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Will Fusion Power Save the World?

When you look at global warming or climate change, whatever you want to call it, the vast majority of scientists will tell you that human activity on the planet is a big reason that the world is getting warmer every year.  They see our addiction to fossil fuels and the emissions arising from their use as the chief contributor to climate change and the only way to slow or reverse the warming of our planet s to wean ourselves quickly off of those fuels.  Well, that begs the question: how do we do that?  Environmentalists will tell you that the only way we can stop the problem is by embracing alternative fuels like wind and solar on a massive scale and immediately swear off any new use of fossil fuels.  The problem is that, despite all the technological breakthroughs we’ve made over the last few years, wind and solar still have a lot of limitations and will represent less than 25% of the world’s future power needs by 2025.  I’m sure there will be more innovations and tech discoveries that will improve that number, but not enough to really make the impact we need.

So, is there any hope or are we doomed to a future where it gets hotter every year and the dire predictions of scientist come true? I am, as you know, the eternal optimist and I’m always going to be rooting for the home team and this time, I have technology and the team at Skunk Works making me look good.

You remember the Skunk  Works guys, don’t you? Although the word has come into general use to mean someone working in secret, it originally was used by the research and development team at Lockheed Martin, the same folks that developed the SR-71 Blackbird reconnaissance plane used during the Cold Ware to spy on the Soviet Union and the F-117 Nighthawk Stealth Fighter that helped us win the first Iraq War. They may have come up with the salvation to our energy needs.  Lockheed Martin just announced that they are on the verge of creating a commercially viable compact fusion reactor. It would be the energy source to top all energy sources and enable us to go where no human has ever gone before.  Fusion is the ultimate friendly nuclear reaction where atomic power is harnessed without the violence of splitting atoms or fission.  It’s safe endless, cheap power without the radioactive cleanup. Lockheed claims that they will be able to deliver the bus-sized reactor within ten years.  It would be a huge technological leap forward, enabling not just cheap, abundant environmentally friendly energy, it will also unleash an era of technological breakthroughs and innovation that could see us not only slow down global warming but it could take let us build space ships with unlimited power that will allow us to explore the solar system.

As excited as I am about this announcement, I’m also aware that fusion power has been elusive in the past and we’ve had more than one false start.  Remember the whole “cold fusion” nonsense, when a couple of scientists claimed that they’d been able to create energy from fusion in a lab beaker? No one was ever able to confirm the claim and the entire concept eventually became the subject of ridicule. The fact that Lockheed has gone public with their invention and provided a definitive timeline makes me think this isn’t another wild goose chase, especially given the pedigree of the Skunk Works.  I truly believe that this invention will change the world.

So, let’s say that Lockheed actually delivers a fusion power plant that reduces and eventually eliminates our need for fossil fuels?  Will that really help turn climate change around?  Well, I’m old enough to remember the environmental catastrophe we all worried about in the 80’s, when the ozone layer above the Earth was being thinned out at an alarming pace because of the use of  chlorofluorocarbons.  Back then, we all believed the scientist when they warned us that we had to stop using those chemicals and the world was united in banning chlorofluorocarbons.  Guess what?  Researchers have just announced that the ozone layer is finally healing after 30 years and that this year the layer is actually getting thicker for the first time.

Can the same thing happen with climate change?  Only time will tell, but you know me, ever the optimist!

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