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Energy, China and Helium-3

Helium – flicky creative commons

Of all the traits of capitalism and capitalists — greedy, self centered, cold,mean, devoid of compassion — the one trait that has not been mentioned is that for the most part they are chicken shit cowards. As this piece from Raw Story via The Guardian says:

The question is, why haven’t the moon’s resources been thoroughly plundered by now? Why hasn’t it provided us with the energy necessary to colonize the rest of space? I’ll tell you why: it’s because capitalism is weak and timid.

We know this to be true since no one on Wall Street will do anything without government guarantees. So it takes government to do those things that capitalism refuses to do. Those items that do not have have a guarantee of immediate returns on investment. Like building roads and transportation systems and putting people into space and education.

Energy will be the greatest need now and into the future and our attempts and generating have been increasingly fraught with ecological  impacts that are increasingly more disastrous, as the Fukushima reactors are showing. Add to this the ongoing pollution and carbon  dioxide greenhouse gases intensifying climate change. Fusion reactors of the type usually envisioned have been promised for well over 60 years and are still only a dream since there too many obstacles to make them practical. Solar and wind farms are only a stop gap measure in my and others minds.

A search for a clean and safe energy source is needed but no one seems to be interested in finding one..that is until now. This is where Helium-3 comes in. From Wikipedia.

Helium-3 (He-3) is a light, non-radioactiveisotope of helium with two protons and one neutron. It is rare on Earth, and it is sought for use in nuclear fusion research. The abundance of helium-3 is thought to be greater on the Moon (embedded in the upper layer of regolith by the solar wind over billions of years),[1] though still low in quantity (28 ppm of lunar regolith is helium-4 and from one ppb to 50 ppb is helium-3),[2][3] than the solar system’s gas giants (left over from the original solar nebula).

From io9:

Helium-3 is transmitted with solar winds, but Earth’s magnetic field pushes the isotope away. Thanks to its negligible magnetic field, the moon doesn’t suffer from this fate, allowing Helium-3 to build up in regolith, the layer of rock and dust covering the moon. The existence of Helium-3 on the moon is verified by samples retrieved on Apollo and Luna missions. Geologist-turned-astronaut Harrison Schmitt acquired and analyzed over 200 pounds of lunar rock acquired during 1972’s Apollo 17 mission.

Helium-3 exists on our Earth, but in extremely small quantities. Tritium (hydrogen with a total of two neutrons, or deuterium with an extra neutron if you prefer) naturally decays into Helium-3 over time. Helium-3 is also created, oddly enough, as a byproduct of nuclear weapons testing. The United States’ Helium-3 reserves are just shy of 30 kilograms, much less than the theoretical 25 tons of helium-3 necessary to provide for the energy needs of a country our size for one year.

Helium-3 reactors can be clean and simpler and restively non-hazardous. One way is to use Helium-3 in the nuclear fusion reactor:

For over 40 years scientists have been working to create nuclear power from nuclear fusion rather than nuclear fission. In current nuclear fusion reactors, the hydrogen isotopes tritium and deuterium are used as the fuel, with atomic energy released when their nuclei fuse to create helium and a neutron. Nuclear fusion effectively makes use of the same energy source that fuels the Sun and other stars, and does not produce the radioactivity and nuclear waste that is the by-product of current nuclear fission power generation. However, the so-termed ‘fast’ neutrons released by nuclear fusion reactors fuelled by tritium and deuterium lead to significant energy loss and are extremely difficult to contain. One potential solution may be to use helium-3 and deuterium as the fuels in ‘aneutronic’ (power without neutrons) fusion reactors. The involved nuclear reaction here when helium-3 and deuterium fuse creates normal helium and a proton, which wastes less energy and is easier to contain. Nuclear fusion reactors using helium-3 could therefore provide a highly efficient form of nuclear power with virtually no waste and no radiation.

Another way generates electricity using Helium-3 but without having to turn turbines. [This one excites me the most.]

The second possibility, fusing 32He with itself (32He + 32He), requires even higher temperatures (since now both reactants have a +2 charge), and thus is even more difficult than the D-3He reaction. However, it does offer a possible reaction that produces no neutrons; the protons it produces possess charges and can be contained using electric and magnetic fields, which in turn results in direct electricity generation. 32He + 32He fusion has been demonstrated in the laboratory and is thus theoretically feasible and would have immense advantages, but commercial viability is many years in the future.

The main problem is getting enough of the stuff to start seriously futzing around with it. Enter China.

The Chang’e-3 mission is named after the goddess of the moon in Chinese mythology, and the rover vehicle is called Yutu, or Jade Rabbit, after her pet.

Luan Enjie, a senior adviser to China’s lunar programme, told state media that the ultimate aim was to use the moon as a “springboard” for deep space exploration.

Commentators believe doing so would require a base on the lunar surface.

The Earth’s natural satellite is also believed to hold uranium, titanium, and other mineral resources, as well as offering the possibility of solar power generation.

Even the seemingly far-fetched prospect of using the moon as a military facility from which missiles could be launched against ‘hostile military targets on earth’ was raised by the Beijing Times newspaper, citing “relevant experts” at a state body.

As various scenarios are discussed on China’s hugely popular Internet message boards, the Yutu Rover is analysing minerals while crawling across an ancient 400 kilometre-wide (248 miles) plain known in Latin as Sinus Iridum, or the Bay of Rainbows.

It is equipped with belly-mounted ground-penetrating radar, which observers say will be used to detect the minable quality of the moon’s crust.

One substance thought to be far more abundant on the moon than Earth is helium-3, an isotope of the element that official news agency Xinhua called the ‘perfect fusion energy source to replace oil and gas.’

Officials claim it could be used to generate power for more than ‘10,000 years,’ reports say – but the fusion reactors it could theoretically fuel do not yet exist in reality.

Now before anyone dismisses this out of hand, consider who you are talking about. The Chinese people have a very different outlook than those of us in the west have and a much older and deeper philosophical culture. Going back thousands of years. Deeply still embedded with Confuses and Taoist thought. For a good insight on this, I would suggest beginning with the reading of this history from Ohio State. As well as writings of Lao Tzu, — Tao Te Ching and the I Ching as well as Buddhist thought. All of which even to this day influence Chinese thought. And has given them an perseverance that is second to none.

But if you want other good examples, the building of The Great Wall – where in the workers brought down a dynasty do to its unreasonable demands. Or consider also that the Chinese now build most of our tech toys.

Not just China. Russia and others are also looking at this as well.

Yes all this seems pie in the sky to most here, but to me if any people could pull this off — the Chinese can and likely will.

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