Let there be light – A documentary on Fusion power
At a time when people are looking for clean and efficient forms of energy the mention of anything nuclear may immediately be discarded as outdated and indeed as the opposite of the desired goal of a kind of energy that doesn’t harm the environment. Of course, when people think nuclear power, they think of fission, the procedure to release energy by which an atom is broken up which relies on radioactive fuel. However, there is another procedure which has been around for billions of years in all stars, including our sun: fusion, a process by which multiple atoms combine to create a single, more massive atom. The resulting atom has a slightly smaller mass than the sum of the masses of the original atoms. The difference in mass is released in the form of energy during the reaction, according to the Einstein formula E = mc2, where E is the energy in joules, m is the mass difference in kilograms, and c is the speed of light (approximately 300,000,000 or 3 x 108 meters per second). Fusion doesn’t rely on radioactive fuel. Therefore, it is environmentally safe. The most typical case of fusion is the merging of hydrogen nuclei to form helium nuclei. Fusion is the process that occurs in the interiors of stars.
There is a catch though: fusion is a complicated and costly procedure. That, however, hasn’t discouraged scientists and even some amateur enthusiasts of fusion to embark on the quest for what could be an inexhaustible source of energy. Governments have been paying attention to fusion since the times of the Cold War, with both the then Soviet Union and the United States trying to develop the technology and build devices able to produce and garner energy from fusion.
The current most serious project centred on fusion takes place in southern France, where scientists from 37 countries have created what can be characterized as a sort of “artificial sun” on Earth. The idea was to build a particle collider, a unique device where the particles launched at an extreme speed would create fusion.
This extremely sophisticated—and costly—installation is highlighted in Mila Aung-Thwin’s documentary “Let There Be Light” recently released in Montreal. But not only that big project funded by many countries is presented in the film, inventors working out their garages and some entrepreneurs who have even managed to get some big investors are also featured in the movie. The work of two brilliant scientists is also presented: Mark Henderson, a plasma physicist, and Michel Laberge, an ace-printer technician who started his own company General Fusion, for which he has managed to get some investments from Silicon Valley and the Malaysian government.
The film director admits to not knowing much about physics at the beginning of the project, but soon became deeply fascinated by the idea: “basically we did most of our learning in the film while filming.”
“I love science, but I also love science fiction. And fusion seems to have a history of not knowing which of those categories it belongs to. There is a long history of wishful thinking, of self-delusion, even fraud. People call it the Holy Grail of energy and so, people get obsessed, and others dismiss it. To me that made it even more fascinating” says Aung-Thin.
“Let There Be Light” is shown at Cinema du Parc (3575 Park Avenue).