Have you heard the news? If you haven’t… it’s kind of a big deal. If you want to read about the breakthrough that was just made in achieving nuclear fusion in a lab, here’s an NPR article with way more detail than I’ll go into in a simple blog post.

If you don’t want to take NPR’s word for it, here’s some of what I understand…

What is nuclear fusion? Well, in a nutshell, that’s how the sun does its thing. The reason the sun (and every other star in the known universe) is able to remain an active ball of explosive fire is because of fusion. Basically, what’s happening inside the sun is that hydrogen atoms are slamming into each other and fusing together to form helium. When those atoms fuse together it expends an incredible amount of energy. After billions of years… trillions of years… stars run out of those explosive atoms and no longer have anything volatile enough to be worth fusing, resulting in those stars collapsing in on themselves and going supernova or becoming black holes. Or both? I don’t know… I could be making this up as I go. Feel free to fact check me in the comments.

Anyway, to achieve nuclear fusion here on earth is a huge deal. For scientists to come forward now, after working for decades to achieve this result, means that they have finally been able to replicate the activity found inside a star. They were able to get more energy out of the process than they put into it. Granted, it wasn’t much more energy than was put in… but it’s certainly a start.

And to say that this is a big deal is really an understatement. I’ve heard people calling it one of the biggest breakthroughs of the 21st century. I’d probably go so far as to call it one of the biggest breakthroughs in all of human history. I mean, there’s the discovery of fire… then there’s this.

Okay, hyperbole aside, what does this mean moving forward? Because the fact of the matter is, if nuclear fusion is sustainable and can be replicated, it could mean the end of our reliance on fossil fuels for energy on this planet. It could mean cheap and nearly limitless energy for all. Not tomorrow, of course. This one breakthrough, as I said earlier, is just the start. We are likely still decades away from achieving a fusion generator in every major city. Or, better yet, a Mr. Fusion home generator that can be fueled with garbage. Yes, that is a Back to the Future Part II reference.

But it’s exciting to think that fusion power could be a reality in my lifetime. And if I had an optimistic view of mankind, I might actually believe it will happen. But I have little to no faith in humanity.

Because here’s the rub… We are a nation addicted to oil and coal. We are addicted to the fossil fuels that are choking the life out of our planet. It doesn’t matter that climate change is happening at a rate that was unforeseen half a century ago. The catastrophic consequences of continuing to utilize these fossil fuels pale in comparison to governments and corporate greed that keep us addicted to fossil fuels.

So someone comes along and says they’ve cracked the code on clean, cheap, abundant energy. Someone says that we are mere decades away (less if we make another major breakthrough) from making oil and coal obsolete. What would that do to the BPs and Exxons of the world? Would the ultra-wealthy elite allow such a thing to happen?

Have you heard the story about Nicolai Tesla and his possible discovery of free wireless electricity? Look… I wasn’t there and I haven’t researched this thing to know if it’s a true story or if it’s some conspiracy level nonsense. But if there’s truth to it, it’s certainly something that makes sense. Tesla discovers this potential source of energy that could be distributed globally. Then he shares his discovery with the wealthy individuals who have been funding his research. Of course they tell him to drop it because why would they fund research that would lead to giving free energy to everyone in the world? What profit is there in free and abundant energy?

Again, whether that Tesla story is true or not, I don’t know. Frankly, I don’t care. Because even if it’s made up, it’s a cautionary tale of what very well could happen once we begin moving toward nuclear fusion as an energy source and away from fossil fuels. Because what profit is there in cheap, abundant energy? Why would corporations that fund government programs that keep us hooked on oil ever get behind such a beneficial new technology? Because it’s saving the world? Yeah… right. What profit is there in saving the world?

I know… so pessimistic. But it all reminds me of a movie that came out back in 1996 called Chain Reaction. If you ask me, this is an underrated gem in Keanu Reeves’ filmography. It’s also got Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, and Fred Ward. It’s directed by the same guy who directed The Fugitive and has a very Fugitive-esque vibe to it. Anyway, the plot revolves around the successful discovery of a hydrogen-based energy source that basically comes from using the hydrogen found in water to create electricity. I don’t think they refer to it as fusion (been a long time since I’ve seen this one), but it is intended to be a cheap and abundant form of energy. People are killed, others are framed, excitement ensues… all because there are people who want to keep a lid on this cheap hydrogen energy deal.

I’m sure the real story behind nuclear fusion and the road to clean energy won’t be as dramatic as all that. But I am certain that greedy individuals will stop at nothing to keep that revenue flowing.


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