Re: Fusion Reactors

From: george murphy (
Date: Sat Sep 07 2002 - 14:00:57 EDT

  • Next message: Glenn Morton: "RE: Fusion Reactors"

             I agree with much of what has been said about the desirability for
    more intensive work on fusion as an energy source and on the obstacles that
    have to be surmounted in order to achieve useful fusion energy. Though what
    little work that I've done in plasma physics has been purely theoretical & no
    one in their right mind would let me near expensive laboratory equipment,
    controlled fusion research is something I've long been interested in from a
             But what I want to comment on here is a different aspect of the
    question, one that verges more on theology & ethics. This is the fact that
    many people assume that controlled fusion as a useful energy source _must_ be
    achievable if we are simply smart enough and work hard enough at the problem.
    In part this is due to the fact that - as Glenn & others have pointed out -
    the world will _need_ fusion energy in the long term if anything like modern
    civilization is to survive. But it's also connected with the almost
    irrepressible _technological optimism_ especially of American society. We
    built the Panama Canal, got rid of smallpox (at least so far) & landed human
    beings on the moon.
    Of course we can build a fusion reactor.
             But there is no guarantee that this is possible. Of course controlled
    fusion is possible - the sun does it all the time. But short of building a
    star, it may be that plasma instabilities and all the other problems that
    beset controlled fusion research will mean that fusion as a source of power
    for everyday use just isn't viable.
             To take another problem: The successes of the last 150 years in
    containing many infectious diseases led people to assume that the "conquest of
    disease" was a real possibility & indeed was very close. But the emergence of
    viruses like HIV & the development of antibiotic resistance via natural
    selection now make it appear likely that such a large-scale conquest just
    isn't in the cards. The world doesn't work that way.
             Or consider a stronger example: A lot of people brought up on science
    fiction (in which group I include myself) assume that interstellar travel must
    be possible in some way other than a slow sub-lightspeed creep between star
    systems. It must be possible to develop a warp drive or jump through
    hyperspace or something. & maybe there are some fundamental things about
    physics that we don't know that will make that possible. (I think
    investigations into the nature of cosmological dark energy may be promising in
    this regard.) But there's no reason to think that this has to be possible
    just because we want to get out of the solar system. Again, the universe may
    just not be built that way.
             1. The parts of the space-time universe accessible to us are
    characterized by finitude. There will only be finite energy resources, our
    life spans will always be finite, and we are limited to a finite part of
             2. Appropriate use of technology is part of the vocation which God
    gives to humanity, but if we think we're going to use technology to build the
    Kingdom of God, we're going to be disappointed.


    George L. Murphy
    "The Science-Theology Interface"

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