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102 Aug 27, 2006 at 21:39

Hi all,

I was wondering if anyone here has an educated opinion about ITER’s feasibility. My girlfriend is a nuclear engineer (fission) and she believes that extrapolations being made for ITER are not realistic. The money should be invested in generation 4 fission reactors and alternative energy sources instead. According to her, ITER just attracts scientists from all over the world to provide the missing technology and obtain eternal glory, but solving one problem creates ten new ones. This opinion is also shared by two Nobel Prize winners according to Wikipedia, or at least they don’t believe the technology will work in our lifetime.

Personally I believe it is feasible, but that’s more belief than knowledge. I certainly realize that some problems are just not solvable with technology that is within reach. I just hope that these hundreds of scientists working on parts of ITER know that the sum of it all is going to work as expected.

What do you think/know/believe?

Nick

#### 36 Replies

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101 Aug 27, 2006 at 21:58

Hey there…

I see this problem from a different point of view.

Energy is the one most critical resource in further development on this world. Conventional energy sources won’t last forever - least for the foreseeable future. Alternative energy can not, and won’t ever suffice to fill all demands, especially considering that these are still inclining.

There are not many alternatives left, and fission seems the most prominent one. Thus, I think the research there is justified, regardless of the actual output it produces, out of simple neccessity.

Apart from that, I simply hope they succeed in getting the reactor to work at some time.

Cheers,
- Wernaeh

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167 Aug 28, 2006 at 00:09

I agree with Wernaeh…it’s certainly a worthwhile cause. And every project has unrealistic expectations at the beginning. :) If fusion energy could be made to work well it would be a clean and virtually unlimited energy source, so any research that gets us closer to that goal I think is justified. After all, it’s projects like this that drive the development of fusion-related technology - without them, we have no hope of ever getting there.

Although - quantum vacuum energy would be even better if we could figure out a way to do that :ninja:

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101 Aug 28, 2006 at 02:38

I think quantum based energy sources will be feasible before fusion becomes even remotely viable. Fusion is a gross, uncontrollable, chaotic event. I don’t think we have the science to correctly understand it, let alone harness it safely… but by no means should we stop trying.

Vacuum energy is a small, controllable, chaotic event. We’re not sure of the means of application or production, but it’s there, and we can experiment with it far more easily than with fusion. I shudder to think of what an “oops” mistake might mean when they’re designing fusion reactors and synthetic black holes.

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167 Aug 28, 2006 at 06:36

Actually, as I understand it fusion reactors are pretty safe. If there’s a breach in the magnetic confinement system the plasma simply disperses and rapidly cools; it’ll damage the insides of the plant but shouldn’t cause much environmental impact. Also you can’t have a runaway fusion reaction in anything less than the size of a star. The possible consequences of a serious mistake in a fission reactor - radioactive water released to the environment, meltdown and explosion - are far scarier.

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102 Aug 28, 2006 at 09:06

@Wernaeh

Conventional energy sources won’t last forever - least for the foreseeable future.

There should be sufficient fission material for centuries, with many sources yet untouched and reactors becoming more efficient. The biggest problem is fear for use in nuclear weapons, not a lack of the fuel itself. Of course this political problem can’t be ignored, but rushing the development of fusion energy seems like the wrong solution. :skull:

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102 Aug 28, 2006 at 09:13

@Reedbeta

Although - quantum vacuum energy would be even better if we could figure out a way to do that :ninja:

The way I understand it, quantum vacuum can’t be used to produce usable energy. It’s like having a pair of magnets. They constantly pull (or push) each other, but they can’t be used to create continuous (perpetual) motion.

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102 Aug 28, 2006 at 09:23

@Ooka

I shudder to think of what an “oops” mistake might mean when they’re designing fusion reactors and synthetic black holes.

Black holes require masses far greater than even that of the sun. Furthermore, particles have been collided at CERN with energy densities only comparable to that of the Big Bang, far greater than those in a fusion reactor, without “oops” mistakes. So far. :whistle:

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102 Aug 28, 2006 at 09:51

@Reedbeta

The possible consequences of a serious mistake in a fission reactor - radioactive water released to the environment, meltdown and explosion - are far scarier.

Fission reactors are designed to survive Jumbo Jet crashes. And according to my girlfriend in the newer generation reactors complete meltdown is impossible, while explosion was never possible. Comparing a nuclear bomb to a reactor would be like comparing dynamite to a log of wet wood. The very worst thing that could happen in a modern fission reactor is still a well containable problem, with Chernobyl scenarios entirely impossible. The chance of getting cancer due to radiation even in the worst event is smaller than getting cancer from every day car exhaust.

But that’s my optimistic girlfriend speaking. :lol: I certainly believe they’ve become far safer than 20 years ago, and suffer from a much more negative image than they deserve. At least for a couple centuries they could solve energy problems with very acceptable risk. And while not exactly environment friendly, they’re much better than coal, oil or gas plants.

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101 Aug 28, 2006 at 12:41

Fission reactors are, as your girlfriend says (what a cool girlfriend may I add!) very safe. The only reason Chernobyl did what it did was because the engineers disabled all the safety measures to do a test.

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101 Aug 28, 2006 at 13:57

The only reason Chernobyl did what it did was because the engineers disabled all the safety measures to do a test.

Source ?

Even if you assume that modern reactors are safe, there still is no way to dispose of the waste so far in a way that convinces me personally.

Also nuclear isn’t a very cheap source of energy, even if you leave the political costs of it aside. So energy will get more expensive no matter what, even if you can generate enough of it.

My opinion is that the first step to get more energy is to optimize it’s use. Just compare the average water/energy consumptions of the typical American and the typical European (actually i can only talk for Germany here). For water Americans consume about 6 times as much as Germans and for energy the figures are even worse. I don’t know about China but would suspect that at least for energy the per capita consumption is even higher.

The way it worked here is by hurting people (financially :)) who waste energy, don’t recycle their trash, etc.
Another example is the high gas tax in Germany. That’s probably the only way you are going to get people to save energy. And it worked here so it is economically viable. I don’t want to praise Germany at all. I think much more will need to be done, but at least it’s a start.

Another thing you can do is grow food more locally. It’s absolutely insane that we demand that our food comes from all over the world (often not even because it only grows somewhere else but because of labour laws).

A lot more thinking by people smarter than me should be done. Of course I’m not saying that we shouldn’t develop other energy sources but I have the feeling that in debates the equation between rising energy consumption and the choice of energy source that will be needed to generate the power is too quickly made.

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101 Aug 28, 2006 at 14:05

Another thing that comes to my mind is to get away from a centralized energy grid. I have no figures but could imagine that a lot of energy is wasted this way. Allthough I’m sure that that will never happen. No company gains from people generating their own electricity.

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102 Aug 28, 2006 at 14:56

@anubis

Even if you assume that modern reactors are safe, there still is no way to dispose of the waste so far in a way that convinces me personally.

Put it under a mountain. Who’s negatively affected by that? There are natural radiation sources (even active nuclear reactions) in mines, that have been there for millions of years…

Also nuclear isn’t a very cheap source of energy, even if you leave the political costs of it aside. So energy will get more expensive no matter what, even if you can generate enough of it.

Actually fission energy is quite cheap. The cost of fusion energy however might be a considerable problem if they keep requiring the most exotic materials and manufacturing processes. Anyway, in the long run it should be very economical.

Of course I’m not saying that we shouldn’t develop other energy sources but I have the feeling that in debates the equation between rising energy consumption and the choice of energy source that will be needed to generate the power is too quickly made.

Even at current energy consumption levels, coal, oil and gas plants are not for long an option any more. So either way we need a new energy source or at least an economical and ecological solution that can help us bridge the next decades or centuries. There’s definitely a need for more energy efficient industry and consumer devices, but that’s not a long-term solution by itself. Once we have a good energy source for the future, we can put more focus on that aspect.

Back on topic, I’d just like to know how feasible ITER is exactly…

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101 Aug 28, 2006 at 15:16

Sadly, I have nothing to add to this conversation that’s my own brainchild (besides conjecture), but I suppose this bears asking:

I bet you’ve already looked, but have you checked out the WikiPedia article on ITER? It’s chock full of criticism’s and rebuttals to it, as well as a very verbose discussion page on the subject. It’s a very good read. I’m interested to see what’ll come of this.

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167 Aug 28, 2006 at 16:17

@Nick

The way I understand it, quantum vacuum can’t be used to produce usable energy. It’s like having a pair of magnets. They constantly pull (or push) each other, but they can’t be used to create continuous (perpetual) motion.

It’s possible this is the case, but I don’t think it’s been established yet. There are theoretical devices that can extract energy from the vacuum (example), although AFAIK they haven’t yet been built. Also, see this article about a recent attempt in the area that claims to have been successful (although no details are as yet forthcoming).

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101 Aug 28, 2006 at 16:40

The concept for vacuum energy is extremely simple. Pizoelectric metallic film produces an electric charge when pressure is applied. By using pizoelectric film to create tiny mirrors, one places two mirrors precisely parallel to one another, attaches wires to a capacitor, then places the apparatus in a near-perfect vacuum. This causes vacuum energy to exert pressure on the mirrors, which in turn produce a charge. Vacuum energy doesn’t work on charged mirrors… so the pressure goes away. The wires transmit the charge to the capacitor, and the cycle begins again. Energy has been produced in this way, but the problem is finding an efficient method of utilizing the concept.

In order to power a PC, for example, you’d need set of mirrors roughly the size of a football field, precisely parallel to eachother across their entire area… with roughly only 2 microns between the mirrors at every point.

Some sort of fractal crystal design or layered parallel network of mirrors will be required to compress the necessary surface area into a usable form.

Black holes will be created by scientists sometime in 2007.

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101 Aug 28, 2006 at 18:12

@Ooka

Black holes will be created by scientists sometime in 2007.

Good god that’s one ugly website. Doesn’t lend itself to credibility (I haven’t read the whole thing yet) when it looks so damned ugly.

Back to making my eyes bleed.

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101 Aug 28, 2006 at 18:58

True, its very ugly. And the author goes a little off the deep end at times. I’ll find a better link, random google pages tend to be relevant, but it doesnt guarantee readability.

Here we go.

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101 Aug 29, 2006 at 12:01

@Nick

Black holes require masses far greater than even that of the sun.

Not actually true (at least they think).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Micro_black_hole

Several people here do appear to be forgetting that fusion isn’t aneutronic. It produces a HELL of a lot of HIGHLY radioactive waste. Fortunately, though, its half-life is something like 20 years.
@”Anubis”

Even if you assume that modern reactors are safe, there still is no way to dispose of the waste so far in a way that convinces me personally.

Did you know that using modern re-processing methods (such as those used at sellafield in the UK) the radioactive waste will be safer than the uranium ore mined from the ground in around 1000 years. Takes a while but geological sotrage for 1000 years isn’t that ridiculous is it? Also one of the generation 4 fission reactor designs (Superphenix or IFR … both shutdown through environmentalist actions) actually transmutes the transuranic wastes to leave behind a product that is only dangerous for around 300 years. Thing is you can introduce waste products from other reactors and not only does it transmute them … it generates power from them too!

Personally im of the opinion we have this waste whatever we should be looking at ways to dispose of it carefully and gen 4 reactors such as IFR provide a far better way to do this. In the long term this is where we should be investing our money (well .. along with renewable projects such as using the bristol channel’s tidal range for generating up o 5% of the entire UK’s electricity).

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101 Aug 30, 2006 at 14:52

Put it under a mountain. Who’s negatively affected by that? There are natural radiation sources (even active nuclear reactions) in mines, that have been there for millions of years…

The groundwater maybe ? Also you may be able to find that mountain in America but here in Germany the land is too densely populated.

Once we have a good energy source for the future, we can put more focus on that aspect.

Assuming that we are somewhere around the global oil peak, energy consumption can not grow anymore in a few years. Basically that’s when you will have to consider saving huge amounts of energy in order to keep the economy running (growing that is). That in itself poses a giant problem because whatever energy source we are going to use for the nearer future it will cost huge amounts of investment to build up that energy infrastructure.

Did you know that using modern re-processing methods (such as those used at sellafield in the UK) the radioactive waste will be safer than the uranium ore mined from the ground in around 1000 years.

Do you know about the cancer rates around Sellafield ? Even countries like Norway have been complaining about contamination in the sea from Sellafield.

Another problem with nuclear energy I see is that you basically create a two class energy system. The current case of Iran shows this. Some people are going to allowed to use that form of energy and some are going to be excluded.

That is not to say that I don’t realize that nuclear might be the only option left at the end of the day.

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101 Aug 30, 2006 at 15:57

@anubis

Do you know about the cancer rates around Sellafield ? Even countries like Norway have been complaining about contamination in the sea from Sellafield.

TBH this is far more likely to be down to the gross incompetence of the people running the place. There discharges into the north sea are criminal and should never have happened even accidentally. So i do kind of agree with ya there. But, in this day and age, several other places can manage their radioactive waste well … and sellafield is managed far better these days. It is, however, still an issue. However, do you know how much radio active material coal power stations kick into the atmosphere everyday?

That is not to say that I don’t realize that nuclear might be the only option left at the end of the day.

Alas this is the reason i am pro it. I am also of the opinion that the more we invest the more we can improve the process and stop these issues arising.

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101 Aug 30, 2006 at 15:58

Iran shouldn’t have nuclear *anything* for more reasons than mere “fair distribution” problems.

It’s highly doubtful that nuclear energy will ever become a common source of energy, because of three things:

1.)It requires a high degree of sophistication to be used safely. Without that level of sophistication, expect the users to either be blown up (re: Chernobyl), or their society to die out from cancer and other radiation induced ills, within a few decades of beginning. Then, as all the maintenance folks have died out or grown extra arms and tusks, the reactor will blow up anyway. As far as long term radiation, well, someone will probably find a solution some day. The russian landscaping escapades kinda guarantee that it will be necessary.

2.)A high degree of sophistication in a society, not predominantly using nuclear power, will lead to research into more efficient, safe, and practical means of energy production. Nuke power has too much baggage for it to be considered a contender for long term energy production in any society that encourages research. It might be suitable for space stations, etc, as it does have a lot going for it… but there’s too many things that are too hard to fix on the surface of the planet.

3.)Economically, power plants at dams makes a whole lot more sense than nuclear reactors, as evidenced by China’s infrastructure. They’d use nuke power in a heartbeat if they felt it desirable, and they don’t have to work with political dissent. If nothing else, it makes a good baseline to rate economic viability of public works projects. If China does it, then it’s probably (relatively) cheap, efficient, and maintainable over a very long period of time.

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101 Aug 30, 2006 at 21:44

However, do you know how much radio active material coal power stations kick into the atmosphere everyday?

Right… that is actually a reason why I’m not totally against nuclear. I’m just don’t think it’s a great source of energy. Especially in Germany when the SPD, which used to be the workers party here and has especially strong roots in the coal industry in midwest Germany, announced that Germany is going to abandon nuclear, it was clear from the start that they hadn’t some alternative energy in mind but fosill fuel. How idiotic can one be. And the Green party ate it all up… well what can you do.

It’s highly doubtful that nuclear energy will ever become a common source of energy, because of three things: 1.)It requires a high degree of sophistication to be used safely.

It also requires a lot of trust in whoever is running your facilities and history shows that you can not trust humans with anything that has long term effects if there is a short term profit to be had.

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102 Aug 31, 2006 at 11:37

@Ooka

It requires a high degree of sophistication to be used safely.

Modern fission reactors are both simpler to maintain and safer. Also, don’t underestimate the intelligence of scientists and engineers in other nations.

…expect the users to either be blown up (re: Chernobyl)…

Chernobyl exploded because it used carbon as a moderator. No such reactor has been built since then.

It might be suitable for space stations, etc, as it does have a lot going for it…

No, it’s a recipe for apocalyptic disaster. If the rocket explodes on the way up, highly active radioactive material will spread around the entire globe. Reactors using safer fuel are too heavy.

Economically, power plants at dams makes a whole lot more sense than nuclear reactors, as evidenced by China’s infrastructure.

They’re flooding multiple valleys and have to displace a million people. You can’t just do this anywhere.

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101 Aug 31, 2006 at 13:09

Quote:
Economically, power plants at dams makes a whole lot more sense than nuclear reactors, as evidenced by China’s infrastructure.
They’re flooding multiple valleys and have to displace a million people. You can’t just do this anywhere.

Also you don’t want any of these dams to break :)

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101 Sep 01, 2006 at 04:42

@Nick

Modern fission reactors are both simpler to maintain and safer. Also, don’t underestimate the intelligence of scientists and engineers in other nations.

I wouldn’t overestimate it either. Less developed countries are more likely to take shortcuts and not follow adequate safety standards and correct working procedures in general.

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102 Sep 01, 2006 at 07:23

@juhnu

I wouldn’t overestimate it either. Less developed countries are more likely to take shortcuts and not follow adequate safety standards and correct working procedures in general.

This has more to do with politics and budget than the intelligence of scientists and engineers. There’s sufficient adequately trained personnel in every country using or considering to use nuclear energy. When Chernobyl went boom they were likely experimenting with the reactor’s capability of producing warhead charges, ordered by the military. There’s nothing preventing this from happening in say the U.S. if Bush wants a few extra nukes. Technically, the Three Miles Island accident was a far greater human error than Chernobyl, they were just lucky the consequences were smaller. According to Wikipedia, “The ‘positive feedback’ lamp in the control room indicating the true position of the valve was eliminated in original construction to save time”. So who’s more likely to take shortcuts again?

To prevent all this, we just need international regulations. Fission energy can be very safe and efficient if all countries, including the ones that ‘presumably’ are higher developed, follow all safety measures and get checked frequently by independent organizations. I bet the U.S. wouldn’t be too keen on having all their nuclear installations checked by European or even Russian safety teams. But this is the real problem that needs to be solved, technical problems are practically eliminated.

It’s also quite ironic that people are more afraid of nuclear accidents than dam breaks or natural disasters. They rather have a bigger chance of dying instantly than have a minute chance of getting their lives shortened a few years. :unsure: This is purely psychological, because radiation is an invisible enemy. Coal, oil or gas plants give you a greater overall chance of developing cancer, but somehow exhaust gas is considered a more combatable enemy. With the total melting of polar caps and generally imbalancing the atmosphere as the worldwide accepted risk. :blink:

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101 Sep 01, 2006 at 08:50

well, i think we have to reduce energy consumation at first.

so, get rid of all the p4 out there!! :D

but seriously, i think we can do very much there. illumination over led or other energy-saving lightsources, notebooks instead of computers where the power is not needed, economical cars, etc..

then.. for the resting needed energy, i’m happy to see first of all wind, water, etc to produce it, and for the rest, nuclear power plants.. i trust them. i have to. i have 3 of them surrounding me. if any of them blows up, i’d be dead as i’m in the closer region of those. so.. i have to trust them :D

but seriously, i trust every power plant made in switzerland, as i know they care a lot about the savety. what i don’t like is the fact that it was cheaper to build the thing out in france, and the greenpeace-fetishists where happy to not have a plant in switzerland.

now they built it directly besides switzerland in france, for half the price, and without following swiss standards. less save, and with all the other problems.

thanks greenpeacers.. you simply all suck. :D

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101 Sep 01, 2006 at 10:42

Erm Mr Perman … you do realise that the french are the most experienced nuclear reactor builders in the world. They are in front of even the US, by my understanding. I’d rather a french built nuclear reactor to one built in a country that has very little experience of building the things (ie Switzerland). Don’t let you patriotism get in the way of good sense.

Afterall the french have never had a nuclear reactor accident (to my knowledge at least)… unlike the swiss …

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101 Sep 01, 2006 at 15:14

hehe, sure.. working enough with french, german, and swiss people, _and_ knowing they built 2 reactors over there for half the price of the ONE planned here, it simply can’t be the same quality.. this was just a dump move, thanks to stupid anti-reactor-people.

i mean, where’s the savety difference between having a reactor in your country, or about 20km away from your country? this outsourcing didn’t helped anyone. and the resulting money-savements that went into those reactors _BECAUSE_ they do have less detailed restrictions on savety and all that in france, compared to swiss, just makes one scare wether the saved money is saved at the wrong place.

this has nothing to do with patriotism. i’m the least of those. but i know that moving something into a cheaper country with less rules on savety is not exactly a good thing.

still, i believe that it works out (i don’t want to have it not work out.. simply no.. :D)

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102 Sep 01, 2006 at 15:46

@Goz

…you do realise that the french are the most experienced nuclear reactor builders in the world.

Belgium had the first European reactor. :happy: Ok the French may have more reactors but they’re just a bigger country…

Afterall the french have never had a nuclear reactor accident (to my knowledge at least)… unlike the swiss …

La Hague, 1981, fire in a waste silo, severity 3 on the INES scale, but with environmental influence up to 6 km around the plant (thus underrated).

Belgium has only had two scale 2 incidents, best described as mere anomalies, with no endangerment inside or outside the plant.

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101 Sep 01, 2006 at 16:31

@davepermen

hehe, sure.. working enough with french, german, and swiss people, _and_ knowing they built 2 reactors over there for half the price of the ONE planned here, it simply can’t be the same quality.. this was just a dump move, thanks to stupid anti-reactor-people.

But the french build modular reactors. The mroe built of them the cheaper they are to make … so again i don’t think thats a workable argument.
@Nick

La Hague, 1981, fire in a waste silo, severity 3 on the INES scale, but with environmental influence up to 6 km around the plant (thus underrated).

I said “Reactor” accident ;)

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101 Sep 01, 2006 at 20:44

hehe, sure.. working enough with french, german, and swiss people, _and_ knowing they built 2 reactors over there for half the price of the ONE planned here, it simply can’t be the same quality.. this was just a dump move, thanks to stupid anti-reactor-people.

I’m reminded of a story from ye goode olde days, wherein the US and Russia were involved with the space race. Astronauts and cosmonauts needed to write in space, and without gravity, normal pens wouldn’t function. So the US took up the challenge, spent a million or so in research funding, and came out with a pen that wrote in space.

Russia used pencils.

More money, more research, and more time doesn’t necessarily mean better.

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101 Sep 02, 2006 at 09:57

I’m reminded of a story from ye goode olde days, wherein the US and Russia were involved with the space race. Astronauts and cosmonauts needed to write in space, and without gravity, normal pens wouldn’t function. So the US took up the challenge, spent a million or so in research funding, and came out with a pen that wrote in space.

Russia used pencils.

More money, more research, and more time doesn’t necessarily mean better.

Well… Russia just didn’t understand that the race to space was actually a race to get the most money out of tax payers pockets and into the industry.

It’s state subsidized economy. Tell everybody you need the money to go to Mars or build a big ass laser in space and ten years later… BANG… the Internet.

And now excuse me while I continue to enjoy my teflon pan. Now that’s cookware !

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101 Sep 02, 2006 at 18:24

@Ooka

Russia used pencils.

I’m sorry but that’s just plain old BS :lol:. You better not use pencils in space, you don’t want pieces to break off and float around in zero G, possibly shortcircuiting systems and choking crewmembers. Not to mention the high flamability.

Also, neither Nasa nor the Soviet Union space agencies invested any money in a space pen. Paul Fisher (the founder of Fisher Space Pen Co.) invested his own time and money in the research, trying to sell it to NASA (costing around $2 per pen). Funny thing was, NASA wasn’t interested in his space pen, but bought his “regular” pens (AG-7) instead (costing$4/pen). The Soviets also bought this regular pen. In later missions, they did use the space pen though.

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101 Sep 04, 2006 at 05:17

Hokay :P

The point of the story remains valid, despite the veracity, or lack therein, of the story itself.

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101 Oct 07, 2006 at 18:08

@Reedbeta

It’s possible this is the case, but I don’t think it’s been established yet. There are theoretical devices that can extract energy from the vacuum (example), although AFAIK they haven’t yet been built. Also, see this article about a recent attempt in the area that claims to have been successful (although no details are as yet forthcoming).

To my knowledge, scientists don’t really understand the nature of the universe at such a basic level (what makes the fabric of the universe). Thus, even if this were possible, would it be desirable to pull energy out of the vacuum? What if this destabilized the fabric of the universe itself?… Because surely, this energy has to come from somewhere.