Polywell and Proliferation

If polywell fusion is developed, in what ways will the world change for better or worse? Discuss.

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TheRadicalModerate
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Postby TheRadicalModerate » Fri Nov 02, 2007 2:37 pm

tonybarry wrote:Pardon my cynicism, but it seems that genuine, high tech, physics savvy, engineering terrorists are a bit thin on the ground. We've had nukes for some time, yet no nuke has gone off (as yet) from a terrorist attack. The tech required to crank out a functioning polywell, along with the physics and chem required to refine the plutonium from a breeder associated with it ... sorry, my credibility indicator indicates it's very unlikely.
If you want real-life scenarios (think Glasgow, the London Underground, the Bali Bombing) good-ol fertiliser has done the job so far, and it's unlikely to change anytime soon. It's just too much trouble.


Tony, are you arguing that the technical details of a polywell will be able to be maintained as trade secrets? (I would certainly hope that they're not state secrets--you're not going to get any power applications out of that.) I don't see how that will work. If power plants are deployed, their technology is going to be pretty much out in the open. It will be more or less a regulatory imperative, I suspect. If that's true, it seems to me that building a functioning reactor is going to be within the capability of some bad guys. Now, maybe PUREX-style Pu extraction isn't, but I don't think there's a whole lot of exotic technology involved there.

Also, please note the goals of terrorists are different from those of state actors. States actually want to avoid detection, as it leaves them open to sanctions. Terrorists don't mind being detected as long as they can't be interdicted. That is a different--and somewhat easier--goal.

OK, now that I've finished playing devil's advocate (for now), please note that, while proliferation may or may not be a problem in the real world, it will certainly be perceived as a problem in the political and funding worlds. Proliferation, rightly or wrongly, is a big deal these days. Answering policymakers' objections to simple fusion technologies will be essential.

The arguments to answer those objections in the thread above fall into two categories:

1) Polywell proliferation issues are no worse than those with fission nukes. In order to make this argument, you have to prove that the supply chain for a polywell-based breeder and extraction technology is as detectable and interdictable as that of a fission nuke. I suspect that that's going to be hard to prove, at least up until the extraction process, which is identical to that of fission nuke.

2) Polywells can be enforced to be aneutronic. This is essentially a trade- or state-secrets argument. In other words, the tuning and adaptation necessary to convert a p-B11 design to a D-D or D-T design is so difficult that it can't be accomplished by mere mortals. This would be a wonderful argument if it can be proved. Given that, if polywell is actually going to work, it's likely that the first experiments will be with D-D or D-T, I'm skeptical.

Shoring up either or both of the above arguments (a task for which I'm incompetent) would seem to be prudent.

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Postby MSimon » Fri Nov 02, 2007 4:44 pm

Polywell is out of the bag. It might take 5 to 10 years to reproduce it independent of a government, but it could be done with a team of about 10 to 100.

Extracting Pu239 is equivalent to reprocessing spent fuel from a nuclear reactor. That is tough and detectable. By the chemicals obtained. By radiation emitted from the process.

This is not an operation amenable to terrorists. State support will be required.

Production reactors for export will be designed to burn pB11. This will require extensive modification including different software. It will not be done by Osama in the hills of Afghanistan.

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Postby MSimon » Fri Nov 02, 2007 4:50 pm

Keegan wrote:^agreed. Although Teller wasn't a shining example of humanity. His real contribution to the H-bomb in collaboration with Ulam is still disputed. He testified that Openhiemer was communist for a power grab. He wanted to nuke part of alaska to build an artificial bay. He is a shining example of how absolute power corrupts absolutely. Once people get control of viable polywells who knows what mania it could induce. I also heard Teller was inspiration for Dr Strangelove, but i believe that award should go to Robert McNamara.


We are in fact at the mercy of the hearts of our leaders. Choose wisely.

It may be that the distribution of power (political, energy) is the best hope going forward. Despotism is our real enemy.

Polywell is the best hope for the distribution of power/energy. It can't be monopolized.

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Postby MSimon » Fri Nov 02, 2007 4:57 pm

Keegan,

Oppenheimer was a communist. An American (as opposed to Soviet supporting like Fuchs) communist.

tonybarry
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Postby tonybarry » Fri Nov 02, 2007 11:10 pm

TheRadicalModerate wrote:Tony, are you arguing that the technical details of a polywell will be able to be maintained as trade secrets?


Ummm, no, not really. Ideally it would be open source. The reason I think that the Bussard polywell is unlikely to be a terrorist weapon is that the technical hurdles are considerable, and require co-operation from many specialists to make it work. This does not (in my opinion) equate well with terrorist cells.

The million volt cathodes, the LHe/LN magnets, the nanoTorr vacuum enclosure ... these things cannot be made easily, with a budget composed of average salaries. You need Funding for a polywell.

However, the political perception is another thing entirely, as you note. On that score, I think a psychologist or spin doctor would allay politician's fears far more than any engineer. And I leave that to the more knowledgeable among us ...[/quote]

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Postby tonybarry » Fri Nov 02, 2007 11:16 pm

TheRadicalModerate wrote:Polywells can be enforced to be aneutronic. This is essentially a trade- or state-secrets argument. In other words, the tuning and adaptation necessary to convert a p-B11 design to a D-D or D-T design is so difficult that it can't be accomplished by mere mortals. This would be a wonderful argument if it can be proved. Given that, if polywell is actually going to work, it's likely that the first experiments will be with D-D or D-T, I'm skeptical.
I see the serious neutron bombardment and resultant degradation of the interior structures of the D-D/T polywell as the main reason why they will never be anything more than a proof-of-concept device, on the way to a pB11 polywell that actually works for a reasonable time.

And although my knowledge is shaky here, such a neutron flux would need to be well shielded to prevent detection by enforcement agencies ...

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Postby Keegan » Sat Nov 03, 2007 6:14 am

I gotta hand it to you TheRadicalModerate. You are one smart cookie. If there was one way a corrupt government with oil lined pockets could tangibly put the breaks on the fusion movement Dr Bussard started, it would be through this proliferation legal nonsense. I suggest we never speak of this again and delete the thread or you could inadvertantly do more damage to the polywell movement than Todd Rider and his papers on non maxwellian regimes. :)


The fact of the matter is from now on there should be a doctrine to make purely anuetronic net power polywells. That should keep us out of trouble. Exceptions will be allowed for the many D-T experimental reactors i expect to see in the near future to gather data and iron out bugs. But tonybarry is right. While possibly easy to modify, the neutrons would destroy a P-B11 net energy machine fast and they arent exactly going to be easy to come by or cheap for a few years yet.
Purity is Power

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Postby MSimon » Sat Nov 03, 2007 1:44 pm

Keegan,

Spent fuel reprocessing is not something that is going to be done in a terrorist camp. Precision machining of bomb components is not going to be done with your hand held Black and Decker.

The machining of precision high explosives is not exactly a terrorist specialty.

Sub-microsecond timing of precision high explosive detonations is not a terrorist specialty.

Better we come up with the answers first.

Because Pu bombs are hard to build you have to test at least one. That gives the show away.

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Postby TheRadicalModerate » Sat Nov 03, 2007 2:41 pm

tonybarry wrote:I see the serious neutron bombardment and resultant degradation of the interior structures of the D-D/T polywell as the main reason why they will never be anything more than a proof-of-concept device, on the way to a pB11 polywell that actually works for a reasonable time.

And although my knowledge is shaky here, such a neutron flux would need to be well shielded to prevent detection by enforcement agencies ...


I like the argument about neutron degradation of the coils and grids, but I wonder if the useful lifetime of an n-bombarded polywell would exceed the time necessary to cook a pretty big batch of Pu-239. Anybody know?

My knowledge is also shaky in the detection arena, but my understanding is that neutron detection is extremely short range. The major non-proliferation detection technology is airborne "sniffers" that can detect fission decay products that drift away from fission reactors and (re)processing plants. Hence, I suspect that a polywell breeder wouldn't be very detectable until reprocessing began.

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Postby Keegan » Sat Nov 03, 2007 3:08 pm

Msimon all i was trying to say is that the aneutronic image Dr B worked hard to create (emphasizing the first bit of the google talk) was very important. So lets say if i raised some money and built an experimental reactor in my garage and drove it with D-T cause of my budget.

Then i said "hey everybody this thing works".
they would say "how do you know it works".
I would say "well i have detected X amount of neutrons."
"you generated neutrons ?" they would say
"yes"
"you generated neutrons ?" they would say again
"yeah ....at 14.7Mev"

Then the problems would begin. I live in Australia. As soon as you admit to neutrons you got troubles. My house would now be considered irradiated. It would permanently be flaged as being exposed to radiation. It would be hard to sell. My house would half in value. I would get a massive fine because i didn't seek the vast minefield of red tape to get a proper liscence/documentation. Then there could be civil suits blah blah blah, you know where im going with it.

Let me reiterate. Dont fear terrorism. Fear Litigation.
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Postby MSimon » Sat Nov 03, 2007 4:41 pm

Keegan,

As soon as you lie, by commission or omission you have bigger troubles.

So you can irradiate U and get Pu. It is going to be mixed in with a bunch of highly radioactive fission products.

Creation and extraction will not be done in some terrorist camp.

Sorry about the Greenies in Australia. About 1/2 of ours are embracing nuclear power.

In any case in the USA this is going ahead under US Navy auspices. They have a rational fear of neutrons - i.e. cautious not fanatic.

Heck, look at my postings at IEC Fusion Tech. I show reactor buildings with an 8 ft thick concrete shield. Some one is going to see that and ask questions. The genie is out of the bottle.

pBj is not totally aneutronic. I think that there is a B11-B11 reaction (low probability) that produces neutrons.

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Postby MSimon » Sat Nov 03, 2007 4:51 pm

Litigation is not going to affect the US Navy if the test reactors are built at the Idaho test facility.

China would have no scruples. Or Russia.

There are plenty of places on the planet where these devices could be operated even if the Green infested countries are off limits.

Perhaps the French would be interested.

After a while self interest takes over. The French pay WHAT? for electricity?

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Postby MSimon » Sat Nov 03, 2007 4:57 pm

The answer to neutrons is ITER will generate 1,000 times as many for the same power output.

TheRadicalModerate
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Postby TheRadicalModerate » Sat Nov 03, 2007 10:06 pm

MSimon wrote:The answer to neutrons is ITER will generate 1,000 times as many for the same power output.


So that means that D-D and D-T polywell breeders are feasible, right? So mandating p-B11 reactors won't do much good.

Simon, I kinda agree that you're unlikely to find a terrorist camp with the breeder, PUREX, and bomb assembly technology right at hand, but the dividing line between state and non-state actors isn't that clear. States can provide technical expertise to terrorists. They may even be able to provide reprocessing.

The non-proliferation regime in place has two major choke points. The first is upstream, denying potential proliferators the ability to get LEU for reactors. Compact fusion breeders will make this one go away.

The second chokepoint is downstream, at the reprocessing phase. I think you're right that this one will remain intact. Will that be enough to silence the naysayers? I hope so.

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Postby MSimon » Sat Nov 03, 2007 10:59 pm

LEU for reactors is not that hard these days. Centrifuges.

Plus - if all you want is a Pu maker. You can still do it with a low boron carbon lattice with holes in it for insertion and extraction of U pellets. Natural uranium fuel.

So the first step is becoming more porous. Still a hurdle. No longer a choke point.


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