We’re all just sitting here waiting for the President. Not in person of course. Too busy with the Greenland ice dam or the crisis in Bangladesh or something. I think she just didn’t want to come out here in July, when it’s 110 F. Or maybe it’s the leaky tanks of radioactive waste left over from building the A-bombs. Whatever, she’s not really here. But she’s going to throw a virtual switch to start the world’s first commercial fusion reactor. Even though we were confident that it would work, we still fired it up last night just to be sure. Her people insisted on that: the President didn’t want to press the pretend button and have nothing happen, or worse have it explode. People hear fusion and they think H-bomb. After 75 years of hope, sweat and money, once we figured out how to make the standing wave plasma reactor work, it only took us 4 years and unlimited resources to go from the lab to a 100 megawatt plant. I guess waiting another 20 minutes isn’t going to make much difference.
Ever since the South Greenland ice sheet collapsed into the North Atlantic in 2023, dealing with the climate catastrophe, as everyone now calls it, has been an all hands on deck fight. The climate deniers disappeared just like those who opposed the US entering WWII vanished after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. The Tsunami on Wall Street and on the Capitol steps was a wakeup call that could not be ignored. The water receded somewhat, but the rate of sea level increased 10-fold from the increased melting in Greenland and Antarctica caused by the higher sea levels. It’s not clear if we can build dikes fast enough.
What is clear is that if the Greenland ice sheet continues to fall into the sea, every coastal city will be under water. New Orleans was a challenge before, but now it’s abandoned by all but those that would rather die than leave. Since the Army Corps gave up on trying to maintain the dikes in face of increasing sea levels, it won’t be long until the Gulf claims the Big Easy.
So we’re building the Greenland ice dam: the world’s largest ice maker. A thousand miles of pipes carrying ice cold refrigerant across the glaciers, freezing the melting ice, rather than letting it lubricate the glaciers and helping the flow to the sea. The heat will be pumped into the deep ocean, hopefully not creating other problems. This won’t solve the problem, just buy us time, which is what we need. This will take an enormous amount of energy. So far, that’s come from an undersea line from Iceland, where vast amounts of hydro and geothermal energy are available. That’s been fine for construction and some early trials, but not the full system. That’s where we come in. We have a second fusion unit ready to ship there tomorrow, once the President makes her damn speech.
Politicians! For decades we techies begged and pleaded for action. Half of the politicians said “I not qualified to comment”, but then didn’t listen to those that were. The other half would say how important reducing carbon emissions is, but then do little.
Well, the collapse of the ice sheet changed that, but I suspect too little, too late. On the one-year anniversary of the start of the collapse, the politicians signed the Tuvalu treat, named after a country that no longer exists. All coal plants to be shuttered by 2030; gasoline to be gone by 2035 (replaced with biofuels and electric cars); introduction of a worldwide carbon tax; research on ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and oceans; and some money to help poor countries adapt, but not much.
Solar, wind, geothermal and storage can meet most of our needs, but there’s no question that fusion will help. Our reactor can go into an existing coal plant and replace the boilers, but keep most everything else unchanged. We’ll create combined de-salinization/deuterium extraction/fusion power plants that will supply the world with all of the fuel we will ever need. There’s enough deuterium in our oceans to meet our current power needs for 10 times longer than the universe has been around.
But there’s more than just powering the ice dams and replacing coal plants. There are some people around, seem like government types but they won’t say, that we’re been told to give complete access. I’m not sure why the extra access, because the Tuvalu treaty requires us to license our technology. For all I know, they’ve already setup an alternative supply chain and are about to push their own button. The more the merrier.
Here she finally comes:
“A source of energy first envisioned a century ago, one that powers our sun and every star in the sky that we see; one that has been pursued for three-quarters of a century, becomes real today. In our existential battle to undo the harm we’ve done to our home, we have a powerful new ally. A source of power that is clean, safe, and without end. A new age, to stand along with stone and bronze and industrial, begins today. With the pressing of this button, I have the honor of opening the fusion age.”
With that, she throws the switch and the plasma is ignited; the standing wave generated; the deuterium-tritium fuel pellets injected; the nuclei collide and become Helium and emit energy; the heat creates steam; the steam drives a turbine and generates electricity. The waste heat will be used in the plant next door creating glass blocks out of waste left over from the nuclear bomb projects. Whether it’s enough, only time will tell.
I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler.
I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft.
I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber