Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Climate Change Gone Wild

In France another experiment in energy production seems to be collapsing for many millions of dollars. The only lesson learned by the original superconducting supercollider disaster in Waxahachie, TX, seems to be that it's okay to admit failure and let go. The saddest part of all this wasted research is that we have so many needs that could have been met by all those billions.

The scientists who are now letting go have found out they have nothing to hold the energy from fusion, it's just too extreme heat. They also are finding out that global warming is immediate, and we need to devote our precious resources to the emergency the world has been encountering at a rapid rate, as our climate change's effects grow ever more ominous.

On a windy construction site in the south of France, the lofty scientific goal of developing nuclear fusion as a power source is starting to take on a more substantial form.

Covering an area of more than 400,000 square metres, workers have built a one-kilometre-long earthen platform on which the experimental reactor will sit.

"This is going to be the world's biggest science experiment," says Neil Calder, Iter's head of communications.

"This is a vast global project to show the scientific feasibility of fusion as a limitless source of energy.

"On top of this platform we are going to build 130 buildings. The main building will contain the Iter machine itself.

"It will be huge - the size of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris - and it'll weigh about the same as a battleship - 36,000 tonnes of metal and instrumentation."
Costs are not the only problem; Iter is also beset by huge technical challenges.

Fusion takes place when a superheated gas called a plasma reaches a stage called ignition, where hydrogen atoms start to fuse with each other and release large amounts of energy. Iter aims to achieve this but only for a few minutes at a time.

MIT professor Bruno Coppi has been working on fusion research in Italy and the United States for many decades. He believes that Iter is the wrong experiment; it is too costly, will take too long and may not deliver fusion. He says we should be looking at other options.

"We are pressed for time, the climate situation is worse. I think we should go with a faster line of experiments. Iter should admit its limitations and it will give a limited contribution to fusion, but to get to ignition you need to follow a different road," he says.

Creation of energy that lowers the mounting pollution in our world has made itself so urgent that it has immediacy above the huge and visionary project. The recognition of a mistake of this magnitude is epochal, and I can't help but see that that is itself an achievement. It's also yet another indication that the scientific community is watching a threat that it can't deny, and must combat.

The cost of further damage to our climate much exceeds the dollar amount in the giant failure represented here. The effort is urgently needed, and requires commitment to preserve what we have seen increasingly destroyed. We don't have another world to move onto.


One proposed use for the abandoned Waxahachie facility was as a cancer treatment center:

Cancer therapy using proton beams is available at many locations around the world. However, only two centers in the United States -- Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Loma Linda University Medical Center in California--have the capability to treat a wide range of tumors. The Proton Therapy Facility at the RMTC is being designed to meet demanding performance specifications, and the advanced design of the accelerator and clinical equipment will permit the Center to become a leading facility in the United States and to serve populations living between the two coasts.

The State of Texas decided in 1995 not to go through with the project.

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