It took less than 20 years from the discovery of fission to the development of a fully functioning nuclear reactor to produce energy – a system which remains controversial and unsafe today.
Over 55 years later the world is nowhere near functional, controlled, safe and clean fusion energy.
Once the best and brightest American and the world had to offer focused on the greater needs of humanity, scientists were heroes tackling massive energy and other problems.
Marty Hoffert, a retired NYU physicist and a senior fellow at Breakthrough Institute said over the next few years nuclear options must still be explored. Scientists, he explained, believe nuclear fission can be made safer and used widely, but in the long-run fusion research must be undertaken as well.
“It [fusion] is a very tough problem,” he said. “We’re going to solve it eventually.”
However, Hoffert is confident it can be overcome given the right circumstance. Currently there are ongoing international projects looking into fusion energy by studying the prospect of converting sea water into energy by fusing hydrogen. The project is known as ITER.
“Our civilization runs on energy the way the Roman Empire ran on slavery,” he explained. “It is inconceivable that we can run our civilization without a sustainable source of energy that is sufficiently long lived and safe.”
The US government however is simply not committing enough financial resources to the problem, and those which they do commit to energy focus mainly on known technologies in coal.
“The Chinese, have committed three times as much investment, they are going to be donating of the order of $75 billion dollars to develop renewable energy sources,” Hoffert said. “It’s paid off for them.”
In the past the US actively invested in major new technologies that were unknown; ranging from space travel to nuclear fission. However that has changed.
Humanity has long since moved on from praising scientific efforts and replaced it with cold hard cash.
Today’s technological heroes become rich creating iPads, cell phones and consumer goods and building mathematical models for Wall Street as opposed to working towards a shared scientific goal of greater knowledge and common good.
“It’s dramatically different now than it was when I was growing up,” said Hoffert. “When scientist had actually performed, what seemed to be miracles, of technology development and when people were planning to go to the Moon and colonize the solar system, there was a basic belief that the future was going to be a better place for our children and for our decedents and we were going to get there through science and technology. We don’t see science and technology like that anymore. We don’t have the best and the brightest of our young people in the United States studying science and technology. That has to change.”
What made America great was its focus on science, technology, and innovation, he argued. There was a time in America when competition and adequate police drove innovation for scientific discovery in new industries which rose out of a desire to compete and grow. This environment no longer exists.
There needs to be an investment in new industries and fields to expand the economy and discover greater scientific finds. American society must return to value science and technology and invest in it like the era of Franklin D. Roosevelt Hoffert explained.
Physicist Steven Cowley explained fusion energy is the perfect way to make energy, but is indeed hard to do. It’s clean, safe and reliable – but challenging. He explained that if the conditions are right and investment and resources properly allocated, it can be achieved.
“I think there was a perception it was going to be almost impossible to do, but since we have been able to do it, I think we are getting closer,” explained Cowley. “At some point the world will eb powered by fusion, there’s no question.”
As the world gets closer, greater resources will be allocated and smart young scientists will begin to return to the field, he argued. But, the sooner they do the better, as fusion is needed now, not later.
“We should be spending a lot more money on research into energy,” he argued.