Tuesday was a monumental day in the history of America and the world. It was a one of those days that might never have come, save for the hard, decades-long work of researchers and America’s commitment to education and scientific advancement.
According to The Associated Press, “Scientists say they’ve been able to engineer a (fusion) reaction that produced more power than was used to ignite it. The breakthrough at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California used powerful lasers focusing enormous energy on a tiny capsule filled with fuel. But researchers and outside experts acknowledge it will likely take decades more before fusion might one day be used to produce nearly limitless carbon-free energy.”
We have achieved controllable fusion – once the pipe dream of science fiction writers – on this planet. We can replicate the results and begin to work on making the process more efficient and affordable.
To be sure, there are no fusion power plants about to come online this year or next year or the year after that. As the AP reported, the best case is probably 35-40 years down the road before we have a fusion reactor outputting serious amounts of electricity. And, to be honest, it’s going to take longer than that – probably a lot longer.
However, this week’s announcement is yet another reminder of what is possible, if only we work together to make it so. Old millenials and their grandchildren could very well live in world powered solely by solar, wind and fusion. Sure, big supertankers may still burn diesel, but that fuel can be formulated to burn much cleaner than gasoline.
But think about it: no more tailpipes belching smoke in the air, no more blasting deep injection wells all over Oklahoma, no more mountaintop removal in Appalachia, no more strip mining of prairies in the Dakotas and Alberta to dig up shale.
We could have clean, fresh air in the cities, and no more groundwater fouled by underground tanks or runoff from highways choked with gasoline-burning, oil-lubricated vehicles. Imagine a world (mostly) free of that constant din of auto traffic. Imagine not being a slave to volatile gas prices.
It could be much cheaper world – if it’s done right – for anyone not named Buffett or Musk or Gates or something Russian or Chinese. How so, you may ask? If solar collection becomes efficient enough to allow neighborhoods and small towns to have their own power grids, it could be backed up by regional fusion reactors owned and operated by co-ops or non-profit companies. No more light bills. No more bullying from electricity providers, no more sitting in the dark, no more excuses from the utilities and their friends in the state government about why we have such high monthly bills.
This isn’t pie in the sky stuff, folks. It’s all very achievable – if we make it plain to local, state and federal leaders that we need not just to keep up education and research spending, but to increase that spending across K-12, higher education, defense, medicine, agriculture and other areas.