Helium-3 fusion energy: a national imperative by 2050 AD

A presentation given to Congressman Bill Paxon
By Wilson Greatbatch, FAAAS, PE

The world population will increase to ten billion people by the year 2050. By that time we will have exhausted all of the 7 trillion barrels of oil, equivalent to any kind of economically recoverable fossil fuel on earth. We will have run out of places to store the toxic wastes from our nuclear fission reactors. We will have no alternative resource but fusion energy.

The physics of present fusion energy, involving the fusion of deuterium and tritium in a thermonuclear reactor, the TOKAMAK, is approaching resolution but problems of reactor materials survival remain, which will probably take 30 years to work out. This is due to the very destructive neutrons generated in the reaction process.

In contrast, helium-3 is a completely clean source of energy. Two helium-3 atoms are fused in a thermonuclear reactor to produce normal helium and energy. The fuel is non-radioactive, the process produces no radioactivity, and the residue produces no radioactivity. It is the perfect energy source. However the helium-3 reaction takes place at 10 times the temperature of the TOKAMAK. It will probably take 10 to 20 years to work out the physics of containing the reaction.

There is very little helium-3 on earth, only that which was left here when the earth was formed, and some additional amount which we have made in our reactors since then. It is generated from nuclear reactions in the sun and comes to us on solar wind. None lands on earth because it is diverted away by the earth’s magnetic field. But is does land on the moon. The moon is loaded with it. It is estimated that there is ten times as much helium-3 energy on the moon as our total historical inventory of fossil fuels. 25 tonnes of helium-3 (one shuttle load) would supply the total US energy needs for a whole year in 1993. The shuttle load would have a value of about 25 billion dollars, which would equate to oil at $7 per barrel.

But to mine it on the moon and to get it here we will need a space station by 2000 AD and a permanent human resident colony on the moon by 2010 AD. The by-products of processing ore on the moon will provide enough necessary materials like oxygen, nitrogen, carbon, etc. to make the colony self-sustaining.

But if we want to get there by 2050 AD, we will have to start now!

Copyright 1996 PROMETHEUS, reprinted with permission