Safe Energy

John K Clark (
Sat, 3 May 1997 19:30:13 -0700 (PDT)


Making a Gamma ray burster in your back yard would not be a good idea, but
what would be a reasonable energy source for an super advanced civilization?
Solar power may be old fashioned but I still like it. I certainly would not
recommend building breeder reactors, there is already a glut of plutonium in
the world. All reactors produce plutonium, a big power plant reactor will
invariable produce many tons of it in its lifetime. A breeder reactor is
designed to maximize the production of plutonium. I'm not even a great fan of
conventional reactors, and call me a wimp if you want to, but breeders really
give me the creeps.

1) A breeder is at a much higher energy density than a regular reactor and
that means it's inherently more dangerous.

2) A conventional reactor uses Uranium as fuel in which the U235 has been
enriched from the naturally occurring .7% concentration to about 4%,
you need about 85% to make a bomb. A breeder uses weapons grade plutonium
as a fuel, and lots of it.

3) A conventional reactor uses water as a coolant and to slow down the
neutrons, a breeder uses molten sodium that burns in the air and explodes
in the presents of water. After a short time in operation this hot liquid
sodium becomes intensely radioactive. Just last year a leak in a sodium
pump destroyed the newest and largest breeder reactor in Japan, if it
wasn't in a containment building it could have been a human disaster.
It's already an economic disaster of several hundred million dollars.

The thing I really don't like about fission reactors is that they produce all
that damn plutonium. There is so much of it in existence, thousands of tons,
that it's very hard to keep track of it all. You only need slightly over
9 pounds to make a crude nuclear bomb, less if you're clever.

There is another type of Nuclear power, but there are 2 things I don't like
about fusion reactors.

1) They don't exist, yet.

2) Most reactions would make things near the reactor radioactive because they
produce high speed neutrons.

The fusion reaction I like best is between non radioactive deuterium
(Hydrogen 2) and non radioactive Helium 3, this produces non radioactive
Helium 4, an easily controlled proton, 18.3 mev of energy, and most important
of all, no neutron. Unfortunately you need a higher temperature to achieve it
than the deuterium tritium reaction most are talking about.

There is a type of cold fusion that definitely works, even as cold as 13
degrees Kelvin but, as Eugene mentioned recently, there hasn't been much
happening in muon-catalyzed cold fusion lately, and it's a shame because the
idea seems so elegant. A negative muon is almost identical to an electron
except it's 207 times as massive, you can even substitute them for electrons
in Hydrogen and the result is atoms and molecules 207 times smaller than
normal. In all fusion reactions you need to get the nucleus of 2 atoms so
close that the short range nuclear forces can take over, this is not easy to
do because the nucleus of both atoms have a positive charge and so repel each
other. In normal fusion you use brute force to do this, things get very hot
and so the two slam together, if you use muons instead of electrons in a
hydrogen molecule the two nuclei are already 207 times closer together even
when ice cold.

There are problems of course, it takes energy to make a muon, to break even
each muon would have to catalyze between 100 and 500 fusion reactions, and
muons are not stable, their half life is 2*10^-6 seconds, but a lot can happen
in two microseconds, that's a very long time by particle physics standards.
I know of no fundamental reason it couldn't be made to work.

John K Clark

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