There’s power in smashing apart giant uranium atoms. But the future of energy may actually lie in the reverse process: the fusion of atoms.
In a recent conversation with Breaking Energy, Dr. Michael Gamble spoke of his research with fusion technology, a process that fuses together tiny atoms like hydrogen and water to momentarily release energy. The nuclei of the two atoms initially repel each other, and have to overcome repulsion of the electric force before fusing together into a joint molecule whose nucleus is held stable with the strong force.
With a PHD in mechanical engineering, Gamble who used to work at physics division of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, has spent many years of his life trying to unlock fusion technology. He recently published a novel, Zeroscape, based on his own experiments with gamma ray laser technology–imagined as an anti-nuclear weapon–at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Though tiny, the entirely-gold hohlraum (pictured above) is packed with protons. When a laser beam is focused in on the opening, the protons fuse together by power the strong force thereby emitting nuclear energy. The byproduct of the fusion process is helium.
Gamble is an outspoken advocate of both fusion and fission (traditional nuclear) power, as well as solar photovoltaic (PV) power. When the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its World Energy Outlook on Wednesday, Gamble was quick to back its warning about the world’s growing reliance on fossil fuels. But, he said, many people have misconceptions about which clean technology is actually the safest.
“From a risk assessment perspective, hydro is most risky form of electric generation on the planet because if a dam bursts, millions of people could be killed,” Gamble said. He said that even the worst nuclear accidents have not been as deadly as some of the more common hydropower accidents.
But if the economy continues to grow, as it surely will (however slowly), the price of oil and other fossil fuels will only rise as will the environmental costs, Gamble said.
“This is not a scenario for improving life on the planet and for sustainability of the planet,” he said. “We have got to find cheaper renewables.”
Even if solar and, eventually, fusion installations are much smaller in scale than typical coal and nuclear plants, Gamble emphasized that they have little to no hazardous byproducts, a fact that will ultimately make those technologies preferable in the long run.
Read more about Michael Gamble and his latest novel on http://www.zeroscape-thebook.com.
Photo Caption: A NIF hohlraum. The hohlraum cylinder, which contains the NIF fusion fuel capsule, is just a few millimeters wide, about the size of a pencil eraser, with beam entrance holes at either end. The fuel capsule is the size of a small pea.