Fusion torch

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A fusion torch is a technique for utilizing the high-temperature plasma of a fusion reactor to break apart other materials (especially waste materials) and convert them into a few reusable and saleable elements. It was invented in 1968 by Bernard J. Eastlund and William C. Gough while they were program managers of the controlled thermonuclear research program of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC). The basic concept was to impinge the plasma leaking from fusion reactors onto solids or liquids, vaporizing, dissociating and ionizing the materials, then separating the resulting elements into separate bins for collection. Other applications of fusion plasmas such as generation of UV and optical light, and generation of hydrogen fuel, were also described in their associated 1969 paper.

How it Works

The process began with a tokamak, a doughnut-shaped magnetic “bottle”, containing plasma and unwanted material. This combination would result in a pool of electrons and nuclei which in turn would cause the tokamak to overflow and transfer the plasma into an outlet. This plasma then passes through a series of metal plates, differing in particular temperatures, all arranged in descending order. The atoms of elements pass over the plates that have a boiling point that is above their own. Eventually, the atoms encounter plates where the temperature is lower than their boiling point. This makes them stick onto the plate. The plates then work as a distillation system which sorts the plasma into its constituent elements. These pure elements can then be reused.[1]

1969 Paper

In the paper Eastlund and Gough defined three traps that could hamper the advancement of mankind:

  1. Population (food)
  2. Entropy (resources, energy, pollution)
  3. War (human needs and behavior)

They stated, referring to entropy:

The use of the fusion torch in conjunction with controlled fusion power offers a potential solution to the entropy trap in materials. - i.e. man's exhaustion of nature's stored resources (Eastlund & Gough, 1969).

In terms of energy needs they estimated the following:

An "all" electric city of 10,000,000 people, by the year 2000 will need 140,000 megawatts of electrical capacity.[2] If just 10,000 megawatts were used in a fusion torch then somewhere between 2,700 and 27,000 tons of material could be processed per day.

They also speculated that the fusion torch concept would be useful for the separation of uranium from reactor fuel element material.

Thermonuclear Fusion

In fission, the breaking apart of heavy elements releases tremendous amounts of energy. Fusion of hydrogen isotopes is orders of magnitude more energy dense and thus provides more energy to harness as a power source. It is the process that occurs in the sun and the stars, as the light elements collide at high speeds and high densities. It is therefore difficult to replicate this process on earth. To fuse atoms, a laboratory requires intense heat, and a means of controlling the reaction. It is also necessary to control the reaction for a long time, and at a steady, continuous rate. [3]

Why the Fusion torch stopped

In the last 25 years fusion research has stopped mainly because of budget cuts, making it impossible for engineering processes to be achieved. The United States decided not to fund the fusion research, leaving the research to Europe, Russia, Japan and other nations. Neither fusion power nor the fusion torch are currently available. As Eastlund told the Energy Fusion Foundation, the kind of research needed for developing the fusion torch was not going on. Eastlund said, "what's required is a commitment by a responsible funding agency to put some solid underpinning to the physics, chemistry, and technology of fusion torch applications". [3]

Effects on the Environment

Although the fusion torch will help in disposal of pollution and waste and make it available for reuse, there is also a problem that arises. The process of separating elements uses a lot of energy, and therefore creates a lot of heat. With the rise of the standards of living, all this heat that is created from using the fusion torch will be released into the atmosphere. Such a large amount of heat could cause the surface temperature of the earth to rise. This could eventually lead to severe climate modifications and put a limit on word population and standards of living.[4]


  1. ^ http://search.proquest.com/docview/224066886
  2. ^ Energy Resources, Report to the Committee on Natural Resources, publication 1000-D, (Washington: National Academy of Sciences- National Research Council, 1962).
  3. ^ a b http://www.larouchepub.com/eiw/public/2006/2006_40-49/2006-42/pdf/54_642_torch.pdf
  4. ^ http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/stamp/stamp.jsp?tp=&arnumber=4325835