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In 10 years the world will change forever

5 November 2018

Nuclear fusion is still just 10 years away.

Yes, I've written countless columns on the false hope that seems to be produced every few years by those working in the field of sustained nuclear fusion. Every few years we're told that this holy grail of energy production is just a decade (or so) away and every decade we still have nothing to show for all the money spent in this field.

Well, almost nothing.

Researchers working at Tokomak Energy have announced that they've been able to create plasma with a temperature of 15 million degrees C.

Is it party-time yet?

Well, sadly, no.

Even though they've created temperatures that are higher than those found at the core of the Sun, they're still a very (very) long way from turning those temperatures into sustained, over-unity, nuclear fusion.

Damn, I guess we'll have to wait another 10 years after all!

However, I'm pretty sure that at some stage in the future, we will suss-out this fusion thingy and when we do, the price of energy will plummet.

No longer will we have to pollute the planet with evil CO2-generating fossil fuels.

No longer will we have to litter the landscape with wind-turbines and solar arrays.

No, all our energy will come from fusing isotopes of hydrogen into helium. This, of course will kill two birds with one stone -- because we're facing an ever-growing shortage of helium as well.

However, one can't help but wonder whether infinite, clean energy will have unintended consequences.

You can't eat energy and eliminating our dependence of fossil fuel reserves could have an enormously destabilising effect on the Middle East and Saudi areas of the world.

I can't imagine those countries which, for so long, have enjoyed affluent lifestyles and wealth beyond the dreams of most other nations, enjoying their new-found poverty.

As if the Middle East isn't enough of a hotbed, suddenly dealing a deathly blow to the exports of key nations in that region could result in some pretty violent outbreaks.

Many of these countries are not self-sufficient in food and if their export revenues were to dry up almost overnight, huge economic and social disruption could lead to massive outbreaks of violence, both within the borders of those countries and in the form of aggression against the West.

Likewise, some very large (fossil fuel) energy companies might not take too kindly to having the economic rug pulled from beneath their feet. In a world where money talks more loudly than votes, there could also be huge disruption in the Western nations that would most quickly adopt fusion power.

I can see a great many scenarios where the arrival of limitless, ultra-low cost energy could cause the single largest political and economic upheaval in the history of the world.

Hmmm... we should be careful what we wish for and perhaps be elated, not disappointed, that fusion energy is still a decade away.

What do readers think? Are we prepared for the massive economic and political disruption that fusion power will undoubtedly produce when it is finally delivered?

And, is it worth remembering (in this era of global warming) that *all* energy is eventually converted to heat, regardless of its nature or source.

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