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First Light Fusion’s Fake

First Light Fusion’s Fake thumbnail

Energy research company First Light Fusion has published deceptive fusion power claims in a Feb. 12, 2019, press release.

First Light Fusion, an Oxford University spin-off company, is claiming that, within five years, its experimental reactor, according to its design, will create more power than it will consume. A careful reading of the technical language, however, reveals that the design does not support such a claim.

The company created the deception by using what has been a standard misleading practice in the fusion research community: hiding the actual power required to operate the reactor. First Light Fusion claimed that, by 2024, its experimental fusion reactor would “achieve gain – generating more energy than is used to spark a reaction.”

In inertial fusion science terminology, the phrase “sparked a reaction” indicates only the final amount of power that arrives at the fuel target. It does not include the vast majority of the power required to operate the fusion device. The company’s reactor is actually designed to consume more electrical power than it produces by fusion, resulting in a net energy loss.

In the history of experimental fusion reactors, more than 100 devices have been constructed, many of them creating fusion reactions for brief moments. The closest any fusion reactor has come to showing a power gain is the Joint European Torus (JET) reactor experiment that took place on Oct. 31, 1997. It used 700 million Watts of electricity to produce fusion particles with 16 million Watts of power. JET lost 98% of the power it consumed.

Nicholas Hawker, founder of First Light Fusion, bridged the gap from a deceptive claim to a fake claim with a quote in the press release.

“We are confident we will show fusion this year,” Hawker said. “After fusion, the next phase is to show energy gain, which we aim to complete by 2024.”

Hakwer’s “energy gain” would not be a reactor gain; it would be a relative gain between the power that hits the fuel and the power that is emitted from the fusion particles. Because the company has published such a misleading public claim, it has almost certainly communicated the same to its investors, as well.

The best result so far in the inertial confinement fusion field is the National Ignition Facility. Philip Ball, writing for Nature on Feb. 12, 2014, reported the grim facts. Buried at the very bottom of the article, where few readers would notice, Ball quoted a Lawrence Livermore researcher who revealed that the ratio of fusion-produced power to the power injected to the fuel was 1%. The efficiency of the entire system, accounting for all the power required to operate and produce the reaction, would bring the overall efficiency of the system to a fraction of 1%.

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology pulled off the same trick last year. David Chandler, with the MIT news office, published a press release on March 9, 2018, promoting a new fusion reactor design called SPARC.

“SPARC is designed to produce about 100 MW of heat,” Chandler wrote. “While it will not turn that heat into electricity, it will produce, in pulses of about 10 seconds, as much power as is used by a small city. That output would be more than twice the power used to heat the plasma, achieving the ultimate technical milestone: positive net energy from fusion.”

The fine print “power used to heat the plasma” indicates that the claimed 100 MW heat output did not account for the power required to operate the reactor. The next part of Chandler’s sentence bridged the gap from a deceptive claim to a fake claim. Creating a fusion plasma that has more power than the power used to heat the plasma is not the ultimate technical milestone in fusion science. Rather, the ultimate technical milestone from fusion is a reactor that produces positive net energy from fusion.

MIT deceived Nature, The Guardian, and scores of other media outlets. In Nature, Jeff Tollefson wrote, “Within the next decade, the team hopes to develop a prototype reactor that can generate more energy than it consumes. Then, they hope to develop a 200-megawatt pilot power plant that can export electricity to the grid.”

The hidden-power trick fusioneers have played was insidious and devious. They got away with it for more than a decade with the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), convincing virtually everyone who was not a fusion expert that, as The Guardian wrote on Oct. 17, 2016, ITER “aims to deliver 500MW of power, about the same as today’s large fission reactors.”

In reality, if the project goes according to design, ITER will be about equivalent to a zero net power reactor when operating.

The company is backed by a star-studded board of advisors, including physicists Richard Garwin and Steven Chu.

First Light Fusion Board of Directors

Nicholas Hawker, David Bryon, Gianluca Pisanello

Nicholas Hawker, David Bryon, Gianluca Pisanello, (Stephen Brindle, not pictured)

Bart Markus, Ronald Roy, Robert Trezona, Yiannis Ventikos

Bart Markus, Ronald Roy, Robert Trezona, Yiannis Ventikos

First Light Fusion Advisory Board

Arun Majumdar, Steven Chu, Richard Dennis

Arun Majumdar, Steven Chu, Richard Dennis

Richard L. Garwin, Sir David King, Steven Rose

Richard L. Garwin, Sir David King, Steven Rose


7 Comments on "First Light Fusion’s Fake"

  1. Go Speed Racer on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 3:13 am 

    This is the new America.

    Instead of
    “I have a dream”
    now it’s
    “I have a scheme”.

  2. baha on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 4:47 am 

    Fusion powered Sunlight is free.

  3. Cloggie on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 5:44 am 

    As I said before fusion power is just a scam scientists made up to keep them employed for decades . It will always be 10 years away before we get unlimited free energy. Lol

  4. Antius on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 6:30 am 

    Magnetic confinement fusion is an unlikely proposition for generating affordable energy. The magnetic pressure achievable even with superconducting magnets is too low and this has a limiting effect on power density. Combine that with the amount of technology needed to generate, confine and control the plasma; in addition to that needed to convert hard neutron energy into electrical energy; and you have a powerplant concept that is at least an order of magnitude more expensive than a nuclear reactor of the same net power output. And that is assuming it works at all; which so far, it doesn’t.

    There are other routes to fusion that show more promise. Inertial confinement concepts are chief amongst these, as achievable plasma densities are orders of magnitude greater than a tokamak. Even so, affordable fusion power is a tall order. We would do better putting effort into safe and affordable fission reactors and removing the institutional obstacles that are making them unaffordable.

  5. Antius on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 9:08 am 

    Some form of hybrid approach, combing muon catalysis in highly compressed targets (i.e. already compressed using laser inertial confinement) may be a promising approach to achieving inertial confinement fusion. Whilst the alpha-sticking problem means that MCF cannot achieve breakeven fusion in any sample at normal pressure and temperature; it could provide the necessary heating to achieve breakeven fusion in an inertial confinement system. This reduces the amount of laser power and ablation needed to achieve ignition.

    Of course, muons are very energetically expensive and require an impressive particle accelerator to produce them. A practical system therefore needs to be stingy in its use of muons. One muon will catalyse 150-300 fusions on average, before alpha sticking removes it. Each fusion event releases an alpha particle that carries 3MeV of heating energy. Ignition requires average particle energy in the KeV range. On this basis, ignition would require a minimum of one muon for every 50,000-800,000 fuel atoms. This neglects leakage.

    Each muon requires 6GeV to manufacture it and each fusion releases about 14MeV. To achieve a net energy gain of 10 (a fairly minimum requirement, given energy conversion losses); each muon must result in 1700-17,000 fusion events, or about 1-10% of the fuel atoms present. That might just about be achievable. However, to minimise muon leakage from the sample, there is an implied minimum size to the assembly, though I am in no position to calculate what it is.

  6. NATHANPHILLIPSakafmr-paultard on Thu, 14th Feb 2019 10:58 am 

    thank you supertards for working on this difficult problem for the benefit of the war machines using infinite energy to kill muzzies

  7. OAC_AKA_fmr-paultard on Fri, 15th Feb 2019 1:17 pm 

    Special thanks to following supertards

    Nicholas Hawker, David Bryon, Gianluca Pisanello, (Stephen Brindle, not pictured)
    Bart Markus, Ronald Roy, Robert Trezona, Yiannis Ventikos
    Arun Majumdar, Steven Chu, Richard Dennis
    Richard L. Garwin, Sir David King, Steven Rose

    for trying to find infinite energy to power industrial grinder for feeding muzzies into it. we need machines to conduct industrial warfare on muzzies. their faith is too strong and we’re at numerical disadvantage otherwise.

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