From a young, award-winning scientist, a “thoughtful and illuminating” (Nature) look at one of the most compelling and historic turning points of our time—the race to harness the power of the stars and produce controlled fusion, creating a practically unlimited supply of clean energy.
The most important energy-making process in the universe takes place inside stars. The ability to duplicate that process in a lab, once thought impossible, may now be closer than we think. Today, teams of scientists around the world are being assembled by the boldest entrepreneurs, big business, and governments to solve what is the most difficult technological challenge humanity has ever faced: building the equivalent of a star on earth. If their plans to capture star power are successful, they will unlock thousands, potentially millions, of years of clean, carbon-free energy.
Not only would controlled nuclear fusion help solve the climate crisis, it could also make other highly desired technological ambitions possible—like journeying to the stars. Given the rising alarm over deterioration of the environment, and the strides being made in laser and magnetic field technology, powerful momentum is gathering behind fusion and the possibilities it offers.
In The Star Builders, award-winning young plasma physicist Arthur Turrell “offers an optimistic outlook for the future of fusion power and is adamant about the need to invest in it” (The New York Times). Turrell describes fascinating star machines with ten times as many parts as the NASA Space Shuttle, and structures that extend over 400 acres in an accessible and entertaining account, spotlighting the individuals, firms, and institutions racing for the finish line: science-minded entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel, companies like Goldman Sachs and Google, universities like Oxford and MIT, and virtually every rich nation.
It’s an exciting and game-changing international quest that will make all of us winners.
In an impressively reported debut, plasma physicist Turrell surveys the global development of nuclear fusion as an energy source. The idea of harnessing the power of stars on Earth has for decades, Turrell writes, "captivated scientists, governments, billionaires, entrepreneurs, celebrities, a pornography magnate, and even a few dictators." He details competing efforts to arrive at nuclear fusion a process whereby the nuclei of atoms are combined at extreme temperatures and pressures to produce energy with less radioactive waste than fission among them the American government-funded National Ignition Facility, with the "world's biggest and highest energy laser"; the Joint European Torus in the U.K.; and programs in Germany and China, plus a slew of start-ups. Turrell shares in the hope of the scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs who are sure that fusion will be able to produce a large portion of the planet's energy in the relatively near future, allowing for a switch from fossil fuels. Though the subject matter is complex, interviews with key players and accessible descriptions keep things moving along. Readers will find plenty of answers and optimism about the future of fusion here.