Communion Of Dreams

Power to the People!

I’m fairly sure the original seed of the idea for Communion of Dreams came to me back during my college days (some 30 years ago). It was after reading yet one more prediction that “within 20 years, fusion power should be a reality – and a home-sized fusion unit should be available shortly thereafter.” I grumbled to a friend that fusion power was likely to be discovered not by the big research institutions, but by some unknown genius, tinkering in his garage – and probably not even known to the world until after someone noticed that he hadn’t been paying any utility bills for power for ten years and went to investigate, only then discovering a functional fusion furnace supplying all his power needs.

How does that relate to Communion? Well, because with a few minor tweaks, that above scenario became the genesis of ‘Hawking’s Conundrum’, the basis for the revolution in tech that I stipulate for the book. In my alternate reality, Stephen Hawking comes up with a new model for physics which enables cheap and plentiful fusion power, but the results are so outlandish to conventional thinking that he doesn’t allow release the discovery until after his death some years later.

Cheap and plentiful nuclear power (whether fission or fusion) was a staple of SF going back to at least the 1930s. I think I likely first became aware of it through the writings of Robert Heinlein, though it is hard to say some 40 years later. Certainly, it was common – as were predictions of energy being “too cheap to meter” – and the availability of that energy allowed for all manner of technological innovation.

Well, we’re now one big step closer to that reality. Maybe.

No, fusion power is still elusive. But it seems that maybe the “home nuclear reactor” is a reality. (I say “maybe” because all I can find are variations of the same story circulating the web – no hard news outlets or official announcement from Toshiba.) The story:

Toshiba Builds 100x Smaller Micro Nuclear Reactor

Toshiba has developed a new class of micro size Nuclear Reactors that is designed to power individual apartment buildings or city blocks. The new reactor, which is only 20 feet by 6 feet, could change everything for small remote communities, small businesses or even a group of neighbors who are fed up with the power companies and want more control over their energy needs.

The 200 kilowatt Toshiba designed reactor is engineered to be fail-safe and totally automatic and will not overheat. Unlike traditional nuclear reactors the new micro reactor uses no control rods to initiate the reaction. The new revolutionary technology uses reservoirs of liquid lithium-6, an isotope that is effective at absorbing neutrons. The Lithium-6 reservoirs are connected to a vertical tube that fits into the reactor core. The whole whole process is self sustaining and can last for up to 40 years, producing electricity for only 5 cents per kilowatt hour, about half the cost of grid energy.

Fact? Fiction? A bit hard to say. Small nuclear reactors have been built and used for any number of military applications, though those are hardly self-contained or user-friendly. I know of no technical limitations to this sort of product, but then, I’m not a nuclear engineer. This other source has a lot more to say about the news, and how this application of known technology is more or less just an innovation.

I suppose we’ll see. The first such unit is supposed to be installed in Japan next year, and then brought to this country and Europe in 2009. You can be certain if this is actually attempted, it will generate some ‘real’ news attention, not to mention a lot of gnashing of teeth over whether or not the tech is safe.

Jim Downey

(Via  MeFi.)

2 Comments so far
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Here is the fusion reactor you have been dreaming of:

Bussard Fusion Reactor
Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion

It has been funded:

Bussard Fusion Reactor Funded

The above reactor can burn Deuterium which is very abundant and produces lots of neutrons or it can burn a mixture of Hydrogen and abundant Boron 11 which does not.

The implication of it is that we will know in 6 to 9 months if the small reactors of that design are feasible.

If they are we could have fusion plants generating electricity in 10 years or less depending on how much we want to spend to compress the time frame. A much better investment than CO2 sequestration.

BTW Bussard is not the only thing going on in IEC. There are a few government programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, MIT, the University of Wisconsin and at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana among others.

The Japanese and Australians also have programs.

If you want to get deeper into the technology visit:

IEC Fusion Technology blog

Start with the sidebar which has links to tutorials and other stuff.

Comment by M. Simon

Well, thanks for that, M. Simon – glad I caught that your comment had been marked as “spam” by my filter! Excellent info – much appreciated.

Jim D.

Comment by Communion of Dreams

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