A breakthrough in fusion energy


Click to enlargeEric Schulzinger/Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin Corp says…it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade.

Tom McGuire, who heads the project, said he and a small team had been working on fusion energy at Lockheed’s secretive Skunk Works for about four years, but were now going public to find potential partners in industry and government for their work.

Initial work demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet, which could fit on the back of a large truck, and is about 10 times smaller than current reactors, McGuire told reporters.

In a statement, the company, the Pentagon’s largest supplier, said it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year, and build a prototype in five years…

Lockheed sees the project as part of a comprehensive approach to solving global energy and climate change problems.

Compact nuclear fusion would produce far less waste than coal-powered plants since it would use deuterium-tritium fuel, which can generate nearly 10 million times more energy than the same amount of fossil fuels, the company said.

Ultra-dense deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen, is found in the earth’s oceans, and tritium is made from natural lithium deposits.

It said future reactors could use a different fuel and eliminate radioactive waste completely.

McGuire said the company had several patents pending for the work and was looking for partners in academia, industry and among government laboratories to advance the work.

Lockheed said it had shown it could complete a design, build and test it in as little as a year, which should produce an operational reactor in 10 years, McGuire said.

Everything material about this is a positive. The only potential negatives are [1] Luddite fears over any power source that carries the word nuclear somewhere in the patent. It’s why for example no commercial food packaging in the United States uses gamma ray sterilization – even though it would dramatically increase safety from pathogens, reduce costs. And [2] the combination of American military vendors and the construction dollars needed to produce plants with appropriate safeguards will increase potential cost several-fold. The greedy bastards hate to leave well enough alone.

Still, the potential for cheap energy is so great it can overcome American greed. It will put creeps like the Koch Bros out of business yet do comparatively little harm to home-based energy sources like solar panels. Reactors like the smallest one proposed would produce sufficient electricity to power 100,000 homes. It needs a grid.

For the technically-interested, here’s a link to process details.

The Pentagon plans to deal with climate change — even if Congress won’t

In case the Pentagon didn’t make it clear enough that climate change is a real and dangerous thing in its Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) earlier this year, perhaps the new Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap (PDF) will drive the point home. Some of the content is roughly the same, but that title sure makes it sound more desperate.

The gist is that the Pentagon’s futurists foresee a world where our changing climate has tremendous real-world effects, and they want to be ready. Lots of people know the climate is changing, but given the Pentagon’s budget, it’s nice to know they are preparing to protect us from things that might actually harm us …In the 2014 CCAR, the Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel, writes that the Department of Defense will focus on just those sorts of threats:

A changing climate will have real impacts on our military and the way it executes its missions. The military could be called upon more often to support civil authorities, and provide humanitarian assistance and disaster relief in the face of more frequent and more intense natural disasters. Our coastal installations are vulnerable to rising sea levels and increased flooding, while droughts, wildfires, and more extreme temperatures could threaten many of our training activities. Our supply chains could be impacted, and we will need to ensure our critical equipment works under more extreme weather conditions. Weather has always affected military operations, and as the climate changes, the way we execute operations may be altered or constrained.

While scientists are converging toward consensus on future climate projections, uncertainty remains. But this cannot be an excuse for delaying action.

Unless, of course, you’re a numbnut Republican or one of the remaining cowardly lions known as Blue Dog Democrats. No action is preferable to delayed action as far as they are concerned. Not that Hagel is much of an advocate when he prates about scientists “converging” towards consensus. Almost as stupid as saying we’re fairly certain astronomers are nearing the day when they can confirm the Earth ain’t flat. Since they’re afraid of offending folks worrying about falling off the edge.

The plan is laid out in some detail in the 20-page PDF that talks about how recurrent flooding is already affecting the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, “which houses the largest concentration of US military sites in the world” (page 2) and how “climate change will have serious implications for the Department’s ability to maintain both its built and natural infrastructure, and to ensure military readiness in the future” (page 8).

The Pentagon is also aware that it will likely need to conduct more humanitarian missions after natural disasters and it will need to have its weapons work no matter what the weather is like out there. We’ll see if the message is heard this time.

Thanks, Mike, great minds and etc.

Liquid nicotine poisoning among kids explodes as parents take to e-cigarettes


Glamorous – and stupid

Poison control workers say that as the e-cigarette industry has boomed, the number of children exposed to the liquid nicotine that gives hand-held vaporizing gadgets their kick also has spiked.

More than 2,700 people have called poison control this year to report an exposure to liquid nicotine, over half of those cases in children younger than 6, according to national statistics. The number shows a sharp rise from only a few hundred total cases just three years ago.

As stupid and destructive as is cigarette smoking, cigarettes laying around didn’t poison children. Parents who convince themselves they’re not doing something as stupid as smoking cigarettes – not only are lying to themselves, they’re risking their kids.

The battery-powered electronic vaporizers often resemble traditional cigarettes and work by heating liquid nicotine into an inhalable mist. The drug comes in brightly colored refill packages and an array of candy flavors that can make it attractive to young children, heightening the exposure risk and highlighting the need for users to keep it away from youngsters…

Liquid nicotine also stands out because it doesn’t have to be swallowed to be harmful. Skin exposure can be toxic. Officials are calling for child-resistant caps, which many manufacturers have already begun using, but there is no uniform protocol.

The e-cigarette industry doesn’t face the strict government regulations on traditional smokes that aim to keep them away from children, including prohibitions on candy or fruit flavors. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has proposed issuing regulations, but no rules have been drafted.

Face it. E-cigs are generally owned by the same pigs who own the cigarette industry. They own the same flavor of politicians they always owned. A critical portion of the equation defining how long it took to get any legislation and regulation of cigarettes passed. It will be the same with e-cigs – unless we rid Congress of the greedy cowards cluttering up the place.

Pope suggests reforms making Catholic Church more liberal than Republican Party

A panel of high-ranking Catholic officials has proposed a dramatic change in the way the church treats gays and lesbians. The group of Cardinals, known as a synod, suggested the church is capable of “valuing their sexual orientation, without compromising Catholic doctrine.”

The Cardinals stopped well short of endorsing gay marriage, stating “unions between people of the same sex cannot be considered on the same footing as matrimony between man and woman.” But they also acknowledged, in a section called “Welcoming homosexual persons,” there “are cases in which mutual aid to the point of sacrifice constitutes a precious support in the life of the partners.” The Cardinals also suggest that same-sex couples should never be discriminated against in ways that could impact their children…

The new language is reflective of more inclusive thinking by Pope Francis on homosexuality. Earlier this year, Pope Francis may have hinted at support for civil unions for same-sex couples. Speaking specifically about gay priests last year, Francis said, “Who am I to judge [homosexual priests] if they’re seeking the Lord in good faith? They shouldn’t be marginalized. The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem… they’re our brothers…”

Several of the world’s Catholic countries — including Argentina and Brazil — have begun to embrace gay marriage.

Unsurprising, the Catholic equivalent of Protestant fundamentalist ideologues have their knickers in a bunch over how this is progressing. As far as they’re concerned, the Church ended The Inquisition way too soon. Meanwhile, the Pope seems to be acting like his names’ source more and more.

Watch this space. Maybe we’ll see priests back in civil rights marches, again – along with the nuns who never left.