Wednesday: Hili dialogue

December 14, 2022 • 6:45 am

Good morning on a Hump Day (or “Jou boss” in Haitian Creole ): Wednesday, December 14, 2022, and National Biscuits and Gravy Day, celebrating an underappreciated breakfast food served only in the American South:

It’s also National Bouillabaisse Day, Roast Chestnuts Day (I do love them), Monkey Day, Alabama Day, celebrating the day this state entered the Union in 1819 (and, about four decades later, the Confederacy), Forty-seven Ronin Remembrance Day, remembering the 47 samurai who, in 1702 avenged their master’s seppuku by killing the court official that led to the suicide. 46 of them then committed seppuku themselves, but one was pardoned and lived to an old age. Here’s what a samurai at that time would have looked like (ronin are samurai without a master)

Readers are welcome to mark notable events, births, or deaths on this by consulting the December 14 Wikipedia page.

Da Nooz:

*Sam Bankman-Fried, the little hobbity-man who was, for one brief shining moment, a cryptocurrency billionaire, turned out to be a fraud all along. He’s now been indicted, and on serious charges:

Sam Bankman-Fried faced widespread charges of fraud Tuesday after the collapse of his cryptocurrency exchange, FTX, and his arrest on Monday in the Bahamas. Here’s what we know:

  • Prosecutors for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Southern District of New York unsealed a criminal indictment on Tuesday charging Mr. Bankman-Fried with lying to investors from the start of the company. Mr. Bankman-Fried faces eight counts, including wire fraud on customers and lenders, and conspiring to defraud the United States and violate campaign finance laws. “This is our first public announcement, but it will not be our last,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District, said at a news conference about the charges.

  • The Securities and Exchange Commission filed civil charges on Tuesday alleging that Mr. Bankman-Fried misled investors who committed nearly $2 billion to FTX while also defrauding customers of the exchange. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission, which plays an important role in overseeing the crypto industry, also filed a complaint against Mr. Bankman-Fried, charging him with fraud and misrepresentation.

  • Mr. Bankman-Fried was arrested shortly after 6 p.m. on Monday at his apartment complex, according to a statement from the Bahamian police. The timing of when Mr. Bankman-Fried might be moved to the United States was unclear. The Bahamas has an extradition treaty with the United States, but the process can take weeks, and sometimes far longer if a criminal defendant contests it.

  • The House Committee on Financial Services held a hearing about FTX’s collapse. Mr. Bankman-Fried was slated to testify, but the hearing went ahead without him, featuring testimony from John J. Ray III, who took over FTX after its bankruptcy. Mr. Ray spent nearly four hours answering questions about what caused FTX’s implosion. It was a case of “old-fashioned embezzlement,” he said.

If he’s convicted, Bankman-Fried will face more time than Elizabeth Holmes, who got about nine years in the federal pen.

I never trusted cryptocurrency right from the start, and when it turned out that someone tried to scam me about it on Facebook, I ran like a rabbit. I’ll stick with real money (and credit cards) thank you.

*Well, one thing’s for sure in the World Cup: Argentina will be in the finals. For just a few minutes ago their game against Croatia had this outcome:

From the NYT:

Lionel Messi stood, his arms outstretched, in front of those who had come to adore him. Ordinarily, they would be jumping and writhing in celebration, but this time, as the fans moved toward him, they had created a logjam. They were, for just a second, frozen, perfectly still, a moment of quiet communion between the divine and his congregation.

Then, of course, it broke. Messi was flooded by his Argentina teammates, leaping onto his back, congratulating him, thanking him. He had not scored the goal — that simple task had fallen to Julián Álvarez — but he had created it, crowning the game with a piece of vintage Messi wonder, using a World Cup semifinal as a chance to become his own tribute act.

And so there he was, at the age of 35, scurrying down the wing, wriggling away from Josko Gvardiol, the Croatia defender who had shadowed him all night, and then slowing down so that he could beat him again, making it to the end line, clipping the ball back for Álvarez. This was Messi, playing the hits.

That is what he has been doing all tournament, of course, and now he has his reward. That goal was Argentina’s third of the night, the one that removed all doubt: Argentina had beaten Croatia, 3-0, and on Sunday, Lionel Messi will return to the World Cup final. Eight years since he lost one, a bitter defeat to Germany in Brazil, the player who might be the best of all time will grace the biggest game in the world. He will have his shot at redemption. He will have his chance at revenge.

MIGHT be the best of all time? That’s not an issue, for Messi IS.  Here are the highlights, with Messi’s penalty kick and his wonderful assist to Alvarez for the last goal (3:15). Alvarez’s first goal was also superb.

A relevant tweet from Matthew:

Oh, and Argentina’s secret? Yerba mate!

To ensure that the roughly 75 members of its traveling party — players, coaches, trainers and the rest — would have a steady supply of a drink they consider essential, Argentina’s team hauled a whopping 1,100 pounds of yerba mate to Qatar.

“It has caffeine,” Argentine midfielder Alexis Mac Allister said in Spanish while explaining why he consumed so much of the drink that some have likened to a stronger green tea. “But I drink it more than anything to bring us together.”

*Scientists appear to have made what’s considered a tremendous breakthrough by creating a nuclear fusion reaction. What’s stunning about this discover is that it created more energy that it took to start the fusion reaction (you probably know that the sun creates energy by fusion hydrogen atoms into helium). This is the cleanest energy around, and could actually be in use within a few decade. I’ll be dead, but your kids will benefit.

Details were originally sketchy, but the NYT gives more:

The result announced on Tuesday is the first fusion reaction in a laboratory setting that actually produced more energy than it took to start the reaction.

. . . If fusion can be deployed on a large scale, it would offer an energy source devoid of the pollution and greenhouse gases caused by the burning of fossil fuels and the dangerous long-lived radioactive waste created by current nuclear power plants, which use the splitting of uranium to produce energy.

. . . There was always a nagging caveat, however. In all of the efforts by scientists to control the unruly power of fusion, their experiments consumed more energy than the fusion reactions generated.

That changed at 1:03 a.m. on Dec. 5 when 192 giant lasers at the laboratory’s National Ignition Facility blasted a small cylinder about the size of a pencil eraser that contained a frozen nubbin of hydrogen encased in diamond.

The laser beams entered at the top and bottom of the cylinder, vaporizing it. That generated an inward onslaught of X-rays that compresses a BB-size fuel pellet of deuterium and tritium, the heavier forms of hydrogen.

In a brief moment lasting less than 100 trillionths of a second, 2.05 megajoules of energy — roughly the equivalent of a pound of TNT — bombarded the hydrogen pellet. Out flowed a flood of neutron particles — the product of fusion — which carried about 3 megajoules of energy, a factor of 1.5 in energy gain.

This crossed the threshold that laser fusion scientists call ignition, the dividing line where the energy generated by fusion equals the energy of the incoming lasers that start the reaction.

How long before we can start doing this in our homes and cities? Well, NBC news said ten years last night, but that was way too optimistic:

. . . it will take quite a while before fusion becomes available on a widespread, practical scale, if ever.

“Probably decades,” Kimberly S. Budil, the director of Lawrence Livermore, said during the Tuesday news conference. “Not six decades, I don’t think. I think not five decades, which is what we used to say. I think it’s moving into the foreground and probably, with concerted effort and investment, a few decades of research on the underlying technologies could put us in a position to build a power plant.”

That’s very sad.

*But there’s good news, too! A rare bird, thought extinct, was rediscovered in New Guinea. (h/t Brian)

A rare bird last spotted 140 years ago has been found in Papua New Guinea, delighting researchers.

The black-naped pheasant pigeon was last documented by scientists in 1882.

Local hunters have reported occasional sightings since then. But in recent decades the bird has flown under the radar, fuelling fears that it might have gone extinct.

New footage – captured by scientists on a month-long expedition in September- proves that the bird lives on.

The new discovery was like ‘‘finding a unicorn,’ expedition co-leader John Mittermeier says.

“It is the kind of moment you dream about your entire life as a conservationist and birdwatcher,” he says.

. . .The black-naped pheasant pigeon only lives on Fergusson Island, a rugged island in the D’Entrecasteaux Archipelago off eastern Papua New Guinea

The island is mountainous and thickly forested, making the search for the bird extremely difficult. In 2019, a team of researchers tried and failed to find the bird.

They found it in photos from camera traps. And lo: behold the black-naped pheasant pigeon:

Copyright Doka Nason/American Bird Conservancy.

*The BBC reports that some rare “wave clouds” showed up in the skies over Wyoming. They look like this:

Lovely, eh? And a bit of the skinny:

Stunned sky-watchers in the US state of Wyoming have snapped photos of a rare cloud formation crashing across the horizon like ocean surf.

“This was special and I immediately knew I needed to capture it,” said local Rachel Gordon.

The billowy phenomenon was visible on Tuesday above the crest of the Bighorn Mountains from the city of Sheridan.

Known as Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, they form when a faster stream of air moves above rising air below.

Ms Gordon, who told BBC News she took the images from her parents’ back door before posting them to the Facebook page Wyoming through The Lens, said: “It was an awe-inspiring moment.

“I’m just glad others can enjoy the experience now, too.”

BBC Weather’s Matt Taylor says the pictures are one of the most stunning and epic examples of Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds he has ever seen.

“Part of the beauty of Kelvin-Helmholtz clouds is that they really show up the fluidity of the atmosphere,” he said.

“How, like waves in the ocean, the atmosphere moves and responds to the environment around it. The air is effectively rising up and tumbling over on itself.”

Hili: Dobrze, że to coś białego jest za oknem.
Ja: Masz rację, tu jest ciepło.
And baby Kulka in the snow (Photo by Paulina):


Two from the Not Another Science Cat FB page:

From Nicole:

Another in my series on “girlfriends take revenge on cheaters photos:

A toot from God on Mastodon:

From Masih. The revolution continues, and several women aren’t wearing hijabs:

From Barry, who likes the caption of the cat one. There are other amusing tweets in the thread, and I’ve put one below.

From Simon:

From Luana, the reproducibility crisis:

From the Auschwitz Memorial: An eight-year-old Dutch girl gassed upon arrival:

Tweets from the estimable Dr. Cobb.  Matthew says the first tweet, taken from Tik Tok (see second tweet) is enigmatic and has Twitter in an uproar trying to figure out what it means. I’ve put in one response.

Another tweet and a response with the IDs:


44 thoughts on “Wednesday: Hili dialogue

  1. It doesn’t matter how many times I see biscuits and gravy, it still looks like someone barfed on a scone. I’ve never got past the appearance and actually tried it.

    Thanks to everyone for cat name suggestions yesterday. Still trying things out and seeing what sticks. Meantime the kitties seem to have taken up football at 4am.

    1. Meantime the kitties seem to have taken up football at 4am.
      Oh dear! Maybe name them Messi and Maradona in that case?

        1. My intro to American football was living in San Francisco John and Joe were locals at the time. Might get some domestic pushback though.

          I’m not naming anything after Maradona – the paw of god!

  2. The laser fusion result is presented by the press in a massively misleading manner. Jerry repeated the touted result: “What’s stunning about this discover is that it created more energy that it took to start the fusion reaction “. Actually, fusion produced 50% more energy than was in the laser pulse. The energy that was used to charge the laser system to produce this pulse was very much larger. They weren’t even close to breakeven. This laser system is impractical for fusion. When discharged, much of the energy goes into heating the huge laser rods that produce the laser pulse. The hot rods are optically distorted, preventing subsequent laser pulses, so they must cool off between pulses. This laser can only be fired about once a day. The result is interesting, but massively hyped and impractical. Practical fusion, maybe in 100 years or maybe never.

    1. Yes, I don’t understand how they’re claiming that more energy was output than was input in the nuclear fusion experiment. According to the BBC:

      The experiment was only able to produce enough energy to boil about 15-20 kettles and required billions of dollars of investment. And although the experiment got more energy out than the laser put in, this did not include the energy needed to make the lasers work – which was far greater than the amount of energy the hydrogen produced.

      Am I missing something?

      1. Public perception and funding dollars drive this sort of hype. You can bet that no one voting on funding in congress understands the true situation. An excited public helps get funding.

      2. Something is being missed because the articles describing this accomplishment aren’t explaining things correctly. At all, really. In a nutshell, there’s gain with respect to the total input power necessary to initiate / maintain controlled fusion, which is the metric that is important for practical fusion energy production, and then there is gain with respect to the energy applied to the fuel target, which is an important metric for the science of fusion. None of these articles are making this distinction and so it seems like a scam.

        The reason gain with respect to the energy applied to the fuel target, the amount of energy delivered to it by the lasers, is important in the science of fusion is that if you achieve a gain greater than 1 then that means that you have managed to create a self-sustaining fusion reaction, meaning that the energy the reaction is producing is enough to heat the fuel faster than other things can cool it down to below the temperature needed for fusion to continue. That is indeed an important milestone for the science of fusion, but not so much for commercial fusion power generation.

    2. Your concerns are perfectly fair. Essentially, the LIF (Iaser ignited fusion) process is comparable to taking a single lump of coal, putting it into a furnace, burning it, cooling the furnace down, sweeping up the ash, polishing the furnace, then going to re-open the coal mine for a second lump. What a workable solution needs is a continuous-feed process.

      Practical fusion, maybe in 100 years or maybe never.

      Well, the next iteration of the ITER programme is expected to reach continuous breakeven*10 in the next decade and a bit, with a version complete with heat-to-electricity stages in design at this time with implementation in the 2040s. Touch wood. Or touch titanium. That’ll probably need an input to output (energy) ratio (“Q”) of around 100 to be commercially competitive with gas-to-electricity, which is where the Q~=10 step is intended to explore.
      The standard joke is, and remains, that fusion is a couple of decades away, and always will be.

    3. True. The chance that this approach to fusion will ever be used to generate electricity is zero. Even if scientifically feasible, it could never compete economically with the available alternatives. Among other things, it is fueled by deuterium and tritium, and tritium occurs naturally only in trace amounts. It would be necessary to breed this slippery, highly radioactive isotope with a half-life of only about 12 years in the reactor itself. This would be done by leveraging the neutrons produced in the reaction, with tritium produced by their interaction with a surrounding blanket or curtain of lithium. The tritium would then have to be efficiently extracted and, in the case of ICF, solidified and formed into precisely tailored layers on tiny targets that would then have to be shot into the target chamber every second or so. That’s just one of the many difficulties.

      OTOH, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) where the experiment was carried out was never conceived or funded as an energy project. It was built primarily to study nuclear weapon physics and effects, and that is also the primary real-world value of the breakeven experiment. As such, it was a brilliant achievement. It’s good to know that the “ignition” facility finally deserves its name. If you oppose nuclear testing, you should greet the news. The NIF gives us a significant advantage over competing nuclear weapons states in understanding what goes on in nuclear weapons, ensuring the reliability of our aging arsenal, avoiding technological surprise, etc. We will continue to enjoy this advantage as long as nuclear testing is not resumed.

  3. For other old farts (other than me, I mean, not a reference to our beloved host) trying to understand crypto currencies, I’d recommend the YouTube channel Coffeezilla. He has a good series on FTX and several investigations of rather cynical ‘influencer-crypto-scams’.

    1. 30 second introduction to every crypto-scheme that I’ve seen : take a Ponzi scheme, add a layer of technobabble to prevent the “marks” (investors) seeing through to the inner Ponzi ; launch ; try to get away with the funds, just before the inevitable collapse.

      1. The simpler version still: I make (pretend to make, as they exist only digitally) a billion tokens. If I sell one for a dollar, I can claim in some way to be worth a billion dollars. I give a heap of them to my friends who are influencers and have millions of young, gullible followers. They promote them, often adding some icing like “1% of transactions goes to a kids’ charity”. Announce sale day, and the masses jump in and buy. Before the end of that day the founder and his mates have sold all of theirs, and the marks are left holding worthless digital bits of nothing.

    1. Indeed, and it’s very hard to compare eras. I watched the 1966 WC final on Youtube a few weeks ago…it was like watching an entirely different sport.

      The biggest difference, other than the sheer lack of pace of the players compared to today’s athletes, was ball possession…players of yore usually had trouble stringing more than 3 passes together. Some of that was due to rule changes (defenders could get away with more physical play back then, making ball retention more difficult), but most of it was due to the fact that technical skill, outside of the elite players, was just not where it is today. And because of this, the tactics were much more primitive.

      Other than Bobby Charlton, I didn’t see a single player from that 1966 England team that had the technical ability to play on the current national team.

  4. Chestnuts: The USDA is currently evaluating the (monumentally impressive, 290pg) petition from SUNY-ESF Syracuse / The American Chestnut Foundation to approve release of the transgenic “Darling 58” American Chestnut that has the wheat gene for oxalate oxidase (OxO) cloned into it. OxO converts the oxalic acid that the blight fungus that functionally extincted the tree into CO2 and peroxide.

    The USDA has released a draft favorable to the submission and is currently receiving the third and I hope final round of public comments – one more than expected already. Comments had been running 70-80% positive until ~12/9 when the anti-GMO forces started deluging the site with the same boilerplate of vague hysteria, all of which is easily rebutted.

    Trying to keep this short at first, I’d be grateful to anyone who would care to submit a favorable comment. Directions can be found here, along with links to the original submission etc. The public comment period ends Dec 27.

    This effort promises to be the best chance yet to restore a species to the ecosystem – one that was of enormous importance to the ecology of the Appalachian range as well as human economy.

    1. Is the blight fungus an evolutionary novelty, or does it have an origin in a (distant) location, where there may be a pre-existing competitor which either suppresses the growth of the blight fungus, or (possibly better, from the “unintended consequences” point of view) which itself digests the oxalic acid output from the blight fungus, rendering it inoffensive to infected trees?
      I know that oxalic acid is used by a number of plants as a chemical weapon in their continuing “Red Queen’s Race” with herbivores, so messing with that may impact widely beyond the target organism. So … OK, now I see the point of doing it by genetic engineering – it’s a lot harder to hide the spread of a (however big, century-timescale) tree than to hide the spread of a fungus or bacterium from the blight fungus’ original environment.

      1. The fungus was inadvertently imported on Asian chestnut nursery stock in the late 1800s. Chinese/Japanese trees had evolved resistance to it thru (as it now turns out) a multiplicity of as-yet undetermined genes. From the 1980s to relatively recently it was thought that only three genes were involved, and so considerable effort was made to introgress the Asian resistance genes into American stock thru a back-crossing program. That effort has not been abandoned, but the D58 tree looks to offer the best hope of restoring the species since the full American genome remains in the GMO tree. The American tree is the stellar performer in forest settings, growing straight, tall, and at a rate comparable to tulip poplar (=not wasting time). The Asian trees, by comparison, are suited for orchard settings, with a branching growth habit and don’t compete in forest settings.

        It turns out that the tree has what by all indications is an oxalate oxidase pseudogene, too (called ‘germin’), so like our own species, that with a gulonate-lactone oxidase pseudogene is unable to synthesize Vitamin C, chestnuts are unable to defend themselves against the fungus via degradation of oxalic acid.

        Among the vague hysteria that the anti-GMO cabal offers up is that the D58 tree will cause the fungus to mutate and presumably pumo out more oxalate. Well, that hasn’t happened with the Asian trees, nor have oaks, where the fungus maintains itself without causing damage.

        Then they also fret that D58 will drive the native tree to extinction (um, it’s functionally extinct already, essentially breeding only in captivity), while conveniently ignoring the part that at present D58’s are heterozygous, so two D58’s crossed will produce 25% pure American progeny – this aspect will enable a spectrum of American genotypes to be introduced into the overall genetic makeup of the OxO-containing trees.

        And they worry that the tree will poison the forest soil to other fungi. (Um, do you grasp that the tree doesn’t spew out OxO, instead retaining it in living tissue, and even if it did, it’s a protein that will be rapidly degraded like any other protein by soil bacteria.

        And they’re indignant that studies on bees didn’t use D58 pollen. (True, it didn’t, because not enough D58 pollen is available because of restrictions on how many trees can be planted in Federal quarantine. BUT, what they did do was harvest honeybee-collected American pollen, spike it with a calculated reasonable level of pure OxO as well as 10x that level, and use that in studies with mini-hives of bumble bees, finding, to no great surprise, no differences v. control.

        Oh, yeah, and they worry that the tree will spit out the OxO gene and die. Well, sure, that could happen, but it would only be as a somatic mutation, occurring at meristem points so you’d wind up with a fungus-susceptible branch/branchlet.

        And – HORRORS – the tree could MUTATE!! )I guess the native trees must be immutable.)

        Basically, this is another instance of tackling fundamentalists. (Ironically, I can note here that some amount of the SUNY work is funded by Templeton Fdn, so as well pls show your support for Templeton spending their money on something useful.)

        1. The podcast Crime Pays But Botany Doesn’t did a nice long interview with someone from SUNY about their chestnut research and experiments. I was quite informative,if like me, you can enjoy Joey’s ADD interview style and his general irreverent attitude and rough language. He’s all over the place but asks good questions. Sorry I don’t recall when it was, maybe over the summer, but it would be easy to find by searching the CPBBD podcasts on whatever you might use to listen.

            1. Found it! Thanks very much! I’m almost done listening to it now… Indeed an ADD style, and the whole podcast could probably have been done in half the time, but underneath it you can tell that the guy knows some things, and it might resonate with some of the anti-GMO cabal.

  5. Another gripping Dialogue.

    I mean,

    Another gripping Dialogue!

    I mean

    Another Gripping Dialogue [ skull emoji]

    • I’m keen to hear discussion about ignition.

    • The Kelvin-Helmholtz instability makes me wonder what people 1009s of years ago must have thought.

    1. The Kelvin-Helmholtz instability makes me wonder what people 1009s of years ago must have thought.

      It’s unlikely that they didn’t notice the similarity of form with breaking water waves, so they could connect the two phenomena as examples of mundane events, not intrinsically supernatural events.
      Unless, of course, the person presenting the explanation had an ulterior motive (e.g. personal psychological comfort) for promoting a belief in supernatural phenomena.
      And people wonder why I distrust “scientists” who hold personal beliefs in the supernatural in one aspect of their life. They cannot be trusted to not let that seep over into their day job of investigating natural phenomena.
      Counting in base 1009? Odd choice. Surely base 1001 (with factors of 11, 13 and 7 – c.f. arguments about the benefits of the Babylonian-introduced base-60) would be a better choice?

      1. LOL 1009!

        I mean, 1009.

        I mean, the 169th prime (I don’t want to sound serious in case you are Gen… whatever)…

        … how about some trivia for amusement with this silly number :

        2022 mod 1009 is 4
        1009 in binary : 1111110001

  6. “MIGHT be the best of all time? That’s not an issue, for Messi IS.”

    He is the best of his era, certainly. But best of all time? A certain Diego Armando Maradona, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or even Hendrik Johannes Cruijff might have a claim to that…it’s not a forgone conclusion!

    I’ve never seen a player put a such a mediocre team on his back like Maradona did in 1986 and carry them to the end. All while being kicked up and down the pitch by the brutish defending allowed in that era.

    Even if Messi is a champion in 2022, he’s had a lot more talent around him than Maradona did.

    It probably depends on which generation you belong to. I’ll forever be a Maradona guy, but a crusty old coach of mine from Sao Paulo would scoff…”Pele, Maradona, Van Basten…they are NOTHING compared to Garrincha!”

      1. Well, Gary Lineker, and many other experts, would disagree. Lineker actually played against Maradona.

        I respect Seamus’ opinion but there is certainly no shortage of expert support for Pele, Maradona, or even Cruyff as the greatest ever.

        I think it’s difficult to compare eras, as the sport has changed so much over the decades.

        To call Messi the greatest player of his generation, and therefore better than players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Zidane, Ronaldo Nazário, Luca Modric, and Ronaldinho is more than enough praise!

        1. Lineker tweeted yesterday: “Is there still a debate? Asking for a goat.”
          Maradona had more skills, though. But Messi is the most valuable player in history.

  7. The other practical problem with use of fusion on a useful, power producing scale is continuous containment of a plasma at millions of degrees Kelvin. There is no proven solution in sight.

    1. Which is precisely why people have been experimenting with different constructions and materials for the last half-century or so. It’s not as if the problem is insoluble – we see one solution rising in the East every morning. The problem is, doing it at a sub-stellar scale.
      The Princeton Large Torus maintained “fusion hot” plasma for the first time (but for how long? I can’t find an answer) in the mid-70s. JET maintained a “fusion hot” plasma for 0.5s in 1997 ( The design for ITER – starting operations in the next couple of years, and with an experimental build-up into the 2030s – calls for getting the confinement time up to around 8 minutes. The next generation after that – probably in the 2040s – will be aiming for effectively indefinite confinement (meaning that other issues, like erosion of wall materials becomes the limiting factor, not the magnetic bottle).
      It’s a process. An iterative, step by step, steady progress.
      Now, it’s possible that Joe Bloggs, working in his garage, will come up with a combination of materials and ancillary equipment that does it all, tomorrow. But unlikely. And he’d still need to do years of leg-work physics and engineering to characterise his process, find it’s limits, and work out maintenance schedules and budgets before he could actually get someone to insure the Bloggs-o-fusor for installation into flying cars or home heating systems. So my bet is on the JET-ITER-DEMO pathway, not the Bloggs-o-fusor. Whether humankind can maintain a working civilisation for long enough for JET-ITER-DEMO to effectively reduce our energy pollution … I’m much less confident about.

  8. And the date of the Churchill photograph is important: 7th May 1945. The day of the signing at Reims of the German surrender which came into effect later that day. A further ceremony was held in Berlin the following day which became, of course, VE day.

  9. It has been noted above that the energy output in the ITER “breakthrough” is a net gain over only the laser light energy delivered to the deuterium-tritium fuel pellet in that tiny fraction of a second and does not include the energy needed to charge up the lasers. The lasers are essential to start the reaction and contain it as it runs, for as long as it does run. (They are the equivalent of the heavy uranium “tamper” shell of a nuclear bomb that holds the whole gemish together long enough to fission or fuse the fuel. The tamper sacrifices itself by undergoing fission in the late stage of the process as the nascent fireball expands.) This issue is not even mentioned in the American news stories I checked. The BBC leaves it to the last sentence in its report saying, vaguely, that it was “far greater than the energy the hydrogen [fusion] produced.”

    Hunting around I get secondary sources saying the lasers are 1% efficient in turning the electrical energy they draw from the grid into that brief pulse of coherent light energy, the rest being dissipated as heat. Let’s say 200 MJ in, 2 MJ out to the target. So ITER really generated 3 MJ of fusion energy from a total input of 200 MJ into the system. The process is an energy sink, not an energy generator at this stage of development, wasting 98.5% of the energy put into it. That’s just the marginal energy cost of the shot, not counting the capital and energy cost of building the equipment from scratch and “refueling” for a second shot, and the air conditioning needed to carry away all that wasted laser heat. If they had used a bigger fuel pellet to get more fusion, they would have needed more and bigger lasers needing more cooling, and more electricity.

    So this is not on its face simply a scale problem: to make 300 MJ, they’d need 20,000 MJ of laser energy unless there is a breakthrough in laser efficiency, dropping the electricity consumption to, say, 5000 MJ. No one will build a reactor just to waste energy. Further, this issue of system input has been noted in every previous story on controlled fusion that claimed to be “almost there to break-even”. There is always an asterisk saying, “not including the total input energy to contain/confine the reaction.” So there is no excuse for media not picking up on this for this story. Too good not to be true.

    200 MJ of electricity, by the way, would run a kitchen oven at max 3000 W power continuously (they don’t of course unless you leave the door open) for 18 hours. 3 MJ of fusion heat might generate 1 MJ of electricity if used to make steam for a turbine. That 1 MJ would sell for about 1.6 cents — cents! — at today’s Ontario wholesale price of $60 CDN per MW-hr. A megajoule is not a large quantity of energy.

    The basic physics of fusion is well worked out. This is not a research reactor or even a scientific experiment. It’s an attempt to build a piece of technology just because subsidy money is being thrown in its direction. Maybe not quite the Emperor’s new clothes. But close.

    1. And what about (yes it is “what about” but not “whatabouting” – I am joining in the skepticism) the fuel itself? Seems like preparing that would take energy too.

      And if the comparison is coal m, then all the energy _and__time_to produce the coal from algae and plants would surely be relevant – to say nothing of mining it.

      1. That’s a good point, TP. By my calculation, they went through $ 200,000 worth of tritium for that one 3 MJ shot. It’s $ 30,000 a gram and the fusion energy released per atom of helium generated is 14 electron-volts. The rest is plugging in units. 14 eV per atom = 1.3 MJ/mol. 3 MJ needed 2.4 mol of tritium = 7.2 g. This had to be liquified or frozen because as a gas at 1 atmosphere it would occupy 100 litres. Unlike with fission reactors, the fuel is not a trivial part of the total cost. Canada’s CANDU reactors are the only commercial source. The deuterium in the heavy water moderator occasionally grabs an extra neutron as one passes through. Periodically the radioactive tritium water has to be is separated at great expense and electrolyzed to yield tritium gas for sale. If this design, considered obsolete, eventually shuts down there will be no more civilian tritium. Ever.

        This article — date not clear but sometime after 2020 — suggests that the ITER project may use up all the world’s tritium before fusion even gets remotely close to practical. Tritium seems to be a dead end other than to be the easiest fusion reaction to start with. Funny. None of this got mentioned in the DoE announcement news about limitless clean energy.'s%20study%2C%20D%2DD,%242%20billion%20per%20kilogram%20produced.

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