In this episode of the "Can Technology Save Us?" mini-series Kory and Kellan discuss nuclear fusion - its potential for providing vast amounts of energy, as well as the serious roadblocks to its actualization.Support the show (https://www.patreon.com/collapsepod)
Episode 46 - Edit
Kory: [00:00:00] So Kellan, once upon a time in passing I remember in one of our episodes, we brought up the idea of clouds and not really knowing are clouds a net warmer or a net cooler. And we know that as climate change continues, there's going to be more moisture in the atmosphere, which should mean more clouds in the atmosphere. And we were like, well, on one side, that might cool the earth more because it shades us from the sun. But on the other side, it also acts as an insulator. So would it increase warming? And, uh, there was an article this week that I saw on Reddit that answers that question. And we don't know for sure yet if it's a definitive answer, but they said it was like a 97% certainty in their research.
Um, the, the title of the article was "satellite data shows how clouds actually worsen global heating." And I believe their, bold claim in this was that we were going to hit these benchmarks of like three degrees Celsius warming up to 50 years earlier than expected. So instead of 2100 by 2050, and that we would have clouds to blame for that.
Kellan: [00:01:16] What a sad conclusion. I think we're always looking for something that can help us and mitigate the damage. And honestly, that's what this series of episodes is about, right? Like can such and such save us, can technology save us. And to some degree we had this hope that maybe clouds can save us. And we knew they wouldn't completely stop climate change or anything like that, but if they can slow it down, that'd be great.
And yet to think that they're going to be speeding up. Just one more thing.
Kory: [00:01:41] Yeah. Like how nice would it have been if the support would have come out and it would have been like, clouds are expected to cool the earth by one degree, you know, it would have been something to celebrate. It would have extended society's lifespan a little further, but instead it's just like a nail in the coffin. Yep. This is actually gonna make things much worse. It's a feedback loop. We hadn't expected.
Kellan: [00:02:01] Speaking of clouds. I think you brought this up briefly at one point, but I saw some articles about these I think they're called pyro Cumulus clouds. I mean, essentially they are clouds created by all the smoke from these wildfires. The article that I saw was about the wildfires happening in the state of Oregon, but it can actually create really severe, crazy disruptive weather.
Kory: [00:02:23] Yeah, I think it, I think the pyro Cumulus clouds were the ones that are kind of the warning signal. And then it was the pyro cumulonimbus clouds, they're the ones that actually create the weather. And I read somewhere just today that in Oregon, it was actually starting to create its own weather.
Kellan: [00:02:38] And these fire clouds I know we talked previously about how that was part of the reason the town burned down,
Kory: [00:02:43] Right, Lytton, in British Columbia.
Kellan: [00:02:46] Yeah. So you hear about all of this happening and at the time that we're recording this episode, we've seen a whole lot of coverage about major flooding in Germany and all the disastrous impacts of that. I saw videos of vehicles and even semi-trucks being just washed around like they were toys.
Kory: [00:03:04] Yeah. A lot of it to me is just unbelievable. And I think the craziest part about it is just the sheer number of places that it's happening. Like it wasn't just Germany, it was Germany and Belgium. And then there was flooding in China that was wiping out dams. You know, there's just all these different places that there's all this flooding and all these places with all these fires and all these places with droughts. And it just feels like it's happening everywhere all at once. And it's interesting cause it's like, if this is a result of climate change, you know, obviously weather does not always equal climate change exactly. But the fact that. Climate change is making these things happen more often, more frequently, more severely makes me wonder if we're at 1.1 to 1.2 degrees Celsius now, what is 1.5 and what is two degrees? And you know, if we're gonna hit three C by sometime between 2050-2080, what is that gonna look like? Unbelievable.
Kellan: [00:03:53] Well, with all of the terrifying effects of climate change and with the fact that we're running out of resources. And you know, , all the other issues that we've talked about in the past, leading up to this point, you know, we've done kind of a mini series within the larger series of these episodes about can technology save us. And we're coming back to the topic of energy. You know, every aspect of how we operate in our societies and how we live our lives on a personal level, but also how we manufacture our products, how we produce our food, how we get our water, how we do everything is all dependent on energy and our ability to consume enough energy to produce those outcomes.
Kory: [00:04:30] Yeah. And how over time our reliance on that energy is increasing. We need an increasing amount of energy as we become more complex and as we become bigger. And it's interesting, you know, I just saw an article as well. I guess I read a lot of articles. Um, this one was saying that we are missing the mark on renewable s by an insane amount. It was like for wind to meet the goals for wind we would have to have double the amount of growth in wind that we're currently having year over year. So we're only halfway in our growth rate of where we need to be with wind and a third for solar. So we are so far behind and that was only to keep us at two degrees C by 2050.
So when it comes to energy, we are failing in the things that we've already talked about with solar and wind and electrical renewables. And so I'm really interested to hear what you have to talk about today.
Kellan: [00:05:21] Yeah. We've talked in the past about all these different forms of energy. And like you're saying there, we're way behind in what we're trying to do with renewables, but even if we could keep up with those goals, there's issues with all the different types of energy that we have right now,. We talk about how fossil fuels are really toxic. They create greenhouse gases, that's what's causing so many of our problems and we're running out of them. We talk about solar and wind and the fact that they're intermittent and we don't yet have all the battery storage and technology to be able to store that energy.
And so one of the most appealing forms of energy is nuclear energy. And we took a whole episode to talk about nuclear fission. And by the way, any type of nuclear energy, it's just amazing that most microscopic, you know, the tiniest building blocks of everything around us contains so much energy. And if we can just tap into that, we'll be set. Right? So with fission which we talked about in a previous episode, if you haven't listened to that one, I recommend you listen to that before you listen to what we're going to be talking about today, but fission it can operate day and night, tons of energy. And yet it's really expensive to build.
These nuclear plants, you know, they might cost $10 billion a piece and take 10 years to build. And then they only last a handful of decades. We talked about the fact that they produce radioactive waste, and there's been these incidents of meltdowns. And between that and the way that nuclear energy is used in weapons has created a really negative public perception.
So there's all these issues with fission, and we've already covered the fact that it doesn't look like vision is going to save us, even though it plays a part.
Kory: [00:06:55] And if it was used and used correctly and to scale, it maybe it could, but because of the public perception, because of some of the costs and governments, unwillingness to pay those costs, it's not going to.
Kellan: [00:07:07] Yeah. And I think a lot of that unwillingness is warranted because we just can't afford it. To create enough nuclear power plants to give us all the energy we would need would be an astronomical amount of money.
Kory: [00:07:18] Yep. Between cost and risk. There's just too much there.
Yeah, exactly. And time. Okay. So that leads us to fusion. If you look at the sun and by the way, don't look at the sun.
Thanks Trump. Can you saw the video of him looking at the sun? Right. And it could have been Biden. It could have been any president, but it's just so funny to the president of United States he was just staring at the sun.
Kellan: [00:07:46] Okay. So if you think of the sun, the sun seems to just supply an unlimited amount of energy right, the amount of energy that the sun creates is so hard to comprehend. It's amazing. And if we could get even just a tiny portion of that, we would be absolutely taken care of when it comes to our energy needs.
So there's this question of, can we produce energy the same way that the sun does and that's what nuclear fusion is.
Kory: [00:08:09] And let me just say, I'm really excited about this because when it comes to this topic, I know zero, like with what you just said about the sun, this is all new to me. So I'm excited to learn and I'm excited to ask a lot of questions because I know there's not only a lot to learn here, but also this is one of those that people talk about a lot as being this huge potential for us, as they always say, w the phrases it's always 30 years away and it always has been, but anyway, I'm just really excited to, to get into this and maybe geek out a little bit.
no I am not filled with much hopium, it is fun to learn about potential things, potential technologies that we don't have yet that are just like these, they're maybes, you know, would it be like the movies where it's this last second thing that just comes in and saves the day? And I know I'm going on a bit of a tangent here because, uh, obviously even if we were able to get nuclear fusion, we'd still have all of the other issues, biodiversity loss, ecosystem, loss, climate change, and all of that, but that doesn't make it less fascinating to learn about.
Kellan: [00:09:07] Yeah. And I've been totally geeking out on this topic. I'm not going to pretend to be an expert by any means, but I've tried to be thorough in my research. And it has been absolutely fascinating to learn about this thing that I've heard so much about. Like you said, people always say this could be the thing that solves the energy problem. So on that note, potentially we could produce as much energy from a single glass of seawater as we currently can with a barrel of oil.
Kory: [00:09:33] Wow.
Kellan: [00:09:34] And there wouldn't be any waste. To keep going on some of the potential positives here, two pounds of fusion fuel would be the same as about 55,000 barrels of oil.
And some claim that fusion can produce 4 million times as much energy as coal or gas and four times as much energy as vision. I don't know exactly what they're defining when there's say the amount of energy it can create. Fusion would also be safer than just about any other form of energy. You know, you think of nuclear power and you think of nuclear fission and how there's these meltdowns in these explosions, but it's not like the kind of nuclear reactors that can have a meltdown. With nuclear fusion, if there's some sort of a breach of the power plant, if the confinement of the plasma within the reactor were to be breached, the plasma would just expand and down. Essentially the nature of it makes it so that there can't be any sort of big, crazy accident. Okay.
So we have something that is seemingly right at our fingertips that could solve many of the problems that we face today. And it's not something that's just theoretical. It's not like magic or a fairy tale. It's actual science. We know how it works. And to some degree we've been able to create it. So when you hear that side of it, you might be a very big proponent of nuclear fusion. Just those facts alone, just that amount of hope that it offers is enough for people to say, Hey, this is where our focus should be.
Kory: [00:10:58] And I think that's where some of the challenges come in. It's it's like, do you put all the research and money and investment towards something that is so monumentally difficult to achieve? Or do you put all that money and time and research into things that we know that work that just have to be scaled up by a million times. And I don't know what the right answer is. And, and obviously we're doing some of both, but it is interesting to hear how much potential it actually has to solve the energy crisis.
Kellan: [00:11:24] Yeah. And that's one of the main issues that we're going to talk about with it is that it's not a technology that we have fully developed yet. And there's been claims that we're right on the brink of it for decades. This is an issue that some of the world's smartest minds have been working on for decades. And we're still not there yet. There's kind of a joke that's out there that, you know, fusion is the energy source of the future and always will be.
So let's talk a little bit about what nuclear fusion is. It's a Thermo nuclear process, which essentially means the ingredients have to be insanely hot. By the way, when we talk about insanely hot, we're talking about literally millions of degrees.
Kory: [00:12:00] Can't even fathom that type of temperature. Like once you get even above a couple hundred or a few hundred degrees, it's all the same to me.
Kellan: [00:12:07] Yeah. Try 150 million degrees Celsius.
Kory: [00:12:11] Like what does that in Fahrenheit Kellan?
Kellan: [00:12:14] No idea, but so hot to the point that atoms are stripped of their electrons, which makes plasma. And by the way, this blew my mind, apparently plasma, they call it the fourth state of matter. I've always learned growing up that there's just three states of matter solid liquid gas, but plasma is actually a separate state of matter, right? If you want to hear kind of a technical definition around that plasma consists of a fully ionized or partially ionized gas containing ions, electrons, and neutral atoms, but in a simpler way of saying it it's similar to gas, but with charged particles.
So with that heat, creating the plasma, it allows nuclei and electrons to bounce around freely. And the nuclei are positively charge, which if you think about like taking two magnets and trying to push the positive end of each of those magnets together, what happens?
Kory: [00:13:06] You get that resistance and they kind of float around each other.
Kellan: [00:13:09] Yeah, that's exactly it. They repel each other, right. They, they push against each other and that's what happens with these nuclei. And so in order to break past that resistance, the nuclei I have to be moving extremely fast, which means you have to have that extreme amount of heat. Yeah. And usually in a very confined space with a lot of pressure. So we talked about the sun and that this is how the sun creates its energy. This is how all stars create their energy. And it's a function of their mass. The sun is so enormous that all of that pressure and all of that gravity at the core of the sun creates so much pressure and heat that it pushes those nuclear together until they merge or fuse. So the nuclei are fusing. That's why it's called a nuclear fusion.
Kory: [00:13:55] So that's super interesting. And I had no idea. I mean, I knew obviously that fusion meant you were putting together, fission we're splitting them apart, but I didn't know it to that detail. And I'm curious, and maybe I've missed it, but where does the actual energy release come from? Like how would we harness the release of energy in order to create energy that can be used in other things?
Kellan: [00:14:16] And this is where I'm not an expert, but it comes back to equals MC squared. You know, we mentioned this in our fission episode, but I was fascinated to learn that in that equation, essentially mass equals energy. And in nuclear fusion, we talk about the merging together of two things. The mass of those two things fuse together is less than the sum of the mass of those two things. And where does that extra mass or weight come from? It's from energy. That binding energy that you're breaking through when you force those nuclei together.
So in fission, right you're splitting stuff apart. In fusion, you're fusing stuff together at a molecular level. But my understanding is it comes back to how those elements exist in the first place and that binding energy that you're messing with , when you split or merge things on a molecular level.
Kory: [00:15:06] so I guess, what do we know? What are we able to do? And what about this is so difficult?
Kellan: [00:15:12] Yeah. Good question. We'll get into some of that. And later you'll hear me mention something called ITER which is the international thermonuclear experimental reactor. There's this big group. That's like it says in the title, international. China, the EU,, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, the USA are all contributing to this big project. But one individual who's a part of that organization, he says "the challenge is beyond today's capacity" and he compares it to being a bigger challenge than decoding DNA or putting a man on the moon.
And I can only imagine all the complexity. But you think about creating that much heat in the right environment and maintaining that and doing so in a way that produces more energy than what we're putting into it. I don't know all the technical details of why that's such a challenge, but what I came up against over and over again in the research is that that is extremely hard to do.
Kory: [00:16:06] So what you're saying is the potential for fusion is that the eROI could just be insanely high, but right now we haven't even got to a point where the eROI is positive. We're spending more energy than we're getting out of it.
Kellan: [00:16:20] Yeah. You think about the kind of energy it takes to create a temperature of 150 million degrees Celsius. So far, we've never hit that break even point where the energy output is higher than the energy input. So yeah, you're spot on. So that's a good segue into what we've done so far. There's a couple of different types of reactors that we've created, and we have been able to create nuclear fusion, at least for short periods of time and on a small scale. Yeah. So there's two different types of ways that we do this. One is called a magnetic refinement reactor, and basically you squeeze plasma together and this donut shape chamber. And the idea is that you're using superconducting electromagnets that apparently are cooled with liquid helium to within a few degrees of absolute zero. And so you get this extreme range of temperature where the electromagnets are being cooled to negative 269 degrees Celsius. And on the other hand, heating the plasma to that 150 million degrees Celsius. So that's one way to do it. And I mentioned ITER I T E R. It's a reactor in France that they've been building for a long time. It's going to be two times bigger than even the biggest one that exists right now.
And so if you think of that one, it's just huge. Again, donut shaped machine, their goal, their target is they want to produce 500 megawatts of nuclear power with 50 megawatts of heating power.
Kory: [00:17:43] So they want to put in 50 megawatts of power and get out 500 megawatts. They want achieve an eROI of 10.
Kellan: [00:17:49] Correct . And there's this huge facility where they're constructing all of this. The machine itself is like 20 yards in diameter and 20 yards tall. And the target is to go nuclear by around 2035. And here's this interesting quote again, from that same individual that I mentioned earlier, his name is Mark Henderson. His job title is electron cyclotron section leader at the ITER organization, but here's what he said. He says "by 2040, which seems a long way, we will have gained all the information that allows the next generations to build demos."
Kory: [00:18:26] Okay. Wait, so when you first said it, you said 2035, 2040, they're hoping to have this nuclear reactor that will take 50 megawatts of power, turn it into 500 megawatts of power. And by doing all of that, now he's saying they would just have the information that would then allow the next generation to do demos. What does demos mean in that context?
Kellan: [00:18:49] So essentially this is a big prototype and it can teach them enough that they can create these demos that will actually achieve ignition. An ignition is the term they use, right, where they get it to a sustainable spot and it is producing tons of energy like we talked about it potentially could. And that is setting the next generation up to do that would then open the door for industrial scale reactors that could produce energy for the grid. And going back to the quote from Mark Henderson, he says "that is literally where fusion will take off. It's not in our lifespan, but it is in our grandkids or the great, great grandkids lifespan."
Kory: [00:19:29] Wow. Like it's such a cool concept. And I totally believe that it's feasible to make it happen. At some point someday we'll have the technology to do it. But when you tell me that it's my great, great grandchildren. That will be the ones to actually set it all into motion, to finally make it so that it's grid capable.
And like, it's just totally deflating. Not because I want to see it in my lifetime, but because I think my lifetime and my kids' lifetime, may be the last chance for us to even have a grid to, to operate it on.
Kellan: [00:19:58] Yeah. And it's amazing how many different opinions are out there. He says he thinks we'll be getting to a good point with nuclear fusion by the turn of the century. Others say by 2060, 2070. There's some that are really optimistic that are saying, you know, 15 years from now. All along the way for the last handful of decades, people have been saying, Hey, we're only five, 10 years away from really hitting our breakthroughs here. So that, I mean, it's just his opinion, but he's a pretty credible source.
So when we talk about the challenges of nuclear fusion, Mark Henderson says "the challenge isn't holding a hot gas at 150 million degrees Celsius"
Kory: [00:20:35] that's cake.
Kellan: [00:20:38] He says that's not our toughest challenge is says our toughest challenge is our mentality. Because we aren't willing to think five or six or seven generations down the road.
Kory: [00:20:48] You know, I think, you know, he says we're not willing to think five or six generations down the road. I think what he should be saying is we're not able to think five to six generations down the road we can't afford to. I don't think we have that long.
Kellan: [00:20:59] Yeah. I mean, within the context of all these other conversations that we've had, we need this problem solved yesterday. Right. And by yesterday, I mean, decades ago.
Kory: [00:21:07] Not, literally yesterday. I mean, if we had it solved yesterday, it might still have some effect, but yes, if we had come up with this before we started emitting just the insane amounts of greenhouse gases since it could have made a real difference.
Kellan: [00:21:20] Agreed. So going back to the different types of technology that we have developed, or that we're working on, there's that magnetic refinement reactor. The idea there is that ions and electrons can't easily travel across a magnetic field. So that's where you've got those superconducting electromagnets. And because of that hot plasma is confined by those strong magnetic fields.
The other approach is what's called an inertial confinement reactor. And with that type of reactor, there are pulses from multiple super powered lasers and they hit the surface of a really small fuel pellet. And that briefly makes it hot and dense enough to fuse. And there's something called the national ignition facility in the U S they've been working on this for a long time. I watched the video on it and it was fascinating. You know, the fuel pellet is the size of like the tip of your finger. And they point, if I remember right, it's something like 192 of the world's most powerful lasers at it.
Kory: [00:22:19] You say that. And I just picture this, like every science fiction movie that you've ever seen, where there's like the mad scientist with his weird contraption, that's just pointing all these lasers at the, whatever it is, the bunny that he's trying to make travel through time.
and it never works. The rabbit always ends up like with his head chopped off or like exploding or something. But you're saying that this thing that they're pointing it out is like a centimeter in diameter or something, right? Like the F like a fingertip, which is just crazy.
Kellan: [00:22:46] Yeah. It might be half an inch. I don't know the exact size of it.
Kory: [00:22:49] You're trying to go all Imperial on me. I'm using metric over here.
Kellan: [00:22:54] Okay. Yeah. By the way, I've never seen science fiction movies where bunnies are exploding.
Kory: [00:23:00] Yeah I'm not sure where I got that. Okay. It's probably from the prestige is probably what I'm thinking of when they zap all the hats and then they end up doing like a cat and they're trying to get it to move it from one place to another or whatever. Anyway. I'm guessing that nuclear fusion is very different than that.
Kellan: [00:23:17] Yeah. I mean, you think about even clear back the old Frankenstein movie, right? it's alive. It's working or you think about a honey. I shrunk for kids, right. Pointing a laser at something and it just makes it seem so silent. once you bring lasers into it, the pew pew, it just becomes science fiction to me.
Yeah. So we've got these different methods of trying to create the same result, trying to actually produce nuclear fusion. I mentioned before that there's this idea we'll be able to produce as much energy from a single glass of seawater as we currently can with a barrel of oil. Okay.
And that's because fusion reactors would use hydrogen or helium as fuel and seawater is loaded with hydrogen. But when it really comes down to the fuel that we would need, you can't just use any hydrogen. It has to be certain isotopes. Which by the way, an isotope, I think we mentioned this briefly in our episode on vision, but here's a definition of it. Each of two or more forms of the same element that contain equal numbers of protons, but different numbers of neutrons in their nuclei. And hence differ in relative atomic mass, but not in chemical properties.
Kory: [00:24:24] You know, anytime someone says the word "hence" I just automatically trust what they're saying.
Kellan: [00:24:29] I'm going to start using it more. Anyways. So from that same number of protons with different number of neutrons, essentially, we're talking about, we would need different forms of hydrogen and the ones they've identified are deuterium and tritium. And deuterium is stable. It's abundant in seawater, but tritium is radioactive. Some think there's only like 20 kilograms of it in the entire world. And a lot of that's already being used in nuclear warheads. So that makes tritium extremely expensive.
Another option is helium three, but it's really rare on earth.
Kory: [00:25:02] Don't tell me we're going to go mine Jupiter's rings for it or something.
Kellan: [00:25:07] Not quiet. Just the moon. Yeah.
Kory: [00:25:09] Wow. Okay. That's been there. Done that.
Kellan: [00:25:12] So billions of years of solar wind apparently have built these huge deposits of helium three on the moon. And we could go mine that.
Kory: [00:25:24] Sorry, it's just another one of those like scifi fantasy. Let's take a big rocket ship with a bucket on the front, the front, throw it in the back and head back to earth. It's crazy.
Kellan: [00:25:36] Yeah. We're kind of grasping at straws here. We're really trying to make anything work.
Kory: [00:25:42] And so you're telling me that they think that the eROI of flying to the moon to harvest the stuff and bringing it back would be positive?
Kellan: [00:25:50] Well, they do say that if you could sift the lunar dust for helium three, it would give us enough energy to power the earth for thousands of years. And there's one video that I watched on this that was really informative. They were saying that's one of the reasons why we should have a base on the moon is so that we can do this moon dust mining.
Kory: [00:26:10] Sounds legit.
Kellan: [00:26:11] I mean, it sounds made up, but a lot of brilliant minds are saying that this is a possibility. And there is a mention that Tridium could pose a threat to the environment because. The use of it, you know, as it's released, it can combine with oxygen and make radioactive water, but supposedly only a few grams of tritium would be in use at a time. And in reality, the threat is essentially non-existent, it's just such a tiny amount that would be produced. Okay.
All right. So let's see back to the real question of this whole episode. How feasible is it? We've already talked about how far away they are from the technology, but not every source is saying that some continue to say that we're getting close.
Kory: [00:26:53] There's a company called general fusion and their goal is to bring commercial reactors to the market in the 2030s. And apparently Jeff Bezos is one of its investors.
Kellan: [00:27:03] So there's these large international organizations that are working on this and they have been there's these smaller groups, these privatized organizations that are trying to tackle the same problem. Some have government funding, some have investor funding. And ITER will have ended up costing roughly $20 billion.
Kory: [00:27:23] You know, I'm not going to lie. That's actually cheaper than I think I would have expected. Not that $20 billion is cheap, but when you hear about the amounts of money being spent on a single natural disaster or on other governmental priorities, 20 billion for a program that could solve our energy problems seems cheap.
Kellan: [00:27:41] Yeah, I agree. One individual was saying in today's dollars, it cost 120 billion to put Neil Armstrong on the moon. And like you said, here, we've got the potential to solve the energy problem. We should be investing way more money in this, but funding is a huge issue. This is an expensive problem. And it's a big gamble. There's a lot of different numbers thrown around about how many billions it would take to actually get to the point where this is technology we can readily use.
Kory: [00:28:08] And by the way, I just want to clarify, I don't know that I am necessarily saying that we should be investing more money into it. I think there's a whole moral conundrum with the thought that we should give humanity unlimited energy. W we've proven that with the energy that we have, we can't really be trusted. We've destroyed ecosystems. We've bulldozed biodiversity, wreaked havoc on the planet. So, you know, if we had unlimited energy, what would we do with it? Probably not great things. You know, to avoid collapse we talked about how de-growth is probably in the end, the answer. And that's not even to say like I'm against humanity growing. It's just to say that I think it'd be more merciful to humanity if we stop making ourselves bigger, you know, just to, just to end up failing anyway, in another way,
but I'm also, you know, for saving lives and, you know, not collapsing would be great too. So I, I, I get that it's an important thing to look into, but I just want to clarify, I'm not saying we should be spending hundreds of billions of dollars or trillions of dollars to solve this, because this is not our only problem and it may not even be our biggest.
Kellan: [00:29:11] Yeah. And it's money. We could be putting elsewhere. Even those that are working on this are saying in the meantime, while we're trying to get this figured out, we should be spending a lot of money on wind and solar, other renewables. And so if you're a private investor or whether you're a government agency, and you're trying to decide where to put your dollars, would you rather put it towards all these sources of renewable energy that are proven or gamble it on trying to figure out the issue of nuclear fusion? Okay. So that's one of the big drawbacks is that we just haven't figured it out, but another is that even if we do dial in the technology, we don't know if it will ever be commercially viable. Can we ever get it inexpensive enough to be realistic? And the thought is that it will take another handful of decades even after we figure out the technology to figure out how to make it commercially feasible.
Kory: [00:30:02] And just to make sure I understand when you say commercially feasible, you're saying make it sellable, like make is that it fits into capitalism's model of how basically profitable for companies to utilize?
Kellan: [00:30:13] Yeah. I think there's a lot of things that go into it. You think about, you know, the decades have been spending just on trying to build this one big reactor for ITER and that that's just going to give us the information we need to create these other ones. The cost of building these machines, the cost of maintaining them, the energy costs that goes into being able to get the energy out of it like that, ER OEI that you mentioned before, you know, any new technology, trying to create that at scale and deploy it. You never know whether it's actually going to be something that economically makes sense. You know, I think about like flat screen TVs and the fact that when they first came out, they were thousands of dollars and there was a lot of reasons for that. But one of the main reasons is that it takes infrastructure. It takes time and resources to get to the point where you can produce something like that at scale. So here we're talking about not only trying to figure out the technology in the first place and also trying to make it so that the energy we put into it is less than the energy that we get out of. Then trying to actually have the infrastructure build, scale. We talk about these rare materials that are needed that are really expensive because they're so rare. Ya know, I think there's just so many factors that go into .
The people that are working on this saying at this point, we don't see how this could be affordable and economically feasible, but we're taking baby steps, right? One step at a time, let's at least figure out if we can even do the technology. And from there, we'll see if we can get it to a point that it's actually worth rolling out.
Kory: [00:31:43] The restrictions based on cost, make it seem like if it ever does roll out, it will be once again, the wealthy, whether it's the wealthiest nations or if it's literally something that's privatized and commercial, the wealthiest people that would have access to use that type of energy, which makes sense, I guess, in a capitalist society, if, if it's about making it profitable.
And that was why I asked the question about your comment on commercial feasibility, because yeah, I wondered if it came about, would it be something that that would be public? Would it be government that would be in charge of it and regulate it, or would it be sold to the highest bidder?
Kellan: [00:32:19] I mean, you think of our forms of energy that we're using right now. We talked about our nuclear plants that we have that use nuclear fusion. A lot of those have to be subsidized by government because they're just so costly. You think about wind and solar and geothermal and all these forms of energy. And at least as it stands right now, fossil fuels are just way more convenient. They're cheaper. We've got it all plugged into the system. The power grid is set up for that. So it just takes major resources and a huge amount of change to get us to the point where we could use this technology of nuclear fusion. And that's assuming we ever actually get the technology really figured out.
Kory: [00:32:56] Yeah. Something about the whole privatization of it just irks me, you know, if, if it came down to, it was the only form of energy that we, that was viable at some point in the future, because, you know, we found that fossil fuels were depleting and renewables couldn't keep up, or we needed the fossil fuels to create the, the renewables. And then you come in and say, all right, a hundred billion dollar investment is needed in order to make this happen. Uh, congratulations everybody, Jeffrey or bill gates is now the person who controls all of your energy. I just, I don't know that I'm down for it. But it makes sense. And it bothers me all the same. This isn't a political podcast and we're not here to talk about economic systems and stuff, but I just hate the thought of having one person being able to make so many important decisions for me. And like you said, it is that way currently, you know, when it comes to the vaccine, you know, bill gates is primarily driving who the vaccine goes to and all of those things and to a lesser degree, you know, Jeff Bezos on a lot of the products and services that we get in dictating the pricing in the market. But for someone to have a monopoly on something that's necessary for life, like our energy sources, it's just disturbing to me.
Kellan: [00:34:07] Yeah. And I think a lot of our utilities and you think about energy sources and how we get our energy. Now it's this patchwork of privatized entities and in some cases, government organizations, right. But it's hard to say, would you prefer that the government. Deciding whether or not you get those energy resources that you need?
Kory: [00:34:27] Yeah. And I honestly, I don't know the answer, like, I don't know what the right scenario would be for even the energy sources that we have now. You know, I think they should be public. I think there should be a shared ownership, but again, I really have not spend enough of my time researching different economic systems to be able to say what the right answer is there or even if there is a right answer. But the question is definitely a valid one.
Kellan: [00:34:48] Well, I think it speaks to resiliency and preparedness. And we have this kind of hunger for being independent. And yet we've talked in the past about how we've traded our independence for convenience, all these different groups and entities specialize in different ways and we would depend on each other just to get by.
It would be awesome. If you just had your own solar panels that you've purchased, nobody can take them away from you. You can go set them up wherever you want. You got all the energy you need, regardless of what anybody else does.
Kory: [00:35:19] Forget solar panels. I want my own nuclear fusion reactor. I can just toss a little tablespoon of sea water in there. Have it run me for a week.
Kellan: [00:35:28] Yeah, you'll need the tritium too. Anyway, so we've diverted a little bit, but I think the consensus across the board, not just from what you and I are talking about but from most experts, is that we can't put our hopes in fusion. And when I say that, I mean, we can hope for it and we can still give it some funding and research and try and get to the point where that becomes a viable solution. But I guess we just can't bank on it.
Kory: [00:35:55] Yeah. I mean, just the time frames alone are enough for me to be like, I'm not going to think about this anymore. You know, I'm not going to, this has been a very interesting episode and you've done a lot of awesome research, but my mind is not going to be spent any longer on putting this forward as some sort of solution, because unless there's some crazy breakthrough and someone says, somehow we've managed to do this 20 years earlier than we thought we would. It just it's a non-starter. Okay.
Kellan: [00:36:23] well, I hope that's not too depressing to anybody. It probably isn't a surprise. I think it will be a surprise if we ever do one of these episodes and we end it by saying, this is it. This technology can save us. Yeah. This technology is going to save us if that were the case I think everybody would know about it.
Kory: [00:36:40] You wouldn't need us to tell you.
Kellan: [00:36:43] Yeah. But I do think it is worth having these conversations again, trying to build awareness and be educated and know what we're up against for the sake of not only being more informed, but being more prepared, being able to prepare your loved ones and then all of it. I think there's just that reminder that we live in a scary time and it's going to get scarier. But we might as well use the time that we have to do good to do good things, to try and mitigate the situation, try and help people around you. Try to decrease the amount of suffering. I think that's the larger purpose I see all of these conversations that we're having.
Kory: [00:37:17] Yeah. These conversations are not, uh, very optimistic. We don't have a lot of hope for what the future is going to bring. And so it is important to cling to something. And for me, I will continue to cling to this idea that I have the power to influence and affect people around me. And I'm going to continue to try and do that to the best of my ability. And I have a lot of ways in which I need to do that better within my own family, with my friends, there's a lot of despair and a lot of hurt and a lot of worry and a lot of suffering in the world.
And, you know, there's a million different ways that I personally can put forth more effort to help decrease those things in the lives of others. Even in the smallest of ways. And, and if I have the option to despair myself, or to give myself a purpose and have that purpose be decreased the despair in others, I'm going to go for that. And that might seem counterintuitive for me to want to decrease the despair in others when I host a podcast, going out to thousands of people, telling them about how society is going to collapse, but I think that by doing this podcast, hopefully we're enabling other people to see that same thing that you just explained, Kellan, and that is life is short society's lifespan is short, use the time to do something awesome for somebody else.
[Post Script Blooper]
There's a company called general fusion and their goal is to bring commercial reactors to the market in the 2030s. And apparently Jeff Bezos is one of its investors.
Jeffrey Bezos. Jeffrey Bezos. Jeffrey Bezos.
Kellan: [00:39:01] What was that"
Kory: [00:39:07] Bo Burnham.
Kellan: [00:39:08] Oh. Now I really need to watch that.
Kory: [00:39:13] You really do.