Fusion at Last? Not So Fast

One of the easiest scams to pull off in the energy world these days is to get a breathless story planted in the media about a laboratory “breakthrough” on energy from some advanced or unconventional source, like banana peels (when you aren’t smoking them) or unicorn flop sweat. Often these technologies are real, but the “journalists” never think to ask two basic questions: how much does it cost compared to existing energy sources, and can it be scaled up? Usually the answers to these questions is “a LOT,” and No, it can’t be realistically scaled up to our needs.  That’s why we usually never hear another thing about these nifty “breakthroughs.”

That’s why I take all such stories with a big grain of molten salt recycled from an advanced nuclear reactor, and especially when it comes to fusion power. I’ve toured the Princeton Plasma Energy Lab, and also the Max Planck Laboratory which is trying to develop fusion power in Munich, Germany. In both cases the scientists and engineers working there were clear-eyed that feasible fusion power is still a very long way off—maybe 2040 if major technological challenges can be overcome. But we still see a lot of chirpy news stories that fusion power is just 10 years away! Fusion has been 10 years away for the last 40 years.

But I sat up and took notice last week when Lockheed-Martin said they have made a breakthrough in a fusion energy project that could be rolled out commercially in a decade. Lockheed-Martin is no university lab needing to get a good PR plug, so it would seem to be more serious:

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Lockheed Martin Corp said on Wednesday it had made a technological breakthrough in developing a power source based on nuclear fusion, and the first reactors, small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be ready for use in a decade.

Tom McGuire, who heads the project, said he and a small team had been working on fusion energy at Lockheed’s secretive Skunk Works for about four years, but were now going public to find potential partners in industry and government for their work.

Initial work demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet, which could fit on the back of a large truck, and is about 10 times smaller than current reactors, McGuire told reporters.

In a statement, the company, the Pentagon’s largest supplier, said it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year, and build a prototype in five years.

Once again, nothing here on the cost of the prospective technology.  I’ll start to believe it if the Pentagon orders a couple of early reactors for a major military facility somewhere here in the U.S.  Before anyone gets carried away, Nature magazine throws some suitable skepticism on this story:

Although nearly everybody is pleased to see an industrial giant such as Lockheed Martin jump into the fusion fray, academics remain sceptical. Lockheed has yet to release any data from its initial experiments. And without more details, nobody can work out how this design differs from predecessors that have been tried and abandoned in decades past.

“It’s hard to tell the man on the street anything from a scientific point of view,” says Stewart Prager, director of the Department of Energy’s Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory in New Jersey. “It’s not clear what their science claims are.”

Here’s Lockheed’s four-minute video about their project; it doesn’t really explain in any detail why we should think this will work, but it sure looks cool. As Michael Ledeen and Glenn Reynolds like to say, faster please.

New poll shows Cotton 8 points ahead

A new poll, this one by Talk Business and Politics/Hendrix College, puts Tom Cotton’s lead over Mark Pryor at 48-41. The survey included more than 2,000 likely voters and was taken after the last week’s Cotton-Pryor debate (as I understand it, there will be no more debates between the two). The margin of error is plus or minus 2.2 percent.

According to Dr. Jay Barth of Hendrix College, the survey shows that both Cotton and Pryor have locked up the support of their respective Party faithful. However, “Cotton has a strong advantage among the state’s voters who term themselves Independents (although surveys we have completed in the past suggests that most of them now actually see themselves as closer to the Republican Party). Among this crucial group, Cotton leads 59%-28%.”

Bolstered by this poll, Cotton now leads Pryor by 5.5 points in the Real Clear Politics average. And RCP has moved the race into the “leans Republican category.”

To help seal the deal, you can contribute to Tom’s campaign by going here.

Deperate Dems “not ready to accept defeat”

John normally covers pathetic fundraising letters from Democrats, but this one captured my fancy. The first sentence is true; the rest is whimpering:

Dear [X]:

We are completely out of ideas.

After President Clinton emailed you this morning to ask for help, we really thought we would be in a better place.

But we aren’t. The Koch Brothers, Karl Rove, and the other Republican outside groups are spending millions against us. It’s the biggest spending spree of any midterm election EVER. So big — it doesn’t even look like President Clinton’s email can dig us out of this hole.

There is still time, though. Things are rough, but we’re not ready to accept defeat. If we can bring in 5O,OOO donations before tomorrow’s ad buy deadline, we can get back on track. Will you answer President Clinton’s call-to-action today?

Thanks,

DCCC

That’s strange. Isn’t Barack Obama the president?

“A Time for Choosing” @ 50

As noted here before by Paul and me, this year marks the 50th anniversary of Barry Goldwater’s famous “extremism in defense of liberty” speech at the GOP convention, which I also wrote about in the Claremont Review of Books. The other more important speech of 1964 was Ronald Reagan’s “A Time for Choosing,” whose precise 50th anniversary arrives next Monday.

The SpeechPower Line readers in the LA area may wish to mark their calendar, as the Reagan Library will be hosting me for a lecture and panel discussion about “The Speech” at 11 am Pacific time. You can read more details and reserve a seat here, and nearby is the poster that Pepperdine has placed all around campus.

My lecture will cover the five main elements that made the speech such an effective piece of political rhetoric, how it contrasted in subtle but meaningful ways from Goldwater’s approach, and—most importantly—the unheeded lessons today’s conservatives ought to take from the speech. If you’re not able to come, not to worry: I’ll be publishing an edited version of the lecture in a major newspaper this weekend (stay tuned for details), and will eventually post the complete text here on Power Line.

Cannon Cover copyBut wait! There’s more! The lecture will be accompanied by a panel discussion with Lou Cannon and Carl Cannon. (Yes, they are related.) Lou of course covered Reagan throughout Reagan’s entire career starting with the governor’s race in 1966, and his son Carl, now one of the impresarios of RealClearPolitics, co-authored with his father an interesting book a few years back tracing out some of the continuities between Reagan and George W. Bush called Reagan’s Disciple. I thought it would be interesting to have a two-generation Cannon perspective, and I’m delighted that Lou and Carl graciously accepted my invitation to participate.

Not sure if it will be webcast live, but the Reagan Library usually tapes these events and makes them available later on their website.  And if you have a half-hour, here’s the original:

Obama explains

It is a sign of the pollution of our public discourse that the President of the United States rubs shoulders with the vile Al Sharpton, demagogue and race hustler extraordinaire. Sharpton is one of the most vile figures in American public life.

It’s an old story, and the race hustle has become a strategic component of Democratic politics. Sharpton has become a mainstream figure in the modern Democratic Party. So it’s no surprise that Obama appeared on Sharpton’s radio show, even if disgust is the appropriate reaction.

Against all the odds, however, for the second time in this campaign season, Obama said something useful and, even more improbably, something true in his appearance with Sharpton (first time here). Obama explains that those Democrats who are running for election or reelection in Republican states who are notably, at times comically, seeking to avoid the taint of Obama, are invaluable supporters of his. Listen up:

Well, look, here’s the bottom line. We’ve got a tough map. A lot of the states that are contested this time are states that I didn’t win. And so some of the candidates there, you know, it is difficult for them to have me in the state because the Republicans will use that to try to fan Republican turn-out. The bottom line is, though, these are all folks who vote with me. They have supported my agenda in Congress. They are on the right side of minimum wage. They are on the right side of fair pay. They are on the right side of rebuilding our infrastructure. They’re on the right side of early childhood education.

So, this isn’t about my feelings being hurt. These are folks who are strong allies and supporters of me. And I tell them, I said, you know what, you do what you need to win. I will be responsible for making sure that our voters turn up.

So those Democratic candidates holding themselves out as independent souls with the best interests of their states at heart are just full of it. Thank you for the explanation. Thank you very much.

Via Mary Katharine Ham/Hot Air.

A Mark Udall footnote

John posted the video of Mark Udall struggling to answer a series of easy questions in a frienldy interview (John posted the video here). What are the three books that influenced him the most? After asking for a do-over, Udall plumbs the depths of his memory to add two books to the only one that comes to mind, Profiles in Courage.

Does anyone younger than 50 remember Profiles in Courage? It was all the rage in the early sixties, like Dreams From My Father in the early years of the Obama administration.

Profiles won the Pulitzer Prize for JFK in 1957, even though JFK wrote little of it. The book was written mostly by Kennedy aide Theodore Sorensen, a revelation which has taken some of the shine off the book. Michael Birkner retold the story in the Weekly Standard after Sorensen’s death. I wonder if Udall has heard.

The disputed authorship of Profiles in Courage makes out another similarity to Obama’s memoir. Author Christopher Andersen has confirmed Jack Cashill’s thesis that Dreams was ghostwritten by unrepentant terrorist by Bill Ayers.

Birkner notes the lengths to which JFK went to conceal the help he received from Sorensen on the book. “Surely,” he writes, “it does no credit to Kennedy that, in the subsequent controversy over authorship, he consistently lied about his role in producing Profiles, and about Sorensen’s responsibility for it. Moreover, Kennedy, assisted by Clark Clifford, got Sorensen to issue a false affidavit denying columnist Drew Pearson’s assertion on an ABC television program that Sorensen was the main author of Profiles in Courage.”

Udall eventually names two other books, In the Kingdom of Ice by Hampton Sides and Centennial by James Michener At this point in the interview Udall sounds like he’s naming favorites rather than books that have influenced him, but it helps him get up to three. The report of his brain death — by Udall himself — was slightly overstated.

What is the last song you listened to? Udall also struggles with this question. First he ignores it. The second time around he resorts to the stratagem that helped him answer the question about books that influenced him. He names a favorite: “I love Shawn Colvin’s song about avalanches because it’s appropriate to Colorado.”

Udall was referring to Colvin’s “Shotgun Down the Avalanche” (video below, with Alison Krauss), off her Grammy-winning debut album, Steady On. I love Shawn Colvin and appreciate Udall’s citation of the song. It’s one of the first songs Colvin wrote. (She tells the story in her memoir Diamond in the Rough.)

Referring to “Shotgun Down the Avalanche” as a “song about avalanches,” however, is like referring to Shakespeare’s sonnet LXXIII as a poem “about choirs.” Hey, man, it’s a metaphor. I don’t mean to be picky, but the song isn’t about avalanches any more than the sonnet is about choirs. It’s a desolate song about a relationship that isn’t working. “The past is stronger than my will to forgive,” Colvin sings. I’m hoping that Udall’s citation of the song is an omen of Colorado’s breakup with Udall next month.

The Kobani conundrum

Turkey has finally agreed to allow Iraqi Kurdish forces to cross its border with Syria to help fight ISIS and thereby relieve the besieged town of Kobani. For weeks, Turkey had refused to allow Iraqi Kurdish fighters or weapons to cross its border in support of the Kurdish fighters defending Kobani.

Why the change? The New York Times cites “international pressure.” But the pressure has been there all along.

More to the point, it seems to me, is the fact that (in the words of the Times) “as the United States-led coalition has increased its airstrikes as well as its coordination with the Kurdish fighters, who have provided targeting information, the militants have lost momentum after appearing close to overrunning the town.” In other words, the Obama administration is beginning to behave seriously, at least in Kobani, and may actually be winning there. The predictable consequence is that Turkey takes the U.S. more seriously.

Turkey has also come under pressure from its Kurdish population. There have been mass protests against the government’s unwillingness to assist in the relief of Kobani. The Turkish government has resisted the pressure, both international and internal, because it considers the Syrian Kurds who are resisting ISIS as terrorists and its mortal enemies. And, indeed, these forces are associated with the PKK which is the enemy of the Turkish government.

By agreeing to help the Iraqi Kurds, President Erdogen seeks to thread the needle. He can no longer be accused of doing nothing to relieve Kobani, but at the same time he tries to limit his assistance to the Iraqi peshmerga, an ally.

In reality, though, allowing Iraqi Kurds into Syria will almost certainly play into the hands of Erdogen’s Kurdish enemies in Syria. According to Michael Rubin, “as soon as those Kurdish fighters enter Syria, they will subordinate themselves to the YPG [the peshmerga associated with the PKK] which know the ground and are, at this point, better motivated and more skilled.”

Erdogan surely understands this, but now apparently sees value in cooperating President Obama and in relieving some of the domestic pressure that his unwillingness to lift a finger to help Kobani has generated.

It isn’t just Erdogan who faces a Kobani conundrum. The Obama administration is airlifting arms to YPG even though the State Department has designated it (along with its political arm, the PYD, and the PKK) a terrorist organization.

Rubin argues that the designation “is long overdue for a review, if not elimination.” He adds:

The PYD governs Syrian Kurdistan better than any other group which holds territory runs its government. Nowhere else in Syria can girls walk to school without escort (let alone attend school) or is there regularly scheduled municipal trash pick up.

And the YPG, meanwhile, has been the most effective force fighting ISIS and the Nusra Front. Given a choice between ISIS and the PKK, the United States should choose the PKK.

Mugged by reality on the ground in Northern Syria, the Obama administration may be coming around to the same view.