In 2006, legendary scientist Dr Robert Bussard Gave a speech entitled "Should Google Go Nuclear", where he proposed that Google could build a 100 Megawatt Inertial Electrostatic Confinement reactor for less then their annual electricity bill.
Dr Bussard had been working on the design on a shoestring budget for the US Navy since 1987, right up to his death in 2007. The current research program was continued by Dr Richard Nebel, and today a peer review panel could not find any reason why it should not work.
This doesn't mean that it will work, it's just that there's no obvious flaw in the concept.
Extract from the article
Then there's the $1.8 million (yes, million) project that's just been wrapped up at EMC2 Fusion Development Corp. in Santa Fe, N.M. The experiment, funded by the U.S. Navy, was aimed at verifying some interesting results that the late physicist Robert Bussard coaxed out of a high-voltage inertial electrostatic contraption known as WB-6. (The "WB" stands for Wiffle Ball, which describes the shape of the device and its magnetic field.)
An EMC2 team headed by Los Alamos researcher Richard Nebel (who's on leave from his federal lab job) picked up the baton from Bussard and tried to duplicate the results. The team has turned in its final report, and it's been double-checked by a peer-review panel, Nebel told me today. Although he couldn't go into the details, he said the verdict was positive.
"There's nothing in there that suggests this will not work," Nebel said. "That's a very different statement from saying that it will work."
This reactor doesn't require high temperatures or massive magnetic containment for it's power. It also doesn't generate huge amounts of energy - instead they are hoping for 1.2 times the amount of energy that gets put in.
Bussard believed that this device can run with net energy production on boron-11 and proton fuel. Controversies exist over whether the ions and electrons will thermalise and whether bremsstrahlung losses will emit more energy in an unrecoverable form than can be produced by the fusion reaction.
Todd Rider calculates that bremsstrahlung losses with this fuel relative to the fusion production will be 1.20:1.00. Bussard said that his calculation of the losses are about 5% of this, and therefore, greater gains than unity are possible.
Of course, it's still possible that they won't work - Another article extract :
The idea is still way out of the mainstream, however. In his new book about the frustrating fusion quest, "Sun in a Bottle," Charles Seife says that WB-7 and similar contraptions, known generically as fusors, aren't good candidates for power-generating fusion - even though they've attracted "something of a cult following."
"The equations of plasma physics strongly imply that fusorlike devices are very unlikely ever to produce more energy than they consume," Seife writes. "Nature's inexorable energy-draining powers are too hard to overcome."
Nebel is well aware of the naysayers. In fact, that's one reason why he's being so circumspect about the results of the WB-7 experiment. When I mentioned that he'd probably like to avoid the kind of controversy and embarrassment that came in the wake of 1989's notorious cold-fusion claims, Nebel laughed and added, "That's well-put."
Despite the skepticism, Nebel and his colleagues have already drawn up a plan for the next step: an 18-month program to build and test a larger fusor prototype. "We're shopping that around inside the DOD [Department of Defense], and we'll see what happens," he said.
So far the Department of Defense has spent somewhere around $2 million to $4 million on the project over the last 20 years, and it's continuing the funding slowly. It's a low-publicity project, and all involved have been going out of their way to not make big headline grabbing statements - The last two grants were issued to EMC in October 2008 prompted this response from Dr. Nebel :
This isn't a big deal. This is small, interim funding. It's called staying alive until they make a decision.
The news today is that they are getting closer to making a decision.
Luckily, it's not being completely ignored - On February 28th, 2007 in a lecture called "The Energy Problem and what we can do to solve it", given by Dr. Steven Chu this exchange came up at 1:01:20
Q. ... and the other one is have you had a chance to evaluate Bussard's fusion work
A. Ah, partly, (laughs) and I was discussing with people at Google for I don't know, an hour, hour and a half and it's continuing and let me just say that so far there is not enough information so I can give an evaluation of the probability it might work, or not. But I'm trying to get information and I've talked to him a little bit.
Dr. Chu, you might remember, was chosen by President-Elect Barack Obama to be the Secretary of Energy for his administration.