Joint U.S., Iranian nuclear peace plan hatches

There is no typo in that headline. Could fusion energy bring world harmony?
Written by Mark Halper, Contributor
Woodstock meets hydrogen in Fusion for Peace.

A team of U.S. and Iranian physicists has launched a project to perfect nuclear fusion as a way to diffuse tensions between the two countries, rid the world of weapons-linked uranium programs, and cut the planet's reliance on geopolitically charged fossil fuels.

The Fusion for Peace initiative seeks to establish fusion development centers in the U.S. and Iran that would accelerate informal collaborations already under way between scientists from both countries.

The group believes that with the right backing, fusion could provide grid electricity in as soon as five years. It is seeking signatures on a petition calling for the U.S. and Iran to support its plan.

"We hereby call on the governments of the U.S. and Iran to step back from military action and instead start a 'Fusion for Peace' initiative," the petition states. "This 'Fusion for Peace' scientific and engineering collaboration could, if successful, make uranium enrichment obsolete, block proliferation everywhere, liberate the world from oil, and open up a new source of cheap, clean, unlimited energy."

Fusion peacenik Hamid Yousefi

The U.S. and Iranian scientists are  developing a type of fusion known as "aneutronic" (without neutrons), which would provide electricity directly from charged particles rather than by heating water to create steam and drive a turbine, as fission and other forms of fusion under development do.

It is led by Eric Lerner, chief scientist of Lawrenceville, N.J.- based Lawrenceville Plasma Physics (LPP); Hamid Yousefi, of the University of Tehran; and Morteza Habibi of Amirkabir University in Tehran. The LPP website says that the scientists "have already been collaborating informally, exchanging ideas and data, but are calling for a joint project to greatly accelerate this research." The U.S. and Iran are the two countries most advanced in aneutronic fusion, it notes.

LPP recently hit a major milestone in its development of aneutronic fusion, as SmartPlanet reported yesterday.

Fusion peacenik Eric Lerner

Nuclear fusion is considered by many people to be the Holy Grail of energy sources because it potentially provides cheap, CO2-free power that would not create dangerous nuclear waste and weapons materials the way today's uranium-based fission reactors do. Most of the world's nuclear reactors run on enriched uranium. Tensions between the West and Iran have been mounting over allegations that Iran is enriching uranium in order to support a weapons program.

Fusion melds atoms together rather than splitting them apart as fission does. LPP's aneutronic approach would use common hydrogen and boron. Part of its vision is to build small fusion devices that could provide power to neighborhoods and other locales.

The general idea of fusion power took hold over half a century ago, and gave rise to the phrase "too cheap too meter." But fusion has perennially remained some 30 years away, as researchers have been unable to deliver enough energy from their fusion machines to economically offset the energy that goes into the process.

Fusion peacenik Morteza Habibi

LPP believes that its recent breakthrough, in which it achieved temperatures hot enough to support aneutronic fusion, marks a big step towards shortening the timeframe for bringing fusion to market. "With proper support, getting clean fusion energy to the grid could be accelerated to within as few as five years instead of decades," the Fusion for Peace petition states.

Fusion for Peace envisions two "Aneutronic Research Centers" - one in each country staffed by scientists from both the U.S. and Iran, and expanding to include countries not currently involved in aneutronic fusion.

"In light of these new scientific developments, and of the real threat of war between the U.S. and Iran, we are proposing the establishment of a joint US-Iran Aneutronic Fusion Program to accelerate this research and pool the resources of the various aneutronic fusion research programs," the petition states.

"If it succeeds, in a few years, all uranium enrichment for energy production would be obsolete and could be shut down - not just in Iran, but everywhere. This would be a giant step toward eliminating nuclear proliferation worldwide. And as aneutronic fusion supersedes fossil fuels, oil would be removed as the real fuel of the decades long tension and wars in the Middle East."

You have to like the boldness. Does it stand a chance?

Fusion for Peace artwork by Glenn Millam. Photos: Yousefi from University of Toyama (Japan) website; Lerner from LPP; Habibi from Armikabir University of Technology website.

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