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Government Power The Almighty Buck Politics

MIT Used Lobbying, Influence To Restore Nuclear Fusion Dream 135

Posted by samzenpus
from the you-forgot-to-bury-the-head dept.
An anonymous reader writes in with the story of how MIT's fusion energy experiment is alive and well even though its federal funding was axed. "'In the end, it is about picking a winner and a parochial effort to direct money to MIT,' said Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group. 'It's certainly a case of lawmakers bucking the president and putting their thumb on the scale for a particular project.' MIT enlisted the support of a wealthy Democratic donor from Concord and the help of an influential Washington think-tank co-founded by John Kerry. These efforts were backed by lobbyists, including a former congressman from Massachusetts, with connections to the right lawmakers on the right committees. The cast also included an alliance of universities, industry and national labs, all invested in the fusion dream. 'It's ground-breaking research that could lead an energy revolution,' [Senator Elizabeth] Warren said. 'This was not about politics. This was about good science.' The revival of MIT's project, whatever its merits, clearly demonstrated what the combination of old-fashioned Washington horse-trading and new-fangled power — both nuclear and political — can do."
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MIT Used Lobbying, Influence To Restore Nuclear Fusion Dream

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  • R & D in America (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 09, 2014 @02:43AM (#47193365)

    I read a report 2 years ago that said the R&D funding in America has fallen, while at the same time R&D fundings in Korea, Japan, Singapore and in China have gone up

    The report also stated that the number of patents awarded to America has plateaued while patents awarded to other countries, especially those from East Asia, have skyrocketed

    Most importantly the report stated that of the patents awarded to American companies, more and more are not directly resulted from technological advancement, but rather, based on "usage" and/or "methodology", such as the patent as described in following article -

    http://www.theregister.co.uk/2009/05/11/scheduling_paradigm/

  • by phantomfive (622387) on Monday June 09, 2014 @03:00AM (#47193391) Journal

    The program is doing useful research.

    What useful research is it doing? This is the topic I'm really interested in.

    1) dollar-for-dollar the MIT reactor produced more papers

    Eh, I'm too aware of the quality of academic papers to really care about raw numbers. Let's hear about the details of their important discoveries (or more interestingly, what research they are working on now that could give us important results in the future).

  • by Beck_Neard (3612467) on Monday June 09, 2014 @07:52AM (#47193919)

    > The environmental movement that you and I believe in already won. It got everything it was trying to get.

    It had a lot of victories, no doubt about that. Lead-free gas, cleaner water, etc. But there's still a big problem and that's CO2 emissions. It's hard to argue that reducing CO2 is just childish entitlement thinking, when most everyone - environmentalist or not - agrees that it's a problem (except for a small corporate-manipulated fringe). In fact, it's probably the biggest environmental problem.

    If we solve CO2 and then environmentalists also ask for a cookie, then I'd agree with you.

  • Re:meh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Monday June 09, 2014 @09:32AM (#47194499) Homepage

    > Your assumption of course is that all other factors stay the same

    Exactly the opposite, I'm taking into account the changing market at every turn.

    Right now commercial PV is around 8 cents and is expected to fall in 6 to 7 cents by the end of this year.
    Right now wind turbines are producing power for between 4.5 and 9 cents, and it is expected the price will collapse to the 5 cent mark over time.
    These numbers include factors for intermittency, transmission upgrades, and anything else you might think of.

    So, thorium. In spite of multiple decades of ongoing research, we still have no working thorium reactor. In fact, that's true in spite of the fact that the reactor just down the road from me can run on it. So if we have reactors right now that can use it, and they're not, surely there is a reason for this, right?

    And the reason is that the price of building the infrastructure needed to commercialize the fuel pipeline is enormous, and at current U2 prices, utterly pointless. As I'm sure you're no doubt aware, the price of the U2 fuel cycle development was paid for by WWII, which provided a large subsidy to plants in countries with military needs. That leaves only Germany as a country that had to develop a fuel cycle *without* an interest in bombs, and look how well that turned out for them.

    So basically people that actually work in the power industry, especially the nuclear power industry, see that this is not a technical problem (well, it is) but a practical one. One that is *not* getting solved any time soon. Perhaps this is simply a chicken-egg problem, and anyone that cracks one side will produce a reason to attack the other. But to date that hasn't happened, and there you have it.

  • by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Monday June 09, 2014 @01:20PM (#47196193) Homepage

    > Your argument appears to be "we haven't solve the technical and practical challenges yet, so we never will."

    What?!? I said the *exact opposite* of that.

    I said that even if they get it working, there's no reason to build it.

    Here, let me put this in crayon for you. Right now I can go and buy a turbine from GE, hook that up to a food dryer system from some hippy store, and use it to dry out peanut butter and feed them into the turbine. I *guarantee* you this will actually work, and produce net energy. What, you don't believe me? Fine, read this:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chrysler_Turbine_Car

    Better yet, it's carbon neutral, because the CO2 you release by burning it is sucked back into the next tree. Now of course the power coming out would cost ten times what you'd get by burning bunker oil, and bunker oil produces power at ten times the rate of a wind turbine, but *it will work*, for sure. Fusion? Meh, maybe by 2050. Maybe not. And of course, fusion will likely cost even more.

    So what problem does a fusion reactor solve that a peanut turbine doesn't? None. So why isn't anyone racing to built peanut turbines? Because they cost too much. And fusion costs more than that.

    And THAT is my argument.

    "Now wait" you say... what if advancement X causes the price of fusion to fall? Well sure, but what if advancement Y causes the price of peanut turbines to fall? And when you look at all the research in the world, there's a lot more going into making cheaper peanuts than fusion.

    I am being a bit facetious here, but not that much. I've been looking at this problem for three decades now, and it's not getting any better. Quite the opposite, fusion is getting more and more expensive. Its just not going to happen. You need to spend your energy on something that will actually happen, even if it's not as good in theory.

  • by ediron2 (246908) on Monday June 09, 2014 @01:46PM (#47196403) Journal

    A few moments googling confirms: Maury's Markowitz is up to his elbows in Solar Energy. Given his advocacy for solar, his head would explode if anyone talked about Solar with hyperbole and absolutely-nevers like he's done here.

    Speaking as a degreed engineer and physicist, with childhood classmates, neighbors and professional colleagues now decades into their work in both next-gen fission and current fusion reactor design, I definitely get a bad vibe from all of Maury's hyperbole. They agree that fusion is challenging. But fusion isn't remotely analogous to vacuum tubes, nor is work and progress stalled. Maury's selling the impossibility of fusion, I doubt he's remotely qualified, and he's exaggerating to do so.

    Nice Try, solar guy. IMHO, the worst kind of bad science is advocacy that overreaches your expertise, because it can smell true to other scientists. Next time, start with 'I'm __ with ____ (Solar), and here's why I've bet my career on solar:'

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