Fusion Power Has Become a National Priority for Russia. Will the West Follow?

At a July 9 speech to the 2nd Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit in Yekaterinburg, Russia, President Putin presented a brilliant intervention into the visionless anti-growth ethic pervasive in the west when he made Russia’s leadership in fusion energy a national priority.

Speaking to 2500 representative from the public and private sector, President Putin laid out the paradox of humanity’s need for development which has often come at the expense of the health of the biosphere by saying: “It is not yet clear how to combine long term development and production build up while preserving nature and high living standards”.

Attacking those who try to solve this problem by demanding a halt to progress, Putin said “it comes down to appeals to give up progress which will make it possible at best to perpetuate the situation and create local well-being for a select few. At the same time, millions of people will have to settle for what they have today, or it would be more appropriate to say what they don’t have today: access to clean water, food, education and other basics of civilization”.

Separating himself from that cynical worldview, Putin stated “it is impossible and pointless to try to stop human progress. The question is; which base can this progress realistically be built upon to achieve the millennium development goals set by the United Nations?” Answering his own question, he laid out the important role of fusion power as the foundation for a harmonization between the realm of nature (the biosphere) and the realm of creative reason (the technosphere): “super-efficient scientific, engineering and manufacturing solutions will help us establish a balance between the biosphere and the technosphere… fusion energy which in fact is similar to how heat and light are produced in our star, the sun, is an example of such nature-like technologies.”

The president of Russia went on to describe the driving role of the Kurchatov Institute which has already begun a project on a fission-fusion hybrid reactor which will be operational by 2020 and its role in driving advanced science which will be a creative force for the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) program in France which is scheduled to go online with its first plasma by 2025.

The Recovery of a Forgotten Paradigm

Once upon a time, such speeches as Putin’s were a common thing in the west as scientific/technological progress was recognized as civilization’s basis of existence. In the years following WWII, there was a general recognized truth embedded in the western culture that “since we will all someday be dead, what good is our lives if we have not left something better for our children and those yet unborn?” This was the foundation for the faith in scientific and technological progress that animated mankind’s combat against fascism in WWII and the launching of humanity out of its limits by exploring space and the secrets of the atom.

Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Lewis Strauss expressed this ethic brilliantly in 1958 when he said: 

“I hope to live long enough to see the same natural force which powers the hydrogen bomb tamed for peaceful purposes. A breakthrough could come tomorrow as well as a decade hence. Out of our laboratories may come a discovery as important as the Promethean taming of fire.”

Why have we not yet attained fusion?

The valid question yet remains: If statesmen and policy makers dominant during the post-WWII years believed in fusion power so deeply, why did we not attain those lofty objectives set down as national goals for fusion by the 1980s or earlier?

As America was rewired towards becoming a consumer/post-industrial society during the 1970s, such initiatives as the Apollo space program were cancelled for “budgetary reasons” followed soon thereafter by a conscious undermining of the ambitious fusion energy programs which had been unleashed during the 1950s and whose budget had risen from $114 million in 1958 to $140 million by 1968. The budget would continue to rise with record breaking achievements led by Princeton’s Plasma Physics Laboratory which broke the 44 million degree mark to initiate fusion in 1978 and broke international records by achieving a 200 million degree plasma by 1986.

Rather than fund fusion and encourage the construction of new designs and prototypes so necessary to this transformation of society, the opposite occurred, as a systemic underfunding, and collapse of vision led to a demoralization of nuclear scientists who could not carry out their experiments. Quitting his job as Director of Fusion of the US Department of Energy in protest of the sabotage, Ed Kintner said this “leave[s] the fusion program without a strategic backbone—it is a collection of individual projects and activities without a defined mission or timetable… The plan to increase industry involvement in fusion development is postponed indefinitely, and the industrial and economic benefits of high-technology spin-offs, surely an increasingly important by-product of an accelerated fusion technology program, will be lost.”

Indicative of the dishonest philosophy used to justify America’s rejection of fusion research, Paul Ehrlich (author of the Population Bomb in 1968) said in a 1989 interview that providing cheap, abundant energy to humanity was “like giving a machine gun to an idiot child”.

A disciple and co-author of Ehrlich who went onto become “Science Czar” under Barak Obama was biologist John Holdren who wrote in 1969: 

“The decision for population control will be opposed by growth-minded economists and businessmen, by nationalistic statesmen, by zealous religious leaders, and by the myopic and well-fed of every description. It is therefore incumbent on all who sense the limitations of technology and the fragility of the environmental balance to make themselves heard above the hollow, optimistic chorus—to convince society and its leaders that there is no alternative but the cessation of our irresponsible, all-demanding, and all-consuming population growth.”

The End of the Zero-Growth Paradigm

While some people believe that mankind is just another animal which may only adapt to scarcity under a closed system of fixed resources managed by privileged elites, humanists recognize that humanity’s true nature is found not in the flesh, but in the powers of mind which characterize us as a unique species capable of making unending discoveries in a growing creative universe which can be characterized in the same manner that Beethoven described his music: as rigorous as it is free.

This simple statement reflects a powerful truth: The universe’s natural power of creative change – discoverable by the matured power of creative reason allows for the co-existence of lawfulness and freedom under the sole condition that we harmonize our wills and reason to a love of truth and our fellow beings.

Rising Tide Foundation

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