Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory are about two-thirds of the way to producing excess power with a nuclear fusion reactor.
If you didn’t just leap out of your seat, that’s okay. The science community’s been teasing fusion for decades and, like a lot of technologies, it’s always about another decade away.
We might really be a decade away from a useful fusion reactor. But, unfortunately, that would mean we could be a century or more away from truly reaping the benefits of nuclear fusion.
The reason for this is mostly economic. Unlocking a breakthrough technology is only half the battle. The tricky part is implementation. And, as you can imagine, implementing nuclear fusion technology into modern society is a particularly sticky wicket.
First, it’s prohibitively expensive. The reactors alone cost in excess of $20B. And then you have to build a whole facility, staff it, and take care of overhead. All in, you’re somewhere closer to $30B just to get started.
Second, we might be able to butt up against “unlimited power” sometime in the far-future, but it’s a solid bet that the first few generations of fusion reactors won’t suddenly solve all of our power problems. It’ll take some time for fusion reactors to prove more useful than other electricity-production technologies.
Fusion’s beginnings may be humble, but it’s future is bright. In order to achieve science fiction tech like warp drives and food synthesizers, we’re probably going to need fusion energy.
Not only is fusion (theoretically) more powerful than our traditional nuclear fission reactors, it’s safer. It doesn’t harm the environment and the waste it produces can’t be used to create weapons. There’s also no chance of meltdown with fusion.
The problem is that it’s going to be hard to justify replacing nuclear fission reactors with fusion reactors. It could take hundreds of years for the up-front expenses to pay off and most politicians and communities aren’t going to wait that long for their investments to mature.
Fusion sounds really cool, and one day it’ll be super useful, but I fear bureaucracy and government budgeting are what’s going to hold the tech back more than anything else.
In other words: big oil pays dividends now, fusion could take a while.
That’s why Elon Musk should step up and build a fusion reactor. He could make history, silence critics, and undercut the Texas government’s stranglehold on electricity. It’s the perfect plan.
Sure, a few weeks back I just said that the last thing on Earth anyone should do is give someone like Elon Musk the go ahead to build nuclear reactors.
But I’ve since come to realize that reason is a dead end and billionaires are basically just gods who walk among us. Life is easier this way.
Anyway, it’s the perfect endeavor for Musk. If he tries to achieve fusion and fails, nobody will care.
Remember when he was going to magnetically levitate transportation pods underground at speeds in excess of those achieved by a Boeing jet? He delivered human-driven Teslas in tunnels under Las Vegas and still got richer.
And wouldn’t it be hilarious if he actually beat the physics community to ignition?
The best part is that it would only cost about 10% of Musk‘s estimated worth. Now, I know his value isn’t in cash. Every time someone says a billionaire should solve a problem, millions of sleeper nerds activate and shriek “it’s not liquid!” as part of an ancient ritual to ward off evil spirits.
I am selling almost all physical possessions. Will own no house.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 1, 2020
We get it. Musk gave up all his worldly possessions and now sleeps on a bed of discarded motherboards near an Office Depot dumpster. Nobody’s more pious then he.
But, if Rent-A-Center will let me walk out of the store with a PlayStation 3 for six dollars a week, I’m sure the world’s banks will front Elon $30B so he can save Texans from freezing if the governor forgets to pay the power bill before he goes on vacation again.
Musk recently applied for permits to sell electricity in the state, anyway. And he’s been trying to shove his Texas Gigafactory in Silicon Valley’s face since 2018. At this point, he’d be a chicken not to build at least one nuclear fusion plant in Texas. Consider it a dare.