Climate Concerns and New Energy Sources: Near Term Fusion Reactors with Realistic Technologies and Physics
Concerns for the Earth's climate, combined with the need to satisfy the increasing energy needs of a growing world population, have led us to reaffirm, within the scientific community, the importance of developing new attractive energy sources and to stress the necessity to remove obstacles that have existed along the path to this goal. Relevant obstacles include intellectual inertia, the power of large bureaucracies, investments in existing technologies, etc.
An attractive source of energy is the exploitation of well-identified fusion reactions that has required the development of a new discipline: the physics of high energy plasmas dominated by collective processes which were unknown when research on nuclear fusion reactors started. In fact, the acquired knowledge of these processes has played a key role in the understanding of discoveries made by in situ observations in space, that is within the Heliosphere, and by the advent of high energy astrophysics (e.g. X-ray and gamma-ray astronomy). At the same time, progress has been made in the advanced technology needed to generate high magnetic fields in relatively large volumes that has led to obtain well-confined high density plasmas (e.g. composed of electrons and deuterium nuclei) with the characteristics needed to produce, for the first time on Earth, self-heated fusion reacting plasmas for both physics investigations and as possible useful energy production.
Thus the high field compact machine approach pioneered by the Alcator line of experiments at MIT is recognized to be at the forefront in the effort to reach, on a near term and realistic basis, controlled near ignition conditions in (plasma) mixtures of Deuterium and Tritium (the heavy Hydrogen isotopes).