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Tom Purcell: Nuclear fusion is federal bloat’s silver lining

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A capsule containing deuterium and tritium, two isotopes of the element hydrogen, is mounted inside a cylindrical container about 0.4 inches tall, where it was targeted by 192 laser beams to get the hydrogen atoms to fuse in an experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. (AP)

“The lousy Republicans are supposed to decrease federal spending and get our deficit under control, not blow the budget even more!”

“Ah, yes, you speak of the massive $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill President Trump just signed into law. Members of Congress were only given 24 hours to read the 2,232-page monstrosity, which nobody did before voting for it.”

“What the heck is an omnibus bill, anyhow?”

“It combines 13 separate appropriation bills, which Congress otherwise must pass and the president must sign, into a single bill that funds all government departments and activities.”

“I thought it is Congress’ job to fund each appropriation bill separately in a sane, transparent and timely manner — so that we taxpayers can see what our tax dollars are paying for.”

“So naïve! Too many politicians prefer an omnibus approach because it allows them to sneak in lots of goodies in the dark of night. Such bills are then rammed through the approval process before any meaningful review or debate can take place.”

“The dirty rotten sons of a gun! We already have $21 trillion in debt — that’s more than 100 percent of GDP — and $1 trillion deficits as far as the eye can see. Republicans failed us!”

“There’s no doubt about that. However, there’s one silver lining: The Trump administration doubled funding for research into nuclear fusion.”

“What the heck is nuclear fusion?”

“According to Fast Company, it ‘uses hydrogen atoms, an incredibly abundant fuel, to provide clean, almost limitless power, while avoiding the hazardous waste problem and catastrophic risk of current nuclear power.’”

“Can you explain that in English?”

“Nuclear fusion can cleanly produce virtually unlimited amounts of incredibly low-cost electric power. It would end the world’s dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels, greatly impacting climate-change debates. It would slash manufacturing costs and unleash economic miracles.”

“Cool beans.”

“Despite all the negative news in the world — despite our country’s reckless spending — science and technology are in the midst of a powerful new industrial revolution.”

“What is its name?”

“It is called Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution, whereby interconnections among machines, systems, assets and people are enabling massive insights and improvements in efficiency and performance across all human processes.”

“How does this relate to nuclear fusion?”

“Because it is allowing technology innovation to happen at a much faster pace. The New York Post explains that until very recently, with the creation of powerful new superconductors, nuclear fusion has been ‘an extremely expensive laboratory experiment that requires more energy inputs than it outputs.’” “English, please.”

“The nuclear fusion-reaction process is hotter than the center of the sun — so hot it will melt any power plant that would attempt to contain it. The solution is to use powerful magnets to ‘create a field to hold the fusion reaction in place without it touching anything solid.’ But until recently, it took more energy to power the magnets than was produced by the fusion-reaction process.”

“The new superconductors solve that?”

“Yes, the new superconductors can produce powerful magnets that are smaller and require less energy. That means, reports the Post, that ‘for the first time, their system produces more energy than it consumes.’ The MIT/Commonwealth Fusion Systems team leading the research says it could be commercially viable in only 15 years. And, boy, will that change the world!”

“OK, so there’s one silver lining in the massive spending bill. I just hope that nuclear fusion produces massive wealth, because we’re going to need every penny to pay off our rapidly growing debt!”

Tom Purcell, a freelance writer, lives in Library. His books include “Misadventures of a 1970s Childhood” and “Wicked Is the Whiskey,” a Sean McClanahan mystery. Visit him on the web at TomPurcell.com. Email him at: [email protected].

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