Banzhaf: Fusion power achieved – now, can it nudge Earth into a new orbit?

Reports that a nuclear fusion reactor has created more energy than was put into it – i.e. has for the first time generated net power – suggests that in the long run we may be able to fight global warming in two ways which do not involve drastic worldwide cuts in the use of fossil fuels, predicts Professor John Banzhaf.

This is especially important In light of a very pessimistic report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that the earth’s surface temperature will increase over the current century even under all assessed emission scenarios. In other words, despite valiant efforts to pressure countries to fight global warming by slashing greenhouse gas emissions, the plan seems not to be working.

Fusion power generation could help reduce global warming in at least two ways, says Banzhaf, an MIT-trained engineer with two U.S. patents.

First, fusion reactors could eventually and over time replace the need to use oil and coal, with their unavoidable emissions of greenhouse gases, to heat buildings (and even whole cities) and to generate vast amounts of electricity.

Since the feasibility of powering cars and trucks (and almost certainly also trains and large ships) with batteries charged by power plants has been established, the burning of gasoline and diesel fuel for those common purposes could also be eliminated.

While the physics of fusion power generation must first be proven and also much better understood, and the enormous engineering challenges of constructing and operating efficient fusion power plants overcome – something which unfortunately will take many years – this approach finally seems to be possible, and could replace many sources of greenhouse gases.

As Commonwealth Fusion Systems has explained, fusion could ultimately provide limitless clean energy with almost zero pollution and no radiation or radioactive waste. “One glass of water will provide enough fusion fuel for one person’s lifetime,” the company predicts on its website.

Second, fusion might be able to provide sufficient energy to make it possible to increase earth’s orbit by the tiny amount necessary to overcome global warming; an approach now being discussed which has been called cosmic nudging.

Drawing upon the original suggestion by Matteo Ceriotti, Lecturer in Space Systems Engineering at the University of Glasgow. Prof. Banzhaf has calculated that increasing Earth’s orbit by only 0.3% could completely offset global warming; thereby serving as an alternative (or as a supplemental approach) to achieving worldwide cooperation in slashing emissions of greenhouse gases.

See Using Cosmic Nudging [Changing the Orbits of Asteroids] to Fight Global Warming

While even this tiny 0.3% change in Earth’s orbit would require enormous amounts of energy – energy which might be generated by nuclear fusion – the change could be achieved in a number of different proven ways: e.g., employing an electric thruster (an ion drive), constructing a huge solar sail, or utilizing a gravitational sling shot by changing the orbits of asteroids.

Indeed, it might be possible to exploit so-called “Δv leveraging” in which a body such as a large asteroid can be nudged slightly out of its orbit and, as a result, years later, could swing past the Earth, providing a much larger impulse to increase Earth’s orbit by a tiny amount.

The concept of altering the orbits of asteroids to help sling shot Earth into a slightly different orbit gained traction when NASA recently reported that its test to determine whether it could accurately catch up to and then deflect an asteroid greatly surpassed expectations. Originally expected to reduce the asteroid’s orbit by only 73 seconds, the deliberate collision NASA caused increased the orbital period by an astonishing period of 32 minutes.- giving it a boost more than 25 times as powerful as scientists had hoped for.

Moreover, calculations by a cosmic physicist, as outlined in a new paper, have also lent more credence to Banzhaf’s original cosmic nudge idea.

Entitled CORNELL UNIVERSITY – Gravity-Assist as a Solution to Save Earth from Global Warming, it says:

“We propose using the gravity-assist by the asteroids to increase the orbital distance of the Earth from the Sun. We can manipulate the orbit of asteroids in the asteroid belt by solar sailing and propulsion engines to guide them towards the Mars orbit and a gravitational scattering can put asteroids in a favorable direction to provide an energy loss scattering from the Earth. The result would be increasing the orbital distance of the earth and consequently cooling down the Earth’s temperature.”

More specifically, the paper shows how this could be accomplished within a reasonable time frame:

“The time scale to lower the orbit is about 70 yrs for a 1010 kg mass asteroid. Using the installed propulsion jet engines on the asteroids will decrease this time scale and enable us to do the asteroid maneuvering for a larger number of asteroids. This project can enable us to change the earth’s orbit and cool down its temperature by decreasing the energy flux of the sun received by the earth. This project could be feasible for the future technology on earth.”

In summary, if collectively we are willing to spend anything like the enormous amount of money necessary to slash greenhouse gas emissions (and put up with the huge dislocations involved) on developing nuclear fusion as an energy source, and then on using it to deflect asteroids from their current orbits enough to enlarge Earth’s orbit by only a fraction of a percent, we might have a feasible alternative to overcome global warming.

Still another approach to global warming, now being considered by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy [OSTP] under a five-year research plan, is to study geoengineering; a controversial way-outside-the-box plan which some claim should be considered as a alternative to controlling global warming though international efforts to limit greenhouse gases. More specifically, the White House will be studying the possibility of spraying massive amounts of aerosols such as sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere to slow global warming by reflecting a greater percentage of sunlight heat back away from Earth.

At the very least, in light of these two very recent developments – net power generation from nuclear fusion and success in asteroid deflection – and the White House’s major study of geoengineering, Banzhaf suggests that the concept of using nuclear fusion to provide sufficient energy for another way-outside-the-box approach (cosmic nudging) likewise deserves some serious study and consideration.

John F. Banzhaf III, B.S.E.E., J.D., Sc.D. is Professor of Public Interest Law Emeritus at George Washington University Law School and a Fellow of the World Technology Council.

Categories: Energy

8 replies »

  1. It seems less than wise to think that changing the earths position relative the sun would not produce Un-anticipated results!

  2. Wow this is scary ! I remember reading as a youngster that some of the scientist that invented the nuclear bomb did not know if it may start a never ending reaction ! For some reason I can see “Snow Ball Earth” returning with this bit of experimentation. Brrrr !!!!

    • Come on, John. You can’t calculate the energy bonus. It’s virtually infinite – at least when compared to the human scale. You know some of us have been anticipating this eventuality for a long time now. As the Skunk Works folks said – ‘it’s closer than you think’. And the infrastructure for power distribution is already in place. It will only improve. So don’t just add up the costs. They’ll be dwarfed by the tangible gains – if we, as a society, can handle the intangible effects without going off the psychological deep end.

  3. Scary Stuff??? Hardly. The only thing ‘scary’ about the prospect of fusion power, now reported to be commercially available in ten years (that’s’ right – ten years!) is that we humans won’t know how to deal with the power. Imagine the ramifications to the human condition. The only thing we have to worry about is our own frame of mind. Nudge the earth’s orbit? Please. Talk about putting the cart before the horse.

    The most important immediate aspect of actual fusion power being available on a commercial scale is the effect its going to have on our economy, its existing energy related markets and our social and political norms. And the magnitude of the effect cannot be exaggerated. No more fossil fuels. No more wind power. No more solar arrays. No more pollution. No CO2. No more climate change lobby (thank goodness – no more Al Gore and John Kerry… Greta Thunberg and her friends can do something productive for a change).

    It will be electricity, electricity, electricity.

    I suspect that humanity is going to have a very difficult time coping with this advancement. It’s been years in the making. Now its here. Think very carefully before you react in any significant way. This is likely to be the most profound circumstance affecting humankind since we learned to control fire and agriculture.

    Of course, the other huge concern rests with those who will control the fusion reactors and the electric distribution infrastructure. And I suspect this isn’t new news. Compact fusion reactors have been in the mix at the ‘Skunk-Works’ of Lockheed-Martin for years. I’m wondering why the announcement was made today. Something is up? Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

    Buckle your seat belts folks, and be sure your seatbacks and tray tables are in the upright position. We’re in for the ride of our lives.

  4. What could possibly go wrong by repositioning the earth’s orbit? Total madness! I vote “NO”, but then I don’t count. This will be for the good of humanity. My acceptance of it will show friendly neighborly love.

  5. This article and all the research is made under the assumption of an AGW “consensus” — that (state sponsored) scientists actually know there is a tipping point and how much they can accurately measure is caused by humans, if any. The whole premise is being debated among scientists more than ever, but you won’t see it discussed on MSM and it is suppressed on social media…and that is how they fool and scare the masses.

    All they have are computer models, and we know how those work — garbage in, garbage out. After 40 years of apocalyptic propaganda and countless predictions that failed to occur, we are supposed to blindly follow the bouncing ball, own nothing, eat bugs, and be happy.

  6. The idea of altering planetary orbit is alarming. This would be unpredicatable and uncontrollable. I t could end life as we understand it.

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