Oblivion, Fusion, and Energy

Yesterday I had the pleasure to watch Oblivion starring Tom Cruise and Morgan Freeman for free because I have an AMC giftcard.  It was a pretty good movie, I must say.  And, it was a movie that really made me think, with the messages it was portraying to the audience.  What is crazy, is I was going to write an essay on fusion and put it as downloadable material for a learning experience, and here a movie talks about it.  I am not writing the essay as I still have a whole book on fusion on reserve at my public library.  I think after this post, I am going to read the book, but I am not going to write the essay.  The thesis of the essay will be in this post.

In any case, some of the ideas of the movie in my opinion are spot on, and they are ideas that have me worried.

The background storyline (not spoiling anything) is that there was a war between man and alien.  Humanity won, only by ruining the planet.  And so, to satisfy energy demands humanity have machines that harvest sea water for the use of fusion; to quench their energy demands.  Now I hope this may have you concerned.  Does fusion require sea water?  And the answer is yes.  Sea water is an abundant source of the deuterium ion, a hydrogen ion used in fusion with tritium.  The names have to do with the amount of neutrons in the atom, one having two neutrons and the other having three.  So what is fusion?

Fusion is the holy grail or answer if you will to the world’s energy problems.  The issue is to develop and build the first fusion reactor, a lot of money needs to be poured in.  And, a lot of it is still theoretical at this point.  In theory, the amount of energy potential from a single reactor is much more than a fission reactor, or modern nuclear reactors.  As you can tell by the names of these reactors, fusion and fission, these describe the method by which these reactors work.  Let us start with fission, or modern nuclear reactors.

Fission reactors usually have uranium rods placed in a pool of water.  Then, neutrons are sent flying towards the uranium rods.  What happens, is the nucleai of uranium split into smaller particles, releasing energy and sending particles flying to other nucleai furthering the reaction.  The heat generated boils a pool of water which turns a turbine.  The nuclear waste is the water that surrounds the uranium rods.  This is essentially how our current nuclear reactor works.

Fusion is a little different, and it is essentially creating a small star on Earth and harvesting the energy.  The sun works by fusing two hydrogen atoms into helium.  This process makes the atom much more stable, because it has turned to an inert gas, thus releasing energy.  (There is a general trend in nature.  When things become more stable energy is released)  The explosiveness of this reaction fights against the Sun’s constant gravity, giving the sphere of energy that we see almost every day, and is responsible for life on this planet.

So a fusion reactor uses the same strategy.  It takes two hydrogen atoms, deuterium and tritium, and fuses them together.  This creates helium and a neutron, and of course, energy.  A blanket is placed around the ignition chamber of various theoretical compositions, and is used to transfer the energy from the ignition as heat.  The neutron can also react with the blanket and create heat, however there are some neutrons that exit the chamber entirely and induce neutron damage to the rest of the facility.  (Another cost to keep in mind)  There are two ignition strategies, but the quickest one to talk about is using 192 lasers.  These high powered lasers hit a cube of deuterium and tritium from all angles.  The pulsation of the lasers combined with the frequency causes the cube to collapse on itself, producing large amounts of heat and pressure.  This eventually starts a fusion reaction.  The reaction will be controlled by either increasing or decreasing the fuel being added to the reaction.
There is another powerful concept and that is hybrid reactors, or reactors that have both a fusion reactor and fission reactor.  Basically the added advantage is the neutron from the fusion reaction could fuel the fission reactions and react with the nuclear waste, making it not nuclear waste.  Which is amazing, to be able to get rid of nuclear waste.

Now that was really brief.  Of course in my paper I would add more, but I think that gets the just of it.  I didn’t spend too much time on how because that is not what I want to talk about.  I want to talk about the implications of fusion energy.

Remember the movie Oblivion?  The humans were extracting sea water to fuel their fusion reactors.  And well, that wouldn’t be far from the truth if the world switched to fusion power.  And remember, the fusion reaction takes sea water hydrogen and tritium (derived from much more expensive methods) to create helium and a neutron.  Which means the sea water is completely consumed.  Helium is released, and is inert and light.  As far as I know, it may eventually leave the atmosphere, but that I don’t know about for sure.  But that sea water is gone.  There is nothing to take it back.

And this would have huge implications on the planet.  This would be essentially speeding up the feedback process of heating the ocean by decreasing its volume.  One way the ocean keeps us alive is that it cools the overall planet from the sun.  The water, actually absorbs heat, and transfers it all over the place.  With less and less sea water, less and less heat can be absorbed.  The heat could get so hot, that eventually the rest of the ocean would vanish.  This would not only mess up the food chain, but would be felt with the weather among other things.  (The Earth’s gravity would keep the water vapor inside the atmosphere)

And this is what I wanted to talk about.  Fusion is a engineering marvel, a testament to what the human mind can do.  There is no doubt.  But it is not the answer.  The thirst that keeps increasing for energy, is going to drive conditions on the planet that will make most of the planet uninhabitable.  Are we going to turn into those aliens that are in the movies?  The ones that go from planet to planet, and invade to take the natural resources?  Because it is looking with our current thoughts and philosophies that is where we are going.  Our infinite growth paradigm is unsustainable.  I guess we shouldn’t care because we would all be dead then.  I guess I shouldn’t really care because I have the internet on the go, and I am content with my life.  We owe it to the future of humanity to not allow fusion to pass.  Consuming sea water is the most dangerous thing you could do.  But of course, the energy companies want this.  Water would be the fuel, and they have 75% of the planet as fuel.

The reason why energy companies do not want green energy, is the fuel they can not control.  The sun.  Like I have said a thousand times, if we were to harness the sun’s energy for one day, that could satisfy the energy demands of the world for years.  There is geothermal energy!  Plenty of energy for the world.  If we were to use photovoltaics, wind, tidal, wave, and geothermal, we could meet energy demands.  The energy companies do not want this to happen, and will use their power to not allow this to happen at all costs.  As technology develops, these methods of power will become more efficient, but that is not the reason to wait.  The moment is now.  If we start to make our grid powered by the sun, then we would have a grid until the sun runs out of hydrogen fuel and moves to the next stage.  Which won’t be for another billions of years.  Now that, is sustainable. 

We as a human race have to make a decision, and the people of power have worked really hard at keeping us distracted from what matters.  We have to end our obsession with constant growth, as that is not possible, and will drive us to the end of the universe if need be for energy, only to be turned to dust.  Or, we could be on this universe for a much longer time.  Harness the power of the stars for our energy demands, and learn to live within our constraints.  I severely doubt it is going to be like living in a cave.  But I do know mansions probably would not be allowed.  What I am saying, is we would have to change our consumption of power.  This in turn would force us to be closer to the planet Earth, which as far as I can tell, is a perfect super-organism.  We should appreciate the Earth, and get a grid off of the sun, and use other fuels to propel us in space in order to have a longer lasting presence there, as the sun is scheduled to consume our planet.

And what is getting in the way?

People not caring.  People distracted, consuming their entertainment without further educating themselves.  That is the purpose of the educational system.  To stunt the desire to further educate, and to pump out student after student with a degree so they are “marketable”.  People blindly accepting the standards of our society without questioning them.  And finally, the lust for money.  Of some meaningless thing that we give meaning to.  And we refuse to think of a world without money, automatically assuming we would regress.  Have there been proposed economies constructed without currencies?  I know of one, and I am sure there are others somewhere in those economic journals, I just got to find them.

There is so much more to life than money.  I hope some Americans see that, considering that there are news channels dedicating themselves to following the stock market.  I hope that one day some important people will realize that sacrificing making money may be necessary to ensuring the survival of the species.  I hope humanity does not get lured into fusion energy, and the consumption of sea water.



  1. July 25, 2013 at 10:10 pm

    Fantastic blog you have here but I was curious about if you knew
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    • brengleman said,

      July 28, 2013 at 12:14 am

      Unfortunately I don’t. It is a good idea though, I haven’t really thought about looking at discussion boards relative to these specific topics. Sorry!


  2. July 26, 2013 at 7:00 pm

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    • brengleman said,

      July 28, 2013 at 12:15 am

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  3. July 27, 2013 at 3:16 am

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  4. Hector said,

    August 4, 2013 at 1:21 am

    I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I do not know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you
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    • brengleman said,

      August 4, 2013 at 1:39 am

      Thanks a lot for the compliment. That would be great if I could be a famous blogger one day…


  5. Fusionguy said,

    November 4, 2013 at 2:51 am

    Your argument is flawed. The Oblivion film shows reactors sucking up huge amounts of water. This is complete nonsense. Roughly, one liter of sea water use for fusion would yield about 1000 times the energy of one liter of gasoline. Global energy consumption is about 150.000 pWh, say 1.5 * 10^20 Wh, equivalent to 2*10^16 liters of gasline or 2*10^13 liters of seawater (using fusion). The sea contains about 1.3*10^24 liters of water. Hence, if fusion would be the unique energy source, all sea water would be consumed, at the current energy comsumption rate, in about 6*10^10 years or 60 billion years. The age of the earth is 4.5 billion years. So really, this is not something to worry about.


    • brengleman said,

      November 5, 2013 at 4:07 am

      Why not use a space based solar network that can easily provide the energy demands of the world for a fraction of the cost, and not consume water? As the world advances technology across the globe, energy demand is going to change. With the laser ignition method, you can change the energy output by changing the amount of fuel consumed. Which is exactly depicted in the movie.

      Don’t you think the destruction of water is a dangerous thing? Eventually the Earth would not be able to cool and it would get too hot. If not in many life times, eventually this would happen.


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