Thursday, 18 October 2012

Creating A Miniature Sun Here On Earth...

Is the answer to Earth’s energy problems less than a decade away?

It may sound like the stuff of science fiction but scientists in Toronto believe they may finally have come up with the solution to the Earth’s energy problems.  Their ambitious energy plans involve recreating a miniature version of the Sun here on Earth and then harnessing the energy created from the resulting nuclear fusion to provide power for homes and businesses all around Canada.

Recreating the sun on Earth: Could the STAR Project
be the answer to the world's energy problems?

Of course scientists have been able to create nuclear fusion on Earth for decades now but current fusion methods require more energy to initiate the process than is ultimately produced.  This ‘negative net energy gain’* has therefore so far meant that for the time being at least nuclear fusion has had no practical use as a source of energy.

* Or an ‘energy loss’ as we ordinary non-scientific people would refer to it.

However, scientists working on the STAR* Project at the Institute of Practical Plasma Applications in Toronto believe that, in theory at least, they may finally be able to solve the ‘negative net energy gain’ problem by recreating a miniature star here on Earth which would be capable of recreating nuclear fusion on such a large scale that the ultimate energy output would at last outweigh the enormous amounts of energy necessary to initiate the fusion process.

* Or the ‘Sun Themed Astroscopic Replica’ Project, to give it its full title.

The STAR Project team of scientists have in fact already successfully produced a miniature prototype ‘star’ under laboratory conditions with a diameter of twenty metres and according to the figures being quoted by the boffins behind the project, if this prototype was reproduced on a far greater scale, a diameter of 1.1 kilometres would be the break even point where the star then produces enough energy to equal the massive initial energy input and thus the negative net energy gain becomes a positive energy return.

In order to really justify the project though, they would need to create a ‘star’ which did more than just break even on the energy scales.  Their ambitious plans therefore include designs for an initial ‘Alpha’ star measuring 2.4 kilometres across which would theoretically be capable of producing an energy output far in excess of the energy quantities required to initiate the fusion process.  This Alpha Star would be situated seventeen miles north east of the town of Senneterre in a specially constructed underground power station located not far from Lake Parent.

An illustration of the scale of the STAR Project.
If the Alpha Star was successful they would then move onto the ‘Beta’ star pencilled in for location on the West Coast of Canada at a point thirty two miles east of the town of Kelowna.  This Beta Star would have a diameter measuring an impressive 3.5 kilometres across and could theoretically produce enough energy to supply a significant proportion of the West Coast of Canada’s energy needs.  Finally, a ‘Gamma’ star would be created fifty miles north of the original Alpha Star.  This Gamma Star would boast a mind-boggling diameter of 5.2 kilometres across and would create a staggering 2.4 15 megawatts of energy per year.  Or to put it another way, more than the Alpha Star and the Beta Star combined.

The entire project however would take over fifteen years to realise, so this is by no means an overnight task, but if the STAR Project funding panel are successful in their efforts to obtain the necessary government grants from the Canadian Renewable Energy Sub-Committee, as well as the necessary planning approvals, then work could begin on the Alpha Star as soon as 2015.

However, although the STAR Project has been causing quite a stir in Canadian scientific circles, not everyone has greeted the project with a positive response.  In particular the KOS (Keep Ontario Safe) campaigners have raised strong objections as to the safety of such a project, and their current chairman, Montague Stoppard, claims the lack of precedent with regard to such a ‘scientific monstrosity’* means that giving the green light to the Alpha Star would effectively be a dangerous step into the unknown in terms of safety.  Montague argues that an accident or problem with the maintenance of the underground power station could risk the Alpha Star going out of control and potentially even going super-nova with catastrophic effects on a far greater scale to any previous disasters at nuclear fission plants.

* His words, not mine.

Kim Mitsuwashi, the Principal Scientific Director on the STAR Project, however, strongly disputes KOS’s objections and had this to say in response:

Other scientific developments such as the motor car and TV
were initially greeted with equally vociferous opposition.
“Throughout history almost every step of scientific progress has been met initially with pockets of disapproval and in some cases outright objection.  For example when the motor car was first invented doubters claimed that the high speeds experienced by the vehicle’s passengers would cause them to die of suffocation.  When the TV was first introduced to society sceptics claimed that anyone watching a TV would be dead within five years due to the radiation exposure.

The history records show, however, that these far-fetched claims made by the nay-sayers with regard to cars, TVs and other scientific developments were all proven to be entirely without merit.

An opportunity like the STAR Project therefore simply can’t be allowed to be frustrated by the unsubstantiated and largely erroneous claims of a few overly paranoid crack-pots.”

Strong words from Ms Mistuwashi, but when the STAR Project could potentially have such massive benefits for society you can perhaps understand why the prospect of opposition to the plans would evoke such an emotional response.

Two become one: Two hydrogen atoms join together in nuclear
fusion to form a helium atom releasing energy in the process.

As anyone with a passing interest in science will already know, the great thing about nuclear fusion is that the principle ingredient in the process, namely hydrogen, is readily available as one of the two elements found in water.  Of course the STAR scientists won’t be able to just turn on the tap and use that tap water to power the star, but the process used to prepare water for use in the fusion generator is relatively cheap and fairly straight forward.

According to Kim, once the program is up and running one litre of prepared water could produce enough energy to power three thousand homes for an entire week, so you can see why Kim and her fellow workers on the STAR Project are desperately hoping the Canadian Renewable Energy Sub-Committee give the green light to the project and release the funding required to move things on to the next step of development when they make their final decision early next year.

In fact the Canadian Renewable Energy Sub-Committee could ultimately prove to be a bigger obstacle than the KOS campaigners, as the ambitious plans involved in making the STAR Project a reality would require an estimated budget of over fourteen billion dollars, more than the entire budget currently assigned to renewable energy by the Canadian government for the entire next five years.  If the STAR Project is to get the go ahead therefore, it would inevitably mean other renewable energy projects having to miss out.

The Canadian Minster for Energy, Edward Suskind, has so far made some encouraging noises though, and of course the technology involved could ultimately be sold on to other governments around the world, so Kim and her team remain optimistic of a positive announcement when the funding committee finalise their decision early next year.

It may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but if the decision goes the way the STAR Project boffins are hoping, then work on the Alpha Star could begin as soon as early 2015, and the Canadian public could even find their homes and offices being powered by a miniature sun here on Earth as soon as 2017.

This is one scientific development therefore that the entire world, and not just the Canadian public, should pay close attention to.

Scroll down the page for the latest update on the background to the ambitious and potentially ground-breaking STAR Project...

Please note, the STAR Project doesn’t actually exist.  This story is not real and is entirely made up.

Not suitable for prudes or squares.
This story was written by Charles Fudgemuffin.  Charles' debut novel 'How To Save The World: An Alien Comedy' can be purchased for Kindle from the following Amazon links:

UK: How To Save The World: An Alien Comedy
US: How To Save The World: An Alien Comedy

Please note, 'How To Save The World: An Alien Comedy' is not suitable for prudes or squares.

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