Don’t look now, but your neighbors might be building a homemade nuclear reactor, and it’s perfectly legal.
According to the article by Matthew Danzico writing for the BBC, Mark Suppes has built one of the craziest and coolest thing we’ve ever seen here, at TheBlogIsMine.com.
By day, Mark Suppes is a 32-year-old freelance software developer, building a Web site for fashion giant Gucci.
At night, he bikes to a nondescript Brooklyn warehouse, where he says he’s building something with a bit more oomph – a homemade nuclear fusion reactor.
And Mark Suppes, an amateur scientist from Bedford-Stuyvesant who believes he can help save the world.
“I was inspired because I believed I was looking at a technology that could actually work to solve our energy problems,” Mark Suppes told the BBC.
Suppes says he has developed a working fusion reactor, a device that combines atoms to create energy. In nuclear fusion, atoms are forcibly joined, releasing energy. It is, say scientists, the “holy grail” of energy production – completely clean and cheap. The problem is, no-one has found a way of making fusion reactors produce more energy than they consume to run.
Mr Suppes is part of a growing community of “fusioneers” – amateur science junkies who are building homemade fusion reactors, for fun and with an eye to being part of the solution to that problem.
He is the 38th independent amateur physicist in the world to achieve nuclear fusion from a homemade reactor, according to community site Fusor.net. Others on the list include a 15-year-old from Michigan and a doctoral student in Ohio.
“I was inspired because I believed I was looking at a technology that could actually work to solve our energy problems, and I believed it was something that I could at least begin to build,” Mr Suppes told the BBC.
While they might un-nerve the neighbours, fusion reactors of this kind are perfectly legal in the US.
“As long as they [private citizens] obtain that material [the components of the reactor] legally, they could do whatever they want,” says Anne Stark, senior public information officer for California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
During fusion, energy is released as atomic nuclei are forced together at high temperatures and pressures to form larger nuclei. Scientists say devices like Mr Suppes’ pose no real threat to neighbouring communities or the environment because they contain no nuclear materials, such as uranium or plutonium.
“There is no chance of any kind of accident with fusion,” says Neil Calder, communications chief for Iter, a multi-national project begun in 1985 with the aim of demonstrating the feasibility of fusion power.”
“There’s no CO2 pollution, there’s no greenhouse gases, you can’t use it for proliferation [the spread of nuclear weapons] – it has so many advantages,” he said.
Althought Suppes’ science project is legal and not considered dangerous – but people who live near the Bedford-Stuyvesant warehouse on Park Ave, where Suppes performs experiments aren’t convinced.
“What if something goes wrong? There’s a gas station two blocks away,” said Geanine Robinson, 35, who lives in the Marcy Houses across the street from the warehouse.
“The fact that he’s trying to form a new kind of energy is all well and good,” said another local, Christopher Wright. But without the proper scientific work behind it, I don’t know if it’s too good of an idea.”
Suppes began constructing his reactor 2 years ago, using $35,000 worth of parts he got on eBay. And about $4,000 he raised on a website that connects artists and inventors with private investors.
The goal is to build a device that could produce more energy than it takes to power it. Government-led efforts to produce power from fusion have been going on around the world for 50 years. Iter – funded by US, Japan, Russia, India, China, and South Korea – is working on a multi-billion dollar, advanced reactor, due to be built in the south of France by 2019.
“The attractiveness of the fusion reaction is you don’t produce large quantities of radioactive materials,” said Charles Sparrow, professor emeritus of chemical engineering at Mississippi State University. “But to have enough of these reactions to produce energy that’s significant is what we’ve been working on for a long time.” [Fusor via NY Daily News, BBC and Gizmodo]