Fusion Energy: the Nuclear Weapons Connection
In 1980, in my book Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power published that year, I wrote: “What about fusion? This has been held out by the nuclear establishment as a somewhat cleaner form of nuclear power—as the hydrogen bomb, a fusion device, is somewhat cleaner in fall-out than an atomic bomb. Somewhat.”
“Fusion is theoretically supposed to get its power from fusing nuclei together,” I continued. “This would be the opposite of fission, which blasts the nuclei apart. But to start the process, extremely high temperatures are required—100 million degrees Centigrade, more than six times the estimated temperature of the sun’s interior.”
“Although Dwight Eisenhower, when he was President, suggested that the AEC keep the public ‘confused about fission and fusion,’ fusion is a dirty, radioactive process, too.
The theory is to fuse deuterium and tritium atoms. Large amounts of tritium would be used. Tritium is highly radioactive…”
(I provided in a footnote the source of Eisenhower’s declaration in what had been classified Atomic Energy Commission documents made public at Congressional hearings that year focusing on the US government’s responsibility for cancers caused by the testing of nuclear weapons. It was a 1953 memo from Gordon Dean, chairman of the AEC, stating after speaking to Eisenhower: “The President says, ‘keep them confused about fission and fusion.’” Another of many examples of what we were and have not been supposed to know about nuclear power.)
Last week on CounterPunch I wrote about the great hoopla—largely unquestioned by media—with the announcement by the US Department of Energy of a “major scientific breakthrough” in the development of fusion energy. “This is a landmark achievement,” declared Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Her department’s press release about the experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California said it “produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it” and will “provide invaluable insights into the prospects of clean fusion energy.”
On CounterPunch I focused on an article by Dr. Daniel Jassby, for 25 years principal research physicist at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab working on fusion energy research and development, and his conclusion in his 2017 article in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, that fusion power “is something to be shunned.” It was headed “Fusion reactor: Not what they’re cracked up to be.”
“Unlike what happens” when fusion occurs on the sun, “which uses ordinary hydrogen at enormous density and temperature,” he wrote, on Earth “fusion reactors that burn neutron-rich isotopes have byproducts that are anything but harmless,” he wrote. The key radioactive substance in the fusion process on Earth would be tritium, a radioactive variant of hydrogen. Thus there would be “four regrettable problems”—“radiation damage to structures; radioactive waste; the need for biological shielding; and the potential for the production of weapons-grade plutonium 239—thus adding to the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, not lessening it, as fusion proponents would have it,” he continued.
Jassby is still around and speaking out about fusion. As he told GRID magazine this May, “Fusion power absolutely cannot contribute to solving the climate crisis,” refuting the claim it could. The GRID article was headed. “Nuclear fusion companies are selling the sun, and venture capital is buying.”
My CounterPunch focused on the radioactivity involved in fusion—that it is not “clean” despite what the press release of the Department of Energy asserted.
Here is more on the nuclear weapons connection.
dr MV Ramana, a professor and also the Simons Chair in Disarmament, Global and Human Security at the School of Public Policy and Global Affairs at the University of British Columbia, authored an article that ran last week on Science The Wire titled “Clean Energy or Weapons ? What the ‘Breakthrough in Nuclear Fusion Really Means.’
He wrote that the “chief purpose” of the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory where the fusion experiment was conducted “is not generating electricity or even finding a way to do so. NIF was set up as part of the Science Based Stockpile Stewardship Program, which was the ransom paid to the US nuclear weapons laboratories for going the right to test after the United States signed the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.”
Ramana noted the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s webpage has “proudly” proclaimed: “NIF’s high energy density and inertial confinement fusion experiments, coupled with the increasingly sophisticated simulations available from some of the world’s most powerful supercomputers, increase our understanding of weapon physics, including the properties and survivability of weapons-relevant materials”.
“NIF, then,” said Ramana, “is a way to continue investing into modernizing nuclear weapons, without explosive tests, and dressing it up as a means to produce ‘clean’ energy.”
So, Ramana went on: “NIF might even help with developing new kinds of nuclear weapons.
Ramana said: “The tremendous media attention paid to NIF and ignition amounts to a distraction—and a dangerous one at that. As the history of nuclear fusion since the 1950s shows, this complicated technology is not going to produce cheap and reliable electricity to light bulbs or power computers anytime in the foreseeable future. But nuclear fusion falls even shorter when we consider climate change, and the need to cut carbon emissions drastically and rapidly.”
“In the meanwhile,” Ramana continued, “nuclear fusion experiments like those at NIF will further the risk posed by the nuclear arsenal of the US, and, indirectly, the arsenals of the eight other countries known to possess nuclear weapons. The world has been lucky so far to avoid nuclear war. But this luck will not hold up forever. We need nuclear weapons abolition, but programs like NIF offer nuclear weapons modernization, which is just a means to assure destruction forever.”
Ramana is co-editor of the book Prisoners of the Nuclear Dream.
dr Gordon Edwards, president of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, in a letter last week to Canadian Pugwash, wrote that in “my opinion, the most important thing about the fusion ‘breakthrough’” is “the misrepresentation of the nature of the research as energy related rather than weapons related—disguising the fact of the fundamentally military rather than civilian rationale and applicability of the entire fusion Ignition Facility located at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a long-standing weapons lab.”
Indeed, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has through the decades been all about fusion—and the hydrogen bomb. It is where under its director, nuclear physicist Edward Teller, the hydrogen bomb—Teller called it the “super”—was developed.
“The Energy Department’s fusion breakthrough: It’s not really about generating electricity,” was the headline last week in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Wrote John Mecklin, its editor-in-chief “Because of how the Energy Department presented the breakthrough in a news conference headlined by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, news coverage has largely glossed over its implications for monitoring the country’s nuclear weapons stockpile.”
The nuclear cover-up continues.
Folks interested in my book Cover Up: What You Are Not Supposed to Know About Nuclear Power can get a free download of the entire book—courtesy of the publisher—by going to my website, https://karlgrossman.com, and clicking on the Books button. The part about fusion, from 42 years ago, is on Pages 251-252.