Fusion: Powering a Bright Future
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Fusion: Powering a Bright Future


This episode is sponsored by Audible Ever since humans figured out that the Sun is powered by hydrogen fusion, we’ve imagined
controlling the process and powering our civilization with miniature Suns. But as it turns out, the Sun is highly impractical,
and we’re going to need to design something a lot better… So today we are looking at Fusion Power, how
it might work, what’s holding up this technology, and what cool new options it opens up for
our civilization. Many of these possibilities are less obvious
than simply cheap electricity or fast spaceships, but just as important. This is a topic we mention in passing a lot
on this channel as a keystone for many of our future technologies and pathways, so as
we progress I’ll pop up the cover art for the relevant episodes. I thought we should start by addressing the
challenges with achieving a working fusion reactor. There is an overused saying that makes me
scowl whenever I hear it; that Fusion is the technology of 20 years from now, and always
will be. Fusion as a serious concept is a lot newer
than many of our other power sources, and has progressed neither particularly faster
nor slower than most of them. Just as an example, solar power – itself
an example of harnessing fusion from the Sun – has only recently become economically
viable as primary power source. Back when I was a kid in the 1980s, we really
only saw photovoltaics on very low energy, portable devices like calculators, as it was
very expensive and inefficient. It was not new technology then either, way
back in 1876 it was found that you could generate electricity by exposing selenium to sunlight,
and Charles Fritts made the first solar cells in 1883. So it took over a century before we even had
good enough solar to consider commercial usage of it. It was also half a century after those first
solar cells before we even knew what fusion was, and before that we thought the sunlight
running those primitive solar cells was caused by gravitational collapse. We had our first working artificial fusion
source a mere generation later, with the Hydrogen Bomb in 1952. Similarly, while Ben Franklin did his famous
kite flying experiment with electricity in 1752, it was half a century later before Alessandro
Volta, for whom the volt in named, built the first electric battery. Then it was a couple more generations before
we saw the first electric generators and engines, and a couple more before Edison and Tesla
hit the scene. Considering how hard it is to experiment with
fusion, something which only naturally occurs in the heart of stars, it isn’t all that
surprising that we still don’t have a working fusion reactor less than a century after we
even realized such a thing as fusion existed. It’s not helpful when folks go around talking
about 20 years from now like that was useful or meaningful, when its timeline is still
shorter than the development of many other technologies, from computers and rockets to
other power generation mechanisms. The other big issue is that you need large,
high tech, and expensive facilities just to experiment with fusion in a serious way, which
usually means anytime you learn something new from an experiment, you need around 20
years just to digest and theorize about that new data, draw up a new experiment, pitch
a grant proposal for major government funding to build new massive and expensive facilities,
and then build them, before you can get your next set of data to refine your models, rinse
and repeat. Now as to the mechanism, there’s a bit more
to it than hydrogen slamming together and turning into helium at millions of degrees. At high temperatures, the electrons get stripped
off atoms and you have a plasma of atomic nuclei. In the case of common hydrogen-1, the nucleus
is just a single proton with no neutrons. To fuse two protons together you first have
to overcome the repulsion of their positive charges, and the closer you get them together,
the greater the force and energy involved. That energy is what we call the Coulomb Barrier. The normal means for supplying that energy
to move the particles together at high speed can be done in a particle collider, but the
method used in stars is just heat, which is just a measure of how fast individual particles
are traveling. One of the things that slowed us down on figuring
out what powered the Sun was that its temperature isn’t actually high enough to overcome that
Coulomb Barrier. That takes various quantum effects, and so
does binding the protons together once they get there. And here’s where we get into what makes
hydrogen fusion so tricky, it’s a hurdle that comes early in a fairly complicated process. When a pair of protons get close enough together,
the Strong Nuclear Force will bind them, kind of, into a very unstable isotope called a
diproton, which nearly always splits right back into a pair of protons. Very rarely—and here’s where quantum mechanics
comes in—that diproton instead emits a positron and decays into a nucleus of deuterium, a
proton-neutron pair. From there, there are actually a number next-steps
that might take place, some of which is the deuteron might fuse with another proton or
deuteron, to produce various intermediate isotopes that undergo fusion and decay reactions
of their own… before finally producing nice stable nuclei of Helium-4, which have two
neutrons and two protons. But the difficult hurdle to clear, the bottleneck
in the whole process, is that rare decay of a diproton into deuterium. That bottleneck is the reason stars take billions
of years to use up their hydrogen. The half-life of a proton in the core of our
Sun before it is fused into deuterium is about a billion years; which is to say, bouncing
around at that temperature, in the core where fusion is actually taking place, any given
proton has only coin flip odds of fusing into deuterium in a billion years, even though
it would fuse briefly into diprotons several times along the way. That’s a good thing for us, because we wouldn’t
be around if the Sun burned fuel faster than that. Indeed bigger stars create a higher pressure
at their cores resulting in faster fusion, so they have shorter lives precisely because
they have more fuel. Even then it’s pretty slow for our purposes. It doesn’t come up much in our discussion
of fusion as a power source, but if you could replicate the conditions inside the Sun in
some reactor down here on Earth, with several tons of fusion fuel inside it, that would
release perhaps a billion, billion joules of energy over the course of a billion years. Which means it could run a light bulb. And while it would last a billion years, you’d
have to expend energy to maintain and run the thing too. That’s the two foremost challenges of fusion
reactors: getting a net positive energy gain, and dealing with all the damage to the components
and containment vessel from the radiation. Fortunately, the past few decades of research
have yielded improvements in the efficiency of the design and durability of the alloys
we use in fusion R&D, though still not enough. But again, such a reactor doesn’t interest
us much as a power source, any more than a H-bomb does, so we need something that can
run a lot hotter. People talk about how hard it is to replicate
the conditions inside a star, but we’re way past that. We usually estimate the temperature of the
Sun’s Core at about 15 million Kelvin, while those Tokamak Fusion Reactors you’ve heard
about can run at 150 million Kelvin, 10 times hotter, and we’ve actually briefly produced
temperatures in the trillions in labs by ramming particles together. So again, we’re not trying to replicate
the center of our Sun, because that’s not good enough. We’re also not trying to do proton-proton
fusion much right now. The default approach is to use deuterium or
tritium, hydrogen isotopes with a proton and one or two neutrons, or helium-3, with two
protons and one neutron, or lithium, which has three protons. These isotopes have lower Coulomb Barriers
to overcome to produce a fused particle and release energy, so they are our first step. Deuterium-Deuterium, or D-D Fusion, is often
seen as the most attractive because Deuterium, while rare compared to normal hydrogen, is
still very common on Earth, whereas Tritium has a half-life not much over a decade so
it’s hard to find, and helium is quite rare on Earth and Helium-3 even more so. Handily if you do have a fusion reactor, you
can build ships that can quite quickly and economically go fetch these rarer fuels from
our various gas giants, and Helium-3 is an attractive fusion fuel for reasons we’ll
get to in a bit. Remember how difficult it is to produce deuterium
from protons? When we fuel a fusion bomb or reactor with
deuterium, we are taking advantage of the fact that dead stars, of whose material our
planet is made, already took care of the most difficult part of fusion for us. Thanks, Universe! Your ideal fusion reactor though would run
basic hydrogen all the way through the various heavier fusion chains to iron, releasing energy
at each step. This series of reactions can be considered
the ultimate goal as it’s the most efficient use of the fuel, but achieving such a thing
is a long way off. I should note that not all fusion reactions
produce energy. In general those resulting in elements heavier
than iron, are net negatives. These reactions are easier in some ways too. It’s fusion when you add neutrons to uranium-238
to turn it into Plutonium-239, for instance. So regular Fusion is hard to do, particularly
as we have to do it better than stars can, and with far less mass and gravity to work
with. So what are the methods? Well first there is the H-Bomb, which uses
a fission explosion to make fusion occur much in the same way we use conventional explosives
to set off the fission reaction. We can make power with this, and I mean usefully
too. You make small fuel pellets of plutonium and
your fusion fuel, essentially small H-Bombs, and set them off in something that can absorb
the energy, like water or preferably molten salt, which you then tap for power more slowly
using conventional heat engines like many power plants use. Then all you have to do is set a new one off
every so often to reheat the liquid medium. This is a fission-fusion hybrid, arguably
a chemical-fission-fusion hybrid since it uses chemical explosives to ignite the fission
to ignite the fusion. But bomb-grade explosives aren’t cheap,
and neither is weapons grade uranium or plutonium for the fission or deuterium and tritium for
the fusion. At least the tritium anyway, deuterium actually
is relatively cheap and more so when you have an abundant cheap power source for separating
it from water. So it’s pricey, but the costs would get
lower with scale, these need to be big plants and the bigger the better, ideally ones powerful
enough you only needed a few per country, but at least it lets you get a lot more juice
out of your fissile materials. Whether or not it would be competitive or
cheaper than existing power is debatable, but that wouldn’t necessarily matter if
you’re running out of material for those existing sources. Now you could make smaller bombs for smaller
reactors using transuranic elements beyond even plutonium, but that wouldn’t be for
Earth based power, but some place where you needed a small and short lived but powerful
reactor. These aren’t high-tech futuristic technology,
incidentally. I’d say we could build one tomorrow, but
the scale of such a plant would imply many years of construction to make something big
enough and shielded enough to absorb even small blasts. However this sort of approach is more attractive
if you’ve got cheap superconductors since it means you can have very few but very large
plants, or ones in isolated areas, without losing lots of your energy to resistance in
your electric wires. Of course superconductors also make awesome
magnets, which is the keystone of the best known approach to fusion: tokamaks and other
magnetic confinement systems. Hot hydrogen and helium turned into plasmas
are charged particles, so very susceptible to magnetic fields, and so we can use them
to contain our plasma. This is important because that plasma needs
to be hundreds of millions of degrees, and even our best alloys can only handle thousands
of degrees, so if the plasma could touch the containment vessel, it would slag the whole
thing. Your basic Tokamak is a big toroid, or donut,
created by using magnets to contain the plasmas and to exert force on them to speed up and
start slamming particles around so they get hotter. The primary problem is that doing this takes
energy, hence the concept of ‘break even’. So you need a reactor that produces more energy
than it takes to heat everything up. The next problem is actually utilizing that
energy, and the general assumption is that you’d be absorbing the radiation given off
as heat in the containment vessel, and exchanging it with coolant with which you’d then generate
power through a normal heat engine. There’s a lot of losses in such a process,
which means your real break-even, in a practical engineering and economic sense, is even higher. The next problem after that is that you are
irradiating that containment vessel. You have to if you want to get power after
all, and while magnets are good at containing protons and electrons, they don’t protect
against gamma rays, neutrinos, or neutrons, all of which are being produced, though the
neutrons are the major concern. None of these are thought to be unconquerable
problems, and we’ve been slowly approaching the break even point over the years, but we’ve
also been encountering other issues as we progress. The Tokamak tends to be the default fusion
reactor everything else gets compared to, and comes in other shapes than toroids, like
spheres, but it isn’t the only approach. Even focusing only on magnetic confinement,
there are many other variations. Another method is inertial confinement, which
usually uses a laser or charged matter beam to slam enough energy into a fusion-fuel pellet
to ignite fusion, and is conceptually pretty similar to the technique we discussed for
making Kugelblitz black holes, only a lot easier. This is the approach the National Ignition
Facility uses. Another confinement approach is Inertial Electrostatic,
which uses electric fields to speed up the plasma, rather than magnets, though the Polywell
approach combines the two. You’ve also got magnetic and electric pinch
approaches. A pinch in this context is where you get some
electric filament, such as a plasma, and compress it magnetically, and you actually see this
in the sky a lot with both lightning bolts and the aurora. There’s a few types of pinch designs, but
the main one is the Z-pinch, which you might recognize from the Z-Machine, or Z Pulsed
Power Facility at Sandia National Labs. This is also an example of pulsed power, same
as the h-bomb route, where the idea is to produce it in quick enough bursts that it’s
essentially continuous for practical applications. There are many other methods, but I’d like
to get on to the practical impact of fusion so we’ll skip them, though I don’t want
to imply their omission reflects badly on them. While the idea of “Cold Fusion” has a
deservedly shady reputation, a lot of other fusion experiments get tainted by association
with that, usually unfairly. The last thing I want to mention real quick
is helium-3 and aneutronic fusion. Most fusion approaches produce a lot of neutrons
which damage and irradiate things, and we don’t want that if we can avoid it. Helium-3 produces a lot less neutrons in its
various fusion chains like helium-helium, helium-deuterium, or helium-lithium. It’s harder to do than the various deuterium
and tritium reactions, but it would permit longer-lived and lighter reactors, which makes
it especially tempting for spaceship engines. There is very little helium-3 on Earth, and
the Moon isn’t really a great source of it either due to its very low concentration
in the regolith, but there is plenty of it out in the gas giants and that could easily
drive colonization of Uranus and Neptune as we discussed in colonizing Neptune, as they
have the highest concentrations, and plenty of deuterium too. The key thing is you don’t need much of
it on the Earth or the Moon to start using it, since the moment you have a fusion reactor
good enough for a spaceship, you’ve got a spaceship that can easily run back and forth
to Neptune to collect Helium-3, and a reactor that can easily power refineries and habitats
around those gas giants, far from the Sun. Indeed it’s good enough for interstellar
travel too, potentially allowing speeds of 10-20% of light speed, though more realistically
probably less than that. Check out Atomic Rockets if you want a detailed
breakdown of the various hypothetical fusion drives, Winchell’s website goes into the
details without bogging it down in techno-speak. Obviously the biggest application for fusion,
normal or aneutronic, is power generation, since down on Earth you don’t care about
power-to-mass ratios. Fusion rockets are the other as we just mentioned,
but it’s not so good for ground-to-space ships, because while you can accelerate slowly
in space, which fusion is really good at, you really need high thrust to get out of
an atmosphere, and your default high-efficiency, high-power fusion torch drive does not radiate
its containment vessel to warm it up and run a heat engine or superheat some propellant,
but rather it dumps all that hot plasma out the back as the propellant, which is decidedly
unhealthy. Not that standing in a normal rocket flame
is very healthy either, but a superhot plasma exhaust with lots of gamma rays and neutron
flux is a whole new level of hazardous, especially considering such ships probably need to be
quite large too. They also might not be great for power generation
in space, at least reasonably near the sun. Fundamentally, while fusion is very energy
dense, fusion power is really not. You’re heating something up to run a normal
heat engine, and in space you could achieve the same thing by taking a bunch of thin parabolic
mirrors and aiming them at that same working medium. Considering how cheap a mirror is, how much
sunlight there is, and how much empty space there is to put mirrors in, you are probably
going to find it’s cheaper in the inner solar system, in terms of both money and mass
and for stationary power generation, to just use solar. Though as with every power generation method,
there’s likely to be occasions where one system outperforms another for a specific
use, even if in most other cases it doesn’t. Now, down on Earth, what’s the advantage? First you’re not beaming any energy down
from space, as we discussed in power satellites, or dealing with clouds or night time for ground-based
solar. Second, even if you are limited to deuterium,
or even helium-3 and tritium, you’re going to get a lot more energy from those stockpiles
on Earth or throughout the solar system than you would from chemical or fission fuels. There is no such thing a truly renewable power
source, but we count the sun as the next best thing, and fusion parallels or beats that. It also doesn’t generate the highly radioactive
waste that fission does, though I should note that the fear of radioactive waste from fission,
especially with modern methods, is decidedly exaggerated. It also doesn’t produce carbon dioxide,
nor does extracting deuterium from ocean water cause any ecological issues associated to
mining. In fact, since carbon dioxide from fossils
fuels is produced by adding oxygen to hydrocarbons and producing water and carbon and energy,
it’s worth noting you can run that process backwards, just paying energy to do it. That’s not advanced science, sucking carbon
dioxide and water out of air to make hydrocarbons and oxygen, in reverse, is quite easy. It’s just going to take you more energy
than you’d get by burning it. But if you’ve got a huge source of energy,
though not a mobile one, you suddenly can start making gasoline out of air as a nice
compact, carbon neutral power source. Chemical fuels are awesome ways of generating
power compared to even our best modern batteries, so if you can synthetically produce a cheap,
unlimited, and ecologically safe supply of them, the impact would be huge. It could be carbon negative too, since you
could dump that carbon out of the air into mine shafts or maybe make diamonds or graphene
out of it. Needless to say those are valuable to us too
but diamonds might be energy prohibitive to mass produce as a construction material, unless
you have good fusion reactors. There’s also aluminum though, and for that
matter steel. Aluminum is awesome stuff for building many
things but cost prohibitive because it takes a ton of electricity to make. Similarly while you do need carbon for steel,
the main use of it in steelmaking is for heat, so fusion lets you make both cheaper then,
and if you are using it to run carbon sinks, it lets you get away with using concrete to
your heart’s content without carbon concerns. It also makes vertical farming or cold-climate
farming in greenhouses economically viable, as you can now run lighting and heating at
competitive costs to natural open air farming, amplifying the amount of food you can get
out of a chunk of land. You can also desalinate water and pump it
anywhere, with that kind of energy, allowing the conversion of arid deserts and tundras
for agriculture. Similarly, with cheap power, you can recycle
virtually any material economically and extract new metals in more environmentally friendly
ways. We’re only touching on the options available
which we’ve discussed in a lot of our episodes, particularly the Impact of Fusion episode
in our show’s first season, and the Arcologies & Ecumenopolises episodes that looked how
far you can go with vertical farming when you have a ton of cheap energy. This is a power source that basically eliminates
most ecological problems, directly or indirectly, allows interplanetary and even interstellar
space travel, and lets you terraform planets or build and light and heat artificial habitats. I think sometimes the skepticism towards fusion,
as mentioned at the beginning, has to do not with it developing particularly more slowly
than most other technologies have, but, rather, in part from its breakthrough and wonder status,
it being seemingly miraculous. Now, there are still some downsides and limits. First off, the cost of power is not just the
cost of fuel, which is not free even for fusion, especially if you need to use rarer isotopes
than deuterium or plain hydrogen. Power Plants need maintenance, electric grids
need maintenance, but you’d expect to see a big drop in cost and possibly more of a
subscription approach rather than a per unit approach, like we tend to do with phones and
internet. You pay for access to a certain amount of
power whether you use it or not, rather than per unit of energy, which might mean big industrial
users get their energy very cheaply, as everyone’s really paying for their electric lines and
building & maintaining the power plant. You’d also have huge knock-on effects to
the economy, when gasoline, fertilizer, construction material, and many manufactured goods all
get cheaper. The price of power might only get cut in half,
but if everyone is earning twice as much and paying half as much for many goods, it’s
not just a tiny cut in your electric bill. It’s an economic snowball, and it’s why
I usually count fusion as one of the handful of technologies that if you’ve got it, either
by itself or maybe with one other, instantly kicks you into a post-scarcity civilization. Putting it bluntly, within a couple decades
of us developing a viable commercial fusion reactor, even one that can only match modern
energy costs, whether that be tomorrow or a century from now, will almost certainly
push humanity into an era of universal prosperity, since so much of what’s holding us back
from that today is the limited stockpiles of fuels and the worries over their usages. Of course it’s not a total end to ecological
worries like global warming either. Greenhouses gases trap heat, but if you’re
using enough power, green or not, you can start warming up. Fortunately you’d need to have trillions
of people living on Earth before that was a serious issue and we discussed some ways
to get around that in Ecumenopolises, Planet Wide Cities. One of those approaches was great big space
towers or orbital rings for radiating heat, or bringing food and materials down to Earth
cheaply, so you could reduce how much heat you made here on the ground, and active support
structures, which require a lot of power, is something fusion is great for too. And that’s fusion in a nutshell. Unsurprisingly, the power of the Sun, when
we get it working, offers us a very bright future… Fusion is one of those technologies, like
smart automation, that offers a key to unlock the galaxy to us and make our own world into
a paradise. Many authors tend to write dystopian science
fiction to add tension and challenge but while those often make for great stories, they often
feel very unrealistic to me, even if they have good hard science in them. There’s more to realistic science fiction
than just getting the science part right, the civilizations on display have to feel
realistic for the setting and technology too, and of course Paradise is rarely without it’s
own new challenges and can be a bit subjective. One of my favorite authors in that regard
is Peter F. Hamilton, particularly in his Commonwealth Saga beginning with the novel
Pandora’s Star. Set in the 24th century, the book shows us
many fantastic and immense ideas, but also gives a close look at day to day life and
how those wonders, like energy and land abundance and life extension, begin shaping that civilization. Later books in the series follow that civilization
into future centuries. The series is also narrated by John Lee, who
as I’ve mentioned before is my favorite audiobook narrator and as usual he gives an
excellent performance that only improves an already excellent series. You can get a free copy of Pandora’s Star
at Audible.com/Isaac or text Isaac to 500-500. Audible offer a 30 day free trial, but each
month you’re a member you now get a free audiobook and 2 audible originals, and those
credits rollover to the next month or year and stay yours, along with any books you got,
even if you later discontinue your membership. And with their convenient app, you can listen
on any of your devices and seamlessly pick up where you left off, whether you’re listening
at home, commuting, running errands or off jogging or at the gym. Audible makes it cheap and easy to access
a vast collection of amazing stories. So a couple quick announcements before we
hop into the schedule for the rest of the month. First, an update and apology, back around
the beginning of the year I grabbed a post office box after requests I give folks a non-electronic
way to send me things and obviously didn’t want my home address up on the internet but
some confusion during the setup resulted in a lot of that getting returned to sender and
I didn’t find out for months. That should be fixed now, and the address
is still Isaac Arthur at PO Box 529, Geneva, Ohio, 44041 in the United States. Second, we have a new extra episode up on
Nebula about the Butterfly Effect, and I’ll leave the promo link in the episode description
so you can use the 7-day free trial to check that out, and our previous one, the Paperclip
Maximizer. Nebula is a new streaming service a bunch
of us creators got together to make as an experimental alternative hosting platform
to give us more flexibility in content and control of our content and its launch exceeded
even our most optimistic expectations. There’s a lot of material I and other creators
on Youtube mostly don’t create because we worry about getting punished by the recommendation
algorithms and Nebula is designed to help us with that and we’ll keep adding features
as it grows. In general the stuff I upload there that is
just bonus episodes will migrate over to Youtube after a couple months but other content like
extended commentary or behind the scenes material that folks ask for but which would get butchered
by the Youtube Algorithms will likely stay exclusively there, and we’ll get channel
specific links for Patreon supporters integrated into that in the near future too. As you probably noticed, we had a lot more
callback to prior episodes than normal, as this topic is very integrated into a lot of
our episodes, and these days there’s about 200 episodes, many look at things which seem
nigh impossible but technologies like Fusion might one day bring them into existence. With that in mind, we’ll be having our 200th
official episode, “Things which will never exist” in just two weeks. Before then though, there’s another topic
we discuss a lot and that is megastructures or other giant constructs like generation
ships or artificial planets, and something we don’t look at much when discussing those
is how you go about maintaining those and sweep up all the debris you generally need
to clear out to make them or generate in making and using them. So next week we’ll take a look at the untidy
underside of our big bright future in Space Janitors & Megastructure Maintenance. For alerts when those and other episodes come
out, make sure to subscribe to the channel and hit the notifications bell. And if you enjoyed this episode, hit the like
button and share it with others. Also if you want to check out any of those
many past episodes we mentioned today, check out the playlists for the channel here on
Youtube or our website, IsaacArthur.net. Until next time, thanks for watching, and
have a Great Week!

100 Comments

  • Isaac Arthur

    Here's the link for the Buttefly Effect, and for our Stellaris fans, I got talked into doing a voice-over mod for the game last week, enjoy!
    Check out the Butterfly Effect: https://watchnebula.com/isaacarthur
    https://steamcommunity.com/sharedfiles/filedetails/?id=1828085831&fbclid=IwAR3o5aEPiUna93vPzvqZj34GHsXClInKdqHqAESDkd7c1cVN7wzFJW7N27M

  • kinn grimm

    The D-shape of the Tokamak reactor was in one test inverted so that the round side was towards the inside and the | was on the outside. Unexpedictingly that resutled in a stability gain of the process. It is these by chance findings i think, which in the end will bring this vision of fusion power to life and as so many people are setting their hopes on this, an estimate of how long it will take is hardly possible.

  • Steve patterson

    After the first statement I new this is fake news as anybody with a hint it of intelligence knows the sun is electric. As it has magnetic poles it's hard to dispute ……….

  • John B

    When have we ever benefited financially from any energy advancements? electricity was promised by futurist to be so cheap it would not be worth metering and sold us on building nuclear power plants, instead prices go up. Don't give me this pie in the sky stuff, fusion is always 20 years away, nothing gets cheaper unless it's worthless then you get scrap price and that too is becoming not worth recycling scrap with the payout so low. Sorry Isaac i know you mean well but you are just like the futurist i read about 20 years ago, they gave me hope and wonder, but later when i grew up we got nothing but disappointment, and nothing but nothing is what we got instead. We did get wars though, some amazing advanced killing machines and wondrous Seawolf class submarines but no cure for cancer.

  • John B

    1st rule to Central Planning is to not increase Earth's Carrying Capacity (CC). Chemical fertilizers greatly increased the world's CC and populations exploded, Fusion will make chemical fertilizers look like chump change. So Fusion will always be 20 years off. Central Planners get headaches per million new mouths to feed.

  • Ed Peck

    the problem with the idea that fusion could rapidly create a post-scarcity world is the fact that we'd need to completely change our economic system to unlock that potential. so much of today's resource scarcity is entirely artificial, and so many times in the last century already the same sorts of promises have been made, only for those technologies to come and go without magically granting us all the ability to only work 10 hours a week while maintaining the same level of productivity (like analysts claimed in the 1950s about the year 2000.). David Graeber has done some awesome work on this more socio-economic side of things, at least when it comes to analysing this phenomenon in the world today, and showing why it's unlikely to change on its own in the future

  • Brady Eklund

    So why aren't we putting a per transaction cost on Wall Street to kick the quants to the curb, and pouring hundreds of billions into fusion power research? It might not pay off in a 20 year time-frame, but when it does pay off, that payoff exceeds the prosperity generated by current energy generation methods by an order of magnitude. I know that's a long time horizon for corporate boards and democratic politicians, but shouldn't at least the Chinese, who must import energy resources, have sufficient incentive to pour serious resources into developing this technology? They might have a few more immediate priorities, but if we don't do it in the West, they'll beat us to it.

  • Wes Darling

    Perhaps you might offer an analysis of this article? It was in my Google feed, not always a good news source but it's an interesting claim. https://www.newscientist.com/article/2213058-milky-ways-black-hole-has-got-75-times-brighter-and-we-dont-know-why/

  • bb1111116

    The theory for the fusion process was developed in 1920 by physicist Francis William Aston. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power#History_of_research * In the 1920s, Arthur Stanley Eddington became a major proponent of the proton–proton chain reaction as the primary system running the Sun. A theory was verified by Hans Bethe in 1939 showing how fusion could work in the sun’s core. The first patent related to a fusion reactor was registered in 1946. * If we use the 100 year time span from Benjamin Franklin to common electric generators, then a practical fusion reactor should exist next year. But that is unlikely. Compared with electric generation or solar, there must be fundamental barriers to fusion being a success in producing cost effective power.

  • Andrew Stewart

    My number 1 favorite thing about Isaac Arthur videos is that there is no "HEY WHAT'S UP GUYS!!!??!!!" at the beginning of his videos.

  • David Taylor-Fuller

    I get the hang up on fusion. But I fail to see how Fusion is REALLY better than Fission . As you said the first fusion reactors we will likely develop will be highly neutronic which means the inner diameter of the reactor will be radio active. Which means we still need to pull our big boy pants up and get used to dealing with radiation. Advanced fission reactor designs are capable of reducing radioactive lifetime of spent fuel down to 300 years which is pretty manageable for humanity. From what I am able to find nucleon for nucleon fusion is only 6MeV (https://www.physlink.com/education/askexperts/ae534.cfm) better than Fission. As a result I do not see how those 6MeV would make fusion any more capable of delivering a post scarcity scenario compared to Fission. So if Fusion gets you to post scarcity. You should be able to accomplish the same thing with Fission. So why wait? If there is no huge error in my off the cuff remarks I would love to see a Fission based version of this video

  • JD Mason

    Were told the formula for the curve of the earth is 8 inches per mile squared. What do you think?
    Observation tells me no!

  • Guy Tech

    Saidly Magnetic confinement fusion isn't likely to work. The issue is that magnetic fields form fields lines of uneven intensity. Thus very strong & very weak fields along the field lines (see a magnet and iron filings). No one has been able to produce a stable magnetic bottle capable of containing plasma. After about a minute or two, the magnetic field destabilizes collapsing the magnetic bottle & allowing plasma to leak out. 🙂

    ITER is doomed ans it already been determined to fail.

  • Abe

    We'd never use nuclear power to make gasoline from air just to burn it again.
    We'd make billion of tons of plastics from all that CO2.

  • Robert Decke

    The other day, I made this telescope that was so powerful I could zoom right up to this star that was two million light years away.Then I noticed this small Green planet orbiting it,so i zoomed in and could see some blue looking people walking around, then I realized that I was looking two million years in their past, Then I made a tackion beam that could send video to them instantaneously, and sent them a video of their past, is this a book already or should I lay off the pot?

  • Bendy Bruce

    Hey Isaac, could you cover the current, and possible future direction of artificial gravity technologies?!? (Centrifugal; 1g constant acceleration/deceleration; or what about a combo of the two?!?)

  • Spiral Architect

    Issac, i always find your videos and information fascinating…what i find more fascinating though is your funky accent…what the hell is a "Yeor"?… and i'm not a native english speaker…; p

  • Omni TheWolf

    I hope we can preserve your brain Issac. I don’t know what I’d do without your vids. Not a lot of people talk about the big ideas or ones that are so far out of reach. I love them, they make me excited and give me something to dream about. Love you Smart Dad, keep it up <3

  • Johnlanzer

    11:00 – 12:44

    I wonder if possible to combine the laser ignition of Inertial Confinement Fusion and the Micro-Detonation Fusion for laser to hit and compress the fissile shell to cause a detonation to fuse the fusion fuel core. Now if we go with full steam or using a magnetic superconductor piston to drive generators.

    Essentially a Fusion driven Diesel Engine for the latter. 😀

  • FreeGoro

    I loved that rant about fusion expectations at the beginning. You so often put things into perspective correctly. I was also one of those people who would scoff at fusion ever being available. Thanks for setting me right.

  • SteveAkaGoatpile

    Most technology falls into an S curve. at the start its ineffective and slow to ramp up, until as it matures it rapidly grows and improves. at the end of its lifetime, progress slows down and we start to get dimished returns with time and effort.

    interestingly, new technologies that will come to replace the previous generation always start at the middle of the maturity phase of the old ones.
    Because of that the New tech will be inferior compared to what the old, mature technology can offer. however, once the Old reaches the apex of its potential and hits its ceilling, the New Tech will have reached its maturity phase and will show massive improvements.
    we can clearly see this in old Disc drives, then Hard drives, then SSDs.

    CoreTeks is an amazingly informative Channel that discusses and predicts the development on the Computer Market. It really helped me understand how Technology advances and is a nice supplement to Isaacs videos.
    heres the link to his video that explains the above trend.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oU-NNV2pYTQ
    and here he Discusses the developments and importance of Supercomputers
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3PjNgRWmv90&t=2s&disable_polymer=1

  • Andrew Morrison

    Ok, here's a question I'd like your opinion on. You speak a lot about how technological improvements might have an impact on economics; cheaper power, less expensive base materials, better environmental options and controls. By reducing the cost of creating consumer goods, regular Joes would have more money left over in their paychecks, and that's something everyone looks forward to. However, US economics is based on capitalism, privatized ownership of a means of production and their operation for a profit. Corporations are loathe to relinquish their hold on the regular people, and shareholders generally only care about their quarterly profit reports. Very few companies operate on the long-term benefits (to the consumer) of cutting costs without decreasing quality or eliminating jobs. Most times, companies will export manufacturing to a foreign country with less labor costs but still reap the benefits of an unchanged price tag. I believe that in order to create a post-scarcity civilization, where no regular citizen could want for anything at an affordable cost, corporations would inevitably have to move towards providing a product to the benefit of the people, and not just their executives. My question is: how would these inexpensive benefits provided by a post-fusion age affect changes in society as these new technologies are implemented, and how can humanity use these gains to catapult us into a multi-planet civilization?

  • Obsidian- Radio

    Sorry to be a downer but nuclear fusion is not only not happening in stars. But it doesn't seem to be physically possible. Stars are more akin to giant light bulbs whos body is made up of almost entirely plasma.

  • fred6319

    1883 and it took a century before we had good enough solar to consider commercial usage
    because for the first 70 years after 1883 there was very little need for electricity and that was for light when it was dark and there was the
    problem of storing the electricity
    and after that
    electricity generated by fossil fuels was well established and they didn't want the competition

  • AnimeShinigami13

    Looks like Halo's "Engineers" aren't far off the mark! adorable floating space snails that like head rubs and light your cigar for you to boot! and as an added bonus they fix ancient alien technology, or any of your own, that's gone haywire, and love doing it!

  • Charles Blithfield

    General Fusion here in Canada has a reactor design that is a sphere containing molten lead that is swirled into a vortex into which a pellet containing deuterium is injected. Massive pistons symmetrically arranged created a shockwave that is sufficient to initiate fusion which heats the lead. Heat extractors convert the leads heat to steam. The lead also acts as shielding. The process repeats every second. Micro fusion bombs!
    I like this system because of its simplicity. Check out the reactor
    https://generalfusion.com/2018/11/timing-everything-pushing-fusion-forward-pistons-cutting-edge-electronics/

  • Charles Blithfield

    General Fusion here in Canada has a reactor design that is a sphere containing molten lead that is swirled into a vortex into which a pellet containing deuterium is injected. Massive pistons symmetrically arranged created a shockwave that is sufficient to initiate fusion which heats the lead. Heat extractors convert the leads heat to steam. The lead also acts as shielding. The process repeats every second. Micro fusion bombs!
    I like this system because of its simplicity. Check out the reactor
    https://generalfusion.com/2018/11/timing-everything-pushing-fusion-forward-pistons-cutting-edge-electronics/

  • Krystian Barrie

    Me:*See's amazing video* Oh cool! This is really well made and interesting, covering several topics, viewpoints, counter-arguments, and the actual Science + potential applications. I need to like this!
    Also me:*Looks at views* *cries*.

  • Robert Williams

    This episode reminded me a lot of Project Orion. Using small nuclear bombs to propel huge payloads into orbit and around the Solar System. It could be either fission or fusion.

    I'd love to see an episode on that as there are few on YouTube.

  • Screww Googlle

    If the Sun is powered by Hydrogen Fusion….Why is the Surface of the Sun only about 5000 degrees and then millions of degrees hotter as you go further away from the Surface ? Also wouldn't the Sun weigh about a thousand times as much as it does if it was a Hydrogen Fusion furnace ?

  • Sędziwój

    I think you should look at Joe Scott Monday video (2019-08-12 so is this Monday), it will be about what to do with CO2.

  • Rush Hammer

    Communism could use this to make a paradise. Automated, fusion-powered luxury, gay space anarcho-communist trans-humanist future here we come!!

  • Chad Vader

    As the future becomes more high tech, we are going to need smarter people to run everything. And there will be less of a need for dumb people. How are we going to handle this?

  • T H

    what i learned here is that fusion isnt always 20 years away but 50.

    ok on a more optimistic note someone convince Elon Musk to invest into research on this technology, when he does Jeff Bezos will too and when he does every company and their mother will as well. perfect plan and its the fastest we'll get there

  • Probus Thrax

    Does anyone know of a webpage that links to all of Isaac's audiobook recommendations? I've purchased a few and they are really good books. (Just found his webpage and there it was: https://www.isaacarthur.net/books)

  • krm398

    I'm old enough to remember the talk about Atomic power plants coming..'clean cheap power' they said..lies..any timer something new comes along they make up their own rules. Atomic power turned out to be not any cheaper than other forms..why? because they made it that way. Fusion power will be the same, they will have dozens of reasons, but the cost of it to consumers will be exactly what it is today…we cant let technology make us less profit can we? lol

  • Mark Zambelli

    A.C.Clarke incepted an unsavoury idea in my mind when his novel '3001' came out… namely the thermodynamic overheating problem with our newly developed fusion power capability. It's bugged me for years but you have FINALLY eased my concerns. In hindsight, of course the genius of Clarke would probably be wrong… if only he were a teenager now listening to such mind expanding things as your you-tube channel, then where would we be! (I appreciate the irony of his legacy being needed to partially explain wgere we are right now… 😉 )

  • Corazon Sierra

    watching Isaac Arthur videos calms my nerves and restores my hope about the future. Even if reality will turn out differently than i hope, i can just entertain the thought that some of these amazing futures may become possible in my own lifetime… that thought alone is enough to satisfy my anxieties about today's world while also keeping the focus that today's world really is already better than yesterday's.

    thx so much for making this channel!

  • Koop_801

    Can you seriously not pronounce your R's? You have two of them in your last name. Im sorry to be a dick, I've just never heard a fully grown adult who speaks fluently in English, so completely unable to pronounce R's it sounds like baby talk and is unbearable to me. Again I'm sorry for being an ass hole, i probably shouldn't even post this but it just really bothers me because scrolling through your videos, i really like the topics you cover, I'd like to give your content a chance. I just can't take the baby talk sound.

  • Solexx X

    How many trillion dollars will be spent before we realize that we can't replicate the sun without the mass? I like the LFTR for the next thousand years. We have lots of thorium and it can be easily shielded, won't melt down, is throttleable and can be small enough to use in space.

  • Robert G

    what about splitting and fusing tho,
    split something and fuse it back together repeat.

    maybe use part of the energy of splitting to fusing?

    i'm completely retarded, but i feel like this will be the way to go.

  • Stefan Ferguson

    long time quiet viewer however ive just found out theres a isaac arthur stellaris voice pack and im in love hahaha !

  • Grant Peevyhouse

    I would like to thank you Isaac Arthur, you have pushed my understanding of the world around me!
    If it would be possible for you to do an episode on the Venus Project. And how well the economic system of a Resource Based Economy would work. I would be very interested in something like that!

  • Ryan Gibbons

    Focus Fusion along with various direct energy conversion ideas work with Proton+Boron11 fusion/fission and various aneutronic nuclear reactions make it simple due to mainly charged results. Thanks Isaac!

  • MrRickstopher

    Have you listened to John Lee's narration of Pushing Ice by Alistair Reynolds? It's one of my favorite audiobook performances. Also, I just listened to your interview with Joe Scott, good stuff, you are a very smart dude.

  • Screww Googlle

    Math-a-Magicians they can turn any Half-Assed theory into Main Stream Scientific Community FACTS
    to Fit Any Agenda in Record Time…as long as you Support The Big Bang Theory, Black Holes,
    and all of their other Horse-shit !

  • Ryuukei

    Long Development cycles on technology is not an uncommon occurrence. The Steam Engine for example has probably the longest item between first prototypes, which first showed up in the roman era, and the first practical steam engines showing up on the 1700's.

  • 4vediotube

    Stunning! Absolutely disappointing. No one should pay for fusion energy until they build a home unit that is fueled by terrestrially mined aneutronic fuel while we have solar(fusion) collectors and batteries in our garages that continually soar in efficiency and plunge in price.
    Anyone that is doing fusion research should be praying that the Chemists at Florida State continue to deliver them higher and higher Tesla electromagnets so they build fusion driven rockets and finally stick ‘SPARK’ on distant worlds ‘where the sun don’t shine. ITER by 2099!!!

  • WillTheThrill

    Dear Mr. Arthur,

    The fact that your content has a more positive and hopeful outlook on the future is a much needed breath of fresh air from the largely hopeless, broken outlook that much of the world has right now. Just wanted to say thank you, and that I – and I'm sure a lot of other people – appreciate it very much.

    Here's to a bright future!

  • Joseph El Koury

    I love it, MSNBC, CNN, FSN, allowed free range to make people dumber…Isaac Arthur, videos that expand mind…..Blocked by Youtube's Algosaurus. Makes perfect sense.

  • Fabian

    I'm so glad i found this channel. It really covers all there is to nerd-about in the realm of science-not-so-fiction. First i was a bit sceptic. Like, the videos seemed interresting, but way too long for my likings. Generally speaking, long videos include a lot of useless "bla bla" and thus have a lower information density than i'd like, but after even only watching 1-2 of your videos i realised this is not the case here. Tons of informations, presented with reasonable information density about very interresting topics. You sir, are awesome! Keep on doing what you like and i'm sure this channel will blow up in size as well 😀

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