Touted by environmentalists and scientists alike as the ultimate clean alternative to coal, oil and nuclear fission, controlled fusion has been difficult to achieve. Scientific problems, combined with the ups and downs of federal funding made it seem at times as if we wouldn't even see practical fusion power in the 21st century.
Today, though, the goal is in sight-if only society has the will to push
for its development, says theoretical physicist T. Kenneth Fowler, a professor
in the graduate school and for 17 years director of fusion research at Lawrence
Livermore National Laboratory.
As evidence, he notes the successes scored in Europe and the United States
in the early 1990s that produced fusion energy-though for a brief second,
and totaling far less energy than that required to initiate the reaction.
Following on these successes, two new experimental fusion devices are being
built to reach the holy grail, the point at which controlled fusion produces
more energy than it consumes.
Fowler's book gently guides the reader through the intricacies of plasma physics, the branch of physics that deals with gases so hot that every atom is ionized.
He delves also into economic and environmental aspects of fusion and concludes that while the cost would be about the same, safety and environmental costs would be much improved.
"With global warming, how we make energy may become the real problem in the future," he says.
The one imponderable is the will of the public.