by Viktor SINYAVSKY, Dr. Sc. (Technology), and Vladimir YUDITSKY, Cand. Sc. (Technology), Applied R&D Company Ltd. (Korolyov, Moscow Region)
It is well over forty years since the launching of the first artificial satellite of the earth. Today even a dyed-in-the wool skeptic won't query the benefits of space research for TV and computer networks, geological surveying, cartography and all. Most sophisticated electronic hardware and lots of other things are inconceivable without materials obtained in orbit. But what about another challenge and menace-the global energy pinch? Here, too, outer space may help us over the hump.
The available reserves of the most effective fuels, gas and oil, are limited enough and can satisfy mankind's demands for just a few decades. Broader use of coal, another common fuel, is fraught with ecological hazards. Hydraulic power stations cannot solve the outstanding problems either.
Nuclear energy has seemed to be a way out: atomic power stations are capable of supplying any amount of heat and electricity. But they are not sure-fire either, what with a radioactive background exceeding the cosmic radiation level, the risk of grave accidents (recall the Chernobyl disaster of 1986!). And last but not least, the radioactive waste disposal.(*)
In the opinion of many experts, thermonuclear power can be the best option. True, we are still on the initial leg of our work toward controlled nuclear fusion. Today we are examining in good earnest the possibility of building a reactor capable of fusing deuterium and tritium (D/T) nuclei, a process resulting in a release of considerable energy (17.6 MeV). But even this version does not save us from tritium-induced radioactivity and, which is still worse, from neutrons as a byproduct of the reaction. However, we can minimize that in a thermonuclear reaction involving deuterium and a helium isotope with an atomic weight equal to 3 (e). Then we shall obtain an alpha- particle and a proton with a total ... Read more