By Dr. Wilson Greatbatch
Dr. Wilson Greatbatch giving a presentation about the energy source of the future, Helium-3.
Clarence, New York (mea) One of the most prominent scientists of the 20th century, Dr. Wilson Greatbatch, has contributed the following article to the international discussion "War or no war in Iraq". The 83-year old scientist is the inventor of the pacemaker, which has saved lives of millions of people, and he holds copyright to numerous other inventions. He is still engaged in research and takes part in this vital political debate of our time. The article was published in the Buffalo News on March 9, 2003. He writes:
"I like President George W. Bush. I value the friendship I have with his father. I served with his father in WW II. I was a rear gunner in dive-bombers, flying off the USS Monterrey. George Bush was a torpedo plane pilot flying off our sister ship (the USS San Jacinto). They were part of a couple of dozen fast, light "CVL" aircraft carriers, which helped turn the tide in the South Pacific. I have since visited George Bush at his wife's estate in Kennebunkport, ME.
I did not disapprove of our part in WWII. We were attacked by "an evil empire" and we responded quickly and massively.
I did not disapprove of George Bush's Gulf War. Again, we were attacked by "an evil empire" and we responded quickly and massively.
But this time it is different. We are being asked to declare war on a puny ineffective adversary whom we will crush in days and he can only hurt us through acts of terrorism against which we can probably defend ourselves without going to full scale war. In fact, the economic effects of going to full-scale war could be more damaging to our economy than the acts of terrorism. So what is this war about?
I cannot believe that we would have so many troops in the Middle East if we were not concerned about their dominance in our oil supply. In fact I wonder if we would have any troops there at all if their oil were suddenly worthless. This clarifies both the problem and the solution.
By 2050 AD we will have run out of all the economically recoverable fossil fuels (we will still have coal, if we are willing to put up with the greenhouse gases). Also, all alternative sources of energy, like water power, solar power, tidal power, wind power, geothermal power, and wood will not be sufficient to supply more than 10% of the energy which will be needed by the 20 billion people that will be on earth at that time. We will be out of energy and forced to seek a new source. That source will be helium-3 nuclear fusion.
Helium-4 is the gas that is put in kid's balloons. It has four heavy particles, two protons and two neutrons. Helium-3 is a rare isotope of helium-4, which has only one neutron. If two helium-3 nuclei are combined (fused) into one helium-4 nucleus, a neutron from each helium-3 goes into one helium-4. Also, two protons from one helium-3 go into the helium-4, completing it. The remaining two protons from the last helium-3 nucleus tears out of the reactor about 10 million electron-volts and proceeds (at about one tenth of the speed of light) until it is slowed down and has its energy removed by our "direct electric conversion" module.
This reaction is unique because the fuel is non-radioactive, the process is not permanently radioactive, and the residue, helium-4, is non-radioactive. It is a perfect fuel. But ..the reaction takes place at a temperature hotter than the surface of the sun. And ..there is practically no helium-3 on Earth.
Helium-3 comes to us from the Sun, on the solar wind. It cannot penetrate the magnetic field around the Earth so it eventually lands on the Moon, as it has for the last 4 billion years. We just have to go there and get it. A single shuttle-load (25 tons) would run the whole US energy requirements for a whole year. This energy will be so cheap that we could practically give it away to third world countries, certainly at a cost commensurate with their own economics, and far cheaper than maintaining an army in the Middle East. If oil were worthless, except as chemical feedstock, the Arabs would have to go back to raising camels, rather than bombing us.
The Nuclear Fusion Institute at the University of Wisconsin in Madison has succeeded in making the fusion reaction work (admittedly at a very low level) and we here in Buffalo are working on direct electrical conversion of the relativistic proton stream to a more useable electron current. We are presently offering dinner meetings to area professional societies to explain the reaction and our suggested applications of it for space travel. We call the presentation "To Mars on a Weekend".
At the turn of the century, Buffalo was the world center of energy, with Niagara Falls coming on line. Between the two world wars, Buffalo was the world center of aviation. We think we can do it again with helium-3 power and space travel, and maybe solve some international problems along the way.
But, if we want to accomplish it by 2050AD, we had better start now.
Pacemaker Inventor. Fellow, NY Academy of Sciences"
Helium-3 Fusion Energy: A National Imperative by 2050 AD,
by Wilson Greatbatch, FAAAS, PE