ) <fairwater.gmail@com> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @06:20AM (#16894922) Homepage
        I don't know enough to be able to evaluate the ideas. But from what I know of Tokamak research, it deserves every helping of scorn that he heaps upon it. It has been a ridiculously expensive failure. About as useful for advancing the cause of fusion power as string theory has been for advancing our understanding of physics.

        I just love it when people say "I dont know crap about x" - and then proceed to have an opinion on x anyhow, and act as if it should be taken as a valid one.
        This post of yours is very elegantly written and completely trashes Mr. Bussard. In its way, it's exactly the same level of attack as he levels against other fusion research.

        No - it's exactly *different* than Mr Bussard's attack, in that it lays out his specific failures and behaviors that trip the 'kook' flag. Whereas Mr Bussard's attack is nothing but mudflinging and blaming unspecified others in the goverment for not funding his research - even though he cannot (or will not) actually demonstrate he has something worth funding. (This is, in and of itself, reason to apply the 'kook' label.)
        Especially when traditional fusion research has been promising results in 20 years for upwards of 40 years.

        I just knew this petulant and ignorant whine would show up [whiny voice] But the promised, they did! They did![/whiny voice] Grow the fuck up - R&D isn't amenable to precise scheduling and prediction, especially when working at the frontiers of science and technology.
        Mr. Bussard wants 1/75th of the budget. Let him have it and see if he can produce something repeatable.

        At best he deserves a couple of thousand for a few copies for a paper ready to be submitted for peer review. Demanding money, and refusing to supply the data required to determine what that funding is to be used for is ludicrous.
        • Re:Pseudoscience (Score:4, Insightful)

          by RsG ( 809189 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @06:35AM (#16894964)
          I just knew this petulant and ignorant whine would show up [whiny voice] But the promised, they did! They did![/whiny voice] Grow the fuck up - R&D isn't amenable to precise scheduling and prediction, especially when working at the frontiers of science and technology.
          Actually, quite apart from what you said, the "fusion has been 30 years off for the past 50" argument is a red herring. There was never any such promise.

          Nobody outside of science fiction writers and science reporters in the press said that fusion was going to be easy. It's been clear from the get-go that it's an incredibly hard field to develop. What was said by the people in the field was along the lines of "if we start seriously working on this now, it'll pay off in a matter of decades". Had we actually put the money in at the time, we'd be further along today.

          But we didn't. Those "huge budgets" that people claim fusion sucks up? They're a pittance, and in almost all cases, the cost is spread among several nations. Expressed as a fraction of those countries' annual budget, fusion R&D is a minor expense. Moreover, political bickering (the bane of any multi-national project) has gotten in the way more than once, most recently with the question of where to build the ITER project.

          Simply put, we're barely trying, and given how monumentally hard it is to build a working fusion reactor, that minimal effort has had predictable results. Saying "X years ago, they said we'd have fusion" assumes that R&D happens magically, without any human element.
        • Re:Pseudoscience (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Omnifarious ( 11933 ) * <eric-slash@@@omnifarious...org> on Saturday November 18, 2006 @12:19PM (#16896530) Homepage Journal

          I just knew this petulant and ignorant whine would show up [whiny voice] But the promised, they did! They did![/whiny voice] Grow the fuck up - R&D isn't amenable to precise scheduling and prediction, especially when working at the frontiers of science and technology.

          Of course it isn't. But I regard with great suspicion anybody involved in mainstream fusion research who doesn't want anybody to pursue anything else. Tunnel vision happens everywhere. And while it seems that Mr. Bussard may suffer from it, I have no doubt that people who have their entire careers wrapped up in magnetic confinement have it even worse.

          If the original poster had given even a shred of a reason why the idea wouldn't work, especially if (s)he gave a pointer or to to some pages describing why it wouldn't work in detail, I'd be all impressed and credulous. As it is, Mr. Bussards idea of confinement with electric forces doesn't seem particularly ridiculous to me, and it seems like it deserves to be on an equal footing for funding.

          I stand by my claim that the original poster engaged in exactly the same kind of mudflinging and ad-hominem attack that Mr. Bussard did and from the shield of 'Anonymous Coward' no less. Neither of them deserve any respect for engaging in such attacks, though I submit that the anonymous coward was being much nastier for trashing an individual rather than an idea. But I also see no evidence presented that his idea stands a lower chance of working than the magnetic confinement ideas that have been being pursued for all these years.

    • Re:Pseudoscience (Score:5, Insightful)

      by dircha ( 893383 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @06:29AM (#16894942)
      That's great, but we're not talking about purely hypothetical space propulsion mechanisms from 40 years ago. What does the Bussard Ramjet, hypothetical musings from 40 years ago, have to do with this story today? Nothing. They share fusion, but that in name only. And what of it that science fiction has appropriated his name? And that's before you launch into your tirade of name calling. When you do reference reality, you distort it and cast it in the worst possible light. To characterize the history of his research as "whenever he tried to test it under controlled conditions, it failed - and he blamed some obscure technical malfunction for this inability to achieve any measurable results," is distortion.

      Although the Slashdot moderators appear to have found your handwaving and strawman rather clever.

      If you do not find at least plausible his explanation of a hold on publishing and loss of funding due to alternative energy research being cut from the Navy budget due to spending pressures on R&D coinciding with the Iraq war, without evidence to the contrary, you are simply unreasonable. Do you really believe, having provided no evidence to this effect, that this man is attempting to swindle potential investors out of $200 million? This borders on libel.

      You imply Bussard is engaging in deception, yet you offer no evidence of this other than handwaving and your science fiction strawman. Do you assume everyone is attempting to deceive you until proven otherwise in a controlled experiment? Did you even watch the presentation of the story you are commenting on? I doubt it.

      What are these "results" you claim he purports to have found but can't reproduce? The claims he makes of his tests are not remarkable. You appear to present the issue in a purposefully antagonistic manner. He does not, to my knowledge, claim to have demonstrated a fusion device that would be capable of producing greater useable energy than is required to power it. And in this sense, there is nothing remarkable about what he claims to have found in his results. Certainly nothing paranormal.

      And what on earth should Randi have to do with this? Randi is an excellent foil for psychics and dowsers, but he is not a physicist.

      And he is not asking for $200 million for himself or his company. If this is the form funding to see these tests realize took, he would accept this, but as he says, he is an old man and is tired. He only wants to see his vision realized, even if that means it is carried out by another company or by another country.

      And infact in the proposal he presents, the first step involves only $2 million, and is intended to reproduce the results of earlier tests in an environment where engineering, and lab control and instrumentation are fully funded in order to improve the reliabilitty of the results. This is more than the paltry prize offered by Randi. Although I fail, again, to see why Randi would have any interest in verifying unremarkable claims of nuclear fusion.

      This is not some nut playing with magnets and tesla coils in his garage.
    • Hi its me, the pot (Score:4, Insightful)

      by KKlaus ( 1012919 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @06:30AM (#16894946)
      Soo... there's the old adage that big claims need big evidence, and Bussard currently has rather an excess of one and a lack of the other. but for someone who chooses to discredit him for not being a bit short on concrete, verifiable data, your post itself is completely science free. In a discussion that is entirely dependant on science (his last prototype's malfunction is unfortunate and perhaps suspicious, but is by no means proof of hackery), I don't understand why people find what amounts to an emotional evaluation of his work useful.

      Your criticisms are mostly ad hominem, e.g. his "Incessant groveling for cash" - he does not grovel incessantly, in fact in the Google lecture he admits to giving up on the search for funding. Should he have just packed his bags when his funding was cut (it should be noted that it was all navy energy research funding, not him in particular)? He also defends the malfunction quite reasonably (it was one not a series as you suggest), and considering the supposedly successful prototype was only tested a few times at useful power levels, small amounts of data are also not unreasonable.

        If he's a quack, so be it. But let's actually add to the debate by citing facts, not armchair opinions that essentially a love of science fiction == hack (Remember how people used to dream about a better and wonderful future? That used to actually be a fairly american quality and he is of that generation).

      I don't try and discredit ID proponents just by calling them assholes. I point to the fact that it is a scientifically sterile non-theory and that there is a wide body of evidence supporting evolution. He wasn't working alone in his basement, he had a pretty impressive team (Jim Benson immedialely hired them after funding dissapeared) that would have complained publicly if he was lying about his results. Treat his science as you would any other, and fight it with evidence, or restrain your tongue.
    • by kestasjk ( 933987 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @06:39AM (#16894974) Homepage
      I watched the whole thing though I'm sad to say; what a waste of time. In a nutshell:
      • Fusion is simple and elegant, it powers the stars, just take a look at the sun to see it work!
      • The Tomakak is just a problem on top of a problem, it's going nowhere fast.
      • So we had this ingenious idea for making charged particles go into the center of a load of magnets oriented in a certain way which would solve all the Tomakak's problems.
      • The first one we tried the particles escaped onto the metal welds which bring the magnets together.
      • The second one didn't have metal welds, but the particles escaped onto the magnets themselves.
      • The third one had insulated magnets, but the particles escaped onto the metal stands.
      • For the nth one we insulated everything, and on *the day* before we lost all funding and had to close the lab down we achieved some fusion! We now know exactly what we're going to do!
      • It will solve world hunger, create a stable economy, enable space travel, make ethanol viable, stop the oil wars, cure cancer, etc.
      • It's all in this paper I wrote, it doesn't actually have any formulas or concrete evidence in it "but it does talk about it".
      • Now all we need is $200M funding to build the final thing *cough*and solve the crippling engineering problems*cough*. Questions?

      If you want to prove that you're not full of it why not rebuild the last machine you built, which would be relatively cheap, to recreate the results you got the day before you had to close the labs down?
      - Well the $200M will build ones which will be 50x better, one of them will be a dodecahedron.

      Why is no-one funding you?
      - No-one thinks outside the box. If you let me choose who goes on the panel who gets to decide whether it's worthwhile I'll pick some people who can think outside the box. There are lots of people in China and other countries who can think outside the box, and if I don't get funding here in America I'll give my patents to China for free and you wouldn't want that. (I'm not making this up, he literally threatened the audience with giving the tech to China for free)

      How do you get the helium waste products out?
      - We have a grid on the outside which lets the helium slowly come to a stop, we haven't tried this yet but it's an engineering problem. There are also serious problems with arcing due to the high voltages, but these are merely engineering problems not physics problems.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        I have to mostly agree with this: Bussard's talking tactics were pretty sleazy. His distinctions between "physics" and "engineering" problems were largely vacuous, and he glossed over a lot of stuff. He sounded a lot like a crank in several places, not least when he threatened (repeatedly) to give the tech to China. Also, his spiel on what this machine would do if it worked is unnecessary: we all know that a high-efficiency fusion machine would change the world, but we need to be convinced that he can bu
      • not quite (Score:4, Insightful)

        by nietsch ( 112711 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @08:22AM (#16895310) Homepage Journal
        the idea about Inertial Electrostatic Confinement did not come from them. Farnsworth (of TV tube fame) and hirsh developed that, but ran into problems with the anode or kathode not being transparent enough. Their invention is to make this electrode with magnets, which is a logical progression.
        You might be right tough that he is a kook as I did not hear him addres the biggest problem with IEC: bremsstrahlung. Every time you have to accelerate a ion it will leak some radiation in the form of bremsstarahlung (braking radiation). The ions you want to fuse each have to pass the center of the well a couple of thousand times (depending on density and temperature) just to have the chance to meet another ion close enough for fusion to occur. Pump more energy into it, and more radiation leaks away and you will never be able to break even.
        The other thing that is fishy is the strange reason he gave why they did not publish for 11 years. If you don't publish essentially you are not doing science, even after the embargo they did not release the floodgates and publish all the articles they had written over time but could not publish. He is promising a 100+ paper, but appearantly it is not ready yet. WTF? you had 11 for that and one year you knew for certain what situation you'd be in now. On october 1 they sould not have been doing last minute experiments, but been submitting all their articles to every journal respectable enough. They would have had a much better chance to get funding with a couple of influential papers to their name. In science it's publish or perish, and they chose not to publish.
        The other countries threat is hollow too: if they had really cared about the subject, they would have had no problem moving to another country just to keep their lab going. He is still here...
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by cheesybagel ( 670288 )
          If you had ever read about DARPA Have Blue (stealth technology demonstrator which paved the way for the F-117) you would know why they could have understandably stopped him from publishing. The simple fact is, you do not go public about a technology that provides enough of an edge to be a military secret. This has been done since ancient times, e.g. Greek Fire [wikipedia.org]. If anything it makes me think he did get something they thought worthwhile, if the whole affair was an utter failure it would not have been necessar
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by julesh ( 229690 )
          I did not hear him addres the biggest problem with IEC: bremsstrahlung

          You're right that he didn't. But if you search on scholar.google.com, you'll find he's published papers on the topic. I don't have access to read them, but hopefully that means he's made progress.
    • by Baldrson ( 78598 ) *
      Its funny you should attack an idea of Bussard's, the interstellar ramjet, that he himself dismissed as unworkable prior to it being adopted by the scifi community.
  • by OverDrive33 ( 468610 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:03AM (#16894530) Homepage Journal
    Oh this is a bad idea - when skyn^H^H Google becomes fully self-aware - it's going to have it's own incredible power source?!
  • by TorKlingberg ( 599697 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:13AM (#16894570)
    He is supposed to be the founder of a "Energy Matter Conversion Corporation", but I cannot find a website of the company. Are there still technology companies without a website out there? In this field? Physicists started the whole www.
  • by shanec ( 130923 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @04:47AM (#16894676)
    For all the inquisitive types out there, here are a couple other references to Dr. Robert W. Bussard's work from the DOE perspective;

    In addition, there are 101 references for "Electrostatic Confinement Fusion." [science.gov]

    (yes, I'm shamelessly publishing links to my servers for all the Slashdot community to hit. After all, they have to have some reason to keep me employed! ;)

  • by dhartshorn ( 456906 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @05:05AM (#16894736)
    Mr. Fusion?
  • by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @05:27AM (#16894790)
    What's several orders of magnitude more than 0?
  • American Law (Score:2, Interesting)

    by MK_CSGuy ( 953563 )
    What are the rules in the USofA regarding corporate nuclear reactors?

    Actually it would be pretty interesting to hear about such laws in other countries as well.
  • fusion with boron-11 (Score:4, Informative)

    by tenco ( 773732 ) on Saturday November 18, 2006 @08:57AM (#16895422)
    AFAIK for fusion with boron isotopes you need a 10-times higher temperature than what you would need when using hydrogen isotopes instead.

    See the p-B^11 fuel cycle [wikipedia.org], too.

    Moron at eleven.

  • Bussard mentions arcing as one of their problems and shows data for breakdown voltages of hydrogen, co2, etc.

    I think the electric utilities have settled on using sulfur hexafluoride as the best solution for this issue in high voltage transformers. In spite of the frightening name this gas is actually non-toxic (and if you breathe it you get the opposite of the helium effect because of its high density :-)
  • Umm... last time I checked, Google is not the only entity that could give away 200M (or any substantial portion of that sum) without the accountants noticing. And Google is not the only entity that supports technological advancement. In fact, there are thousands upon thousands of such organizations and individuals. Why didn't they suggest it be the Branson Fusion Device(TM)?
  • here's why... [theonion.com] (Pops new) We now HAVE an internal arms struggle in this country.

"Plastic gun. Ingenious. More coffee, please." -- The Phantom comics