As far as your opinion on this is concerned, are you paying your way through a PhD at Washington State or is your advisor? And if the latter, where does s/he get their funding? Or is the department paying your salary through a TA? And where does the department's money for TAs come from? If any of the funding comes from the government either through DoD, DoE, or NSF, then aren't you saying you yourself should not be receiving funds?
Right now I'm on a TA. The state pays me to teach young minds physics. This summer I plan on working in private industry. Eventually I'll be on an RA. As far as should the government spend this money, well, apparently they decided that it was worth it. In particular, so far I haven't had to harangue the public in order to drum up money for myself.
Let's think carefully at my practical motivation for sending an email to Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and asking her to increase the funding for Alcator. I can think of two reasons I suppose:
(1) Will that increase funding for the project I'm working on? No. In fact, since there's only so much money to go around, if fusion financing is increased, the funds required will have to come out of somewhere. Could be my program.
(2) So I should annoy my representative so that later I'll get the advantage of having cheaper electricity? LOL. I guess I've grown a little too cynical to believe that we will ever get any electricity at all from fusion. The biggest contribution to this cynicism is the history of failed promises by the fusion physicists themselves. Back in 1982 they were telling me they were only about 20 years away from free fusion energy for everyone. Sorry, I just don't see fusion as contributing to the electrical grid ever.
Fusion is attractive because that's where the sun gets its energy. This makes a great elevator pitch. The sun is quite stupid, we're brilliant so surely we can do the same thing. Unfortunately, the sun only gets 5 watts of fusion energy per cubic meter. It makes up for the weakness of the effect by having a large size (and it lasts a lot longer than we expect our power plants to last).
I admit that I haven't seen a business analysis of fusion power. Why don't you link a fusion power "business plan" in? Maybe it will change my mind. Make sure it's professional. A business proposal needs to list all the costs associated with bringing a plant on line. It will have permanent (capital) stuff like "employee parking lot", regulatory costs like "stormwater treatment plan", and costs that need to be paid every year like "contributions to employee retirement fund", give management a big fat bonus, and pay for accountants. It needs to include the time and costs required to build etc.Here's my guess for how long it will take to get us cheaper electric rates from fusion:How long to build a fusion power plant?
So let's suppose you come up with a decent business plan and it says fusion is a great idea. (By the way, here's a hint: if you really did have such a plan you'd have been funded by private industry already.) Because of a complex combination of regulatory and technical difficulties, it would require a miracle in the US to build a nuclear power plant in under 10 years. Example: Since 2007, there have been 16 applications filed to build nuke plants in the US. The expected result is 4 to 6 plants on line by 2020. See: http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/inf41.html
So I think it's reasonable to expect a 15 year time for the basic time required to build fusion power plants (uh, after we have the technology down with the first few). But before all this becomes appropriate, you first have to get the technology running.How long to get our first fusion power plant after "Breakevenx15"?
Now the first US fission power plant went on line in December 1957. This was 15 years after the first nuclear reactor was built in 1942. So I think a reasonable estimate for the time between getting a "15x" fusion engine running and getting a first commercial fusion power plant is around 15 years. On the other hand, regulatory burdens may be larger now.How long to build enough plants in the US?
Of course just a single fusion reactor isn't going to change the price of electricity much. Let's take a look at how long it took to build up the world's nuclear power infrastructure:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Nucle ... istory.png
It took the world 30 years to get nuclear power to the point where it now provides 14% of the world's energy. The US is a smaller problem than the world, but 14% is a small number. I'm going to guess that building out the US fusion fleet will take about 30 years.
Adding these things together, I see that I can expect cheap fusion power about 30+15+15 = 60 years after the fusion experts achieve 15xbreakeven. And maybe 15xbreakeven comes 10 years from now. Total time to free power: around 70 years. (Hint: I'm 54 already, good luck with that 70 year thing.)
Actually where the money comes from doesn't even matter. Are you not one of the physics grad students you say is somewhat smarter that the average member of the public and should start a business? Why not take your own advice? Please don't take my comments here the wrong way, but your comment just as easily applies to yourself as it does for the rest of us. If you have started your own business, then great.
Yes! You understand what I'm saying! The government's tit is drying up. These are hard economic times. Instead of begging for money, physicists need to create their own jobs. And those jobs are NOT hard to create.
The basic problem is that as soon as people get involved in private industry, it seems that some sort of switch goes on in their brain and they quit having the desire to do basic research. And private industry's support for basic industry has severely declined over the years. I don't think that's right. I think that it is a big mistake. Physicists need to start companies that (a) make money, and (b) work on long term research goals. Those research goals do NOT need to be eventually profitable. Enough spin-offs will come along the way to make those companies profitable. But asking for money from the government at a time when the public's appetite is for bread and circuses is a waste of your time.
The great companies of today were mostly created by brilliant engineers. As long as scientists and engineers were in control, those companies funded basic research as a matter of course. Now almost all the funding is coming from the government. What we need to do is to create the great companies of the next 100 years. Eventually they'll get taken over by accountants, salesmen and people who simply cannot run a research house and those new companies will also decay. But for now, what we need is new blood in industry.