Moon Shot Miss — “The New Fire” (John Oman)

The following post was submitted by John Oman

On Sunday, September 6, 2015, CNN aired “Moonshots for the 21st Century: A Fareed Zakaria GPS Special” (Premiered December 27, 2014). A CNN promo states: “…a fascinating look at how harnessing the energy of nuclear fusion reactions may create a virtually limitless energy source, unlocking innovations in hypersonic flight, and revealing the power of the mind by mapping the brain.  Will astronauts reach Mars by the 2030s? Will it soon be possible to 3D-print human organs for life-saving transplants?…”

The following article is written in the form of an open letter to Fareed/GPS.

To: Fareed and the GPS Team, [email protected]

Subject: “Moonshots for the 21st Century: A Fareed Zakaria GPS Special” – A Critique

First let me state (IMHO) that the Global Public Square (GPS) is the best show of its kind and I frequently display my brilliance by mentioning it to others. Your topic selection and coverage are timely and comprehensive. Somehow I missed the earlier airing of the subject show and thank you for airing again.

That said, your ‘Moonshots’ show did not include the current technological breakthrough that will dwarf the significance of those you did mention, combined. In keeping with the analogy, your ‘Moonshots’ missed. Allow me to elaborate…

You did include the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). Quoting several points from your piece:

  • “If it’s successful, it would be one of mankind’s most significant achievements ever.”
  • “A milestone that could change the world.”
  • “…exploiting a huge energy source.”
  • “…it would have a profound impact on our lives.”
  • “…wouldn’t produce any carbon emissions.”

I concur. The technology breakthrough I’m writing about is a cousin to the ITER.

The ITER utilizes the brute force of immense, complex machinery and ‘star like’ high temperatures and energies to crush the nuclei of two atoms together to a point where they fuse into a heavier nucleus/atom and release the desired energy. This high temperature/energy fusion technology has become known as ‘hot fusion.’

The cousin does not ‘outwardly’ require or generate these extreme high energy/temperature conditions and has become known as Low Energy Nuclear Reaction (LENR) or ‘cold fusion.’ While ‘star like’ conditions may exist within the LENR reactor at the point of reaction, the reaction sites are of nano scale and contained within the crystalline lattice of a solid metal. LENR has also been referred to as “the new fire” in that it will supplant our burning of fossil fuels for energy.

My layman’s comparison of the status of the two technologies is provided in the table below:

High energy hot fusion research has been going on for 75 years funded primarily by governments. The US DOE Fiscal Year 2015 High Energy Physics budget is $766M and the FY2016 request is for $788M. The estimated cost of the experimental ITER under construction is 10 to 15 billion Euros. The LENR discovery was announced (pre-maturely) in 1989 by Martin Fleishmann and Stanley Pons at the University of Utah. They had difficulty replicating experiments and failed to convince a skeptical scientific community (with vested interests in hot fusion) of their claims. While Pons and Fleishmann went into self imposed exile, others have quietly continued to work leading to several world patents and a US patent with several more pending. Funding has been primarily by individuals and small companies.
ITER is not scheduled to be started up until 2020 (signs of gridlock; don’t hold your breath). Despite the years, effort and expenditures, hot fusion has not generate any usable surplus energy. (Not counting the destructive energy of the “H” bomb.) A 1MWatt LENR system is currently operating in an industrial environment in the US and closing in on the completion of a yearlong certification test. A growing number of successful LENR experiments and replications have been conducted in small laboratories around the world.
Hot fusion reactors are huge, high energy systems and inherently dangerous. LENR reactors can be made in small sizes, are inherently self limiting and no more dangerous than a traditional steam boiler.
The large cost, size and danger of hot fusion reactors necessitates that they be built, owned and/or controlled by governments and/or very large and monopolistic energy corporations. LENR systems can be built, purchased, installed and operated at low cost by small entities and individuals.
The large size and danger of hot fusion systems necessitates that they be located away from population centers. This requires utilities with expensive power distribution grids (which are inherently inefficient). The size, scalability and safety of LENR reactors allows them to be located on site where their energy is needed. There is no need for electrical utilities or expensive and inefficient electrical distribution grids.
The cost and complexity of hot fusion systems makes them unaffordable and impractical by/in most countries. The cost and simplicity of LENR systems makes them affordable and practical for use even in the most impoverished areas of the world.
The physics of hot fusion is well understood and agreed upon by the scientific community. The physics of LENR is not well understood though a number of theories are under debate. (Note that our ancestors utilized ‘the old fire’ for many thousands of years before discovering it was an oxidation process.)
Enormous cost, collaborative and technological hurdles remain to be solved before the experimental ITER can be switched on for the first time. LENR is operational. Technological improvements, reliability and ROI certifications are needed to market industrial systems. Additional regulatory certifications are needed before consumer products can be placed on the market.


So what’s my point?

TIME: Our continued reliance on fossil fuels is pushing us ever closer, potentially, to a global warming tipping point. Some argue that we are already there. While hot fusion systems such as the ITER may eventually be successful, they will clearly be expensive and will not be available for worldwide usage for decades, if ever.

COST: If the goal is to “…power humanity with fusion for millions of years…” as stated in your “Moonshots” piece, it must be affordable by and for humanity. Humanity is inclusive of many more than those residing in the richest countries. Many are already in desperate straits.

Can humanity afford to wait and see if ITER / hot fusion can solve the problem? My answer is No.

If a fraction of the hot fusion budgets had been directed to LENR research, it would already be providing a major percentage of the energy we consume today.

We (society) should be directing our attention toward the LENR / cold fusion technology and devoting a percentage of our public R&D resources to studying the underlying physics.

What say you?

Thank you for listening.


John Oman


Link to the original Premiere promo:

Link to a CNN site where the show can reportedly be viewed:

Link to a transcript of the show:

Link to Fareed Zakaria’s site:

Disclaimer: The above is offered for the purpose of discussion and to encourage others to look into LENR themselves. The statements reflect my impressions, understanding and opinions derived primarily from material found on the intranet.