Friday, May 20, 2011

The human factor in research

Not too long ago, I did a number of posts on the subject of Rossi Focardi fusion research.  Then, yesterday, I came across the energy from Thorium proposition.  Both are attempting to do the same thing: generate energy from the atom.  The difference between the two is that one is fusion while the other is fission.  The similarities are that both had a lot of promise at one point, but seemed to fall by the wayside and recently rediscovered.

There has been a great deal of fear about nuclear energy.  Not to mention the worry about the wastes.  This did not concern me as much as others may have been because of what I read in Dixy Lee Ray's book  Trashing the Planet.  I suspect that a lot of the fear has to do with a lack of understanding which is exacerbated by the way that mishaps get reported in the news.  Hence, the Three Mile Island incident effectively shuts down the nuclear industry here.  A few years later, Chernobyl reinforced that fear.  Now Fukishima just adds to the climate of fear of things nuclear- these things just don't seem safe.  Now, Germany abandons nuclear power.  All of this is an overreaction.  Sadly, it may be unavoidable.  People will fear something they don't understand.   What to do?

The star crossed history of fission has been the impetus for fusion research.  But fusion is much harder.  After all these decades, we still don't have a fusion reactor which is net energy.  But people are looking and looking hard.  As for me, I've been looking closely at the energy issue for several years now.  I came across Dr. Bussard's Polywell concept.  It was one of the first things I wrote about on this blog.  Lately, two other concepts have caught my attention- Focus Fusion and Rossi Focardi's "cold fusion".   My own experience studying these ideas has brought something else to my attention- the human factor.  People fall in love with their ideas.  It is entirely human, but it is also hazardous in its own way.  It may blind us to other paths that we may take.  That's because to fall in love means the exclusion of all other choices.

To fear and to love are all too human.  But it is also possible to learn and keep an open mind.  Unfortunately, when emotions take over, the mind tends to close down.  Reason and logic go overboard and big mistakes can be made.  The reaction to this may draw the reaction- who do you think you are, Spock?  Yeah, maybe you weren't thinking that at all, and the Spock reference turns you off.  I've described times when I got turned off by something only to reconsider.  Sometimes to reconsider can be helpful.  Jumping to conclusions can't be good.  But it is easy to fall into that trap.  I try to avoid that as well as avoiding "drinking the Kool Aid."  I wrote about this Kool Aid stuff on this blog too.  I won't be drinking anybody's Kool Aid.  I'm keeping an open mind.

I haven't fallen in love with any one way of solving the energy problem.  It may turn out that the best way will get overlooked when something else is found.  Such has been the case of fission.  Just looking at the way we generate electricity now may look foolish in the future in comparison to how it might be done better with Thorium reactors.  Thorium reactors are smaller, cheaper and safer.  That is not a mere theoretical possibility.  They have already been built.  They weren't commercialized because it was thought better to be able to make bombs.  Thorium is not useful for making bombs.

However, Rossi Focardi may be right around the corner.  This idea may get the lead on Thorium and it may be back to the sidelines for Thorium.  Frankly, it doesn't make any difference to me who wins.  I think we all win when we solve the energy problem.  If it gets solved by fission or fusion- who cares, as long as it works.

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