Dec 14, 2022

Bill Nye Explains Why Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough is a Big Deal Transcript

Bill Nye Explains Why Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough is a Big Deal Transcript
RevBlogTranscriptsBill NyeBill Nye Explains Why Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough is a Big Deal Transcript

US scientists at the National Ignition Facility successfully produced a nuclear fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain. Science educator Bill Nye explains why this is such a big breakthrough. Read the transcript there.

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Alison (00:00):

US scientists making a huge breakthrough. A source tell CNN that for the first time ever, researchers have been able to create energy from a fusion reaction. Now Laura, I could explain all of this in great detail of course.

Laura (00:12):


Alison (00:13):

But basically it’s a giant step towards a clean energy future without dependence on fossil fuels.

Laura (00:20):

‘Nuff said, that’s the end of the show-

Alison (00:21):

That’s all you need to know.

Laura (00:22):

[inaudible 00:00:23] The Department of Energy is expected to officially announce the breakthrough in just a few hours. But here to help explain to us all, CNN Chief Climate Correspondent Bill Weir and science educator, Bill Nye, host of the End is Nye. Let me begin with you, Mr. Nye, on this point because although Allison and I clearly know everything about nuclear fusion-

Alison (00:44):

If you have any questions Bill.

Laura (00:45):

Feel free to ask us any questions you might have. But could you just explain for those of us who don’t know how, this is such a miraculous occurrence.

Bill Nye (00:54):

So I’ll ask you a question. Do you know that the sun is a continuous fusion reaction [inaudible 00:01:02]-

Laura (01:01):


Alison (01:03):


Laura (01:03):

Of course.

Bill Nye (01:03):

Do you really, or not? So a nuclear weapon can be like we had to terminate World War II, we’re splitting very large atoms apart, gave off tremendous amount of energy. But there’s another amazing thing that happens in nature where you smash tiny, tiny parts of atoms together, protons, and they fuse and convert a tiny amount of their mass into energy, into heat, heat and light. And that was the mythic hydrogen bomb. But for all this time, for 80 years, people have trying to tried to get this idea where you could do it in a controlled fashion using a tiny amount of material. And the material would be hydrogen that has an extra neutron, which has this mount marvelous word, deuterium. And then if it has two extra neutrons, that’s tritium.

So using lasers they zap this container, this whole rum, this gold thing with the deuterium in it and the lasers create x-rays and the x-rays create constructively interfering shock waves that get the thing to fuse without a giant magnetic bottle and without the gravity of a star. So this is the first time, by all accounts, they’ve gotten more heat out than they put in. And this is amazing. And there’s, as far as I know in the reporting the last few days, no one’s mentioned that Enrico Fermiand his colleagues in University of Chicago did the first chain reaction, which led to all the nuclear power plants we have now, on December 2nd, 1942. So, it’s quite a little chin stroke that it’s very close to 80 years later to the day that this breakthrough occurred.

So you guys, if this would work, if this is a harbinger, if this is really the beginning of something huge, it would change the world.

Laura (03:17):

Thank you for explaining that to Alison.

Alison (03:18):

Well, no, no, I mean I was going to say all of that. But Bill Weir, tell us what we need to know.

Bill Weir (03:24):

Bill just did.

Alison (03:25):

In addition to that.

Bill Weir (03:26):

And he won you over with dates at the [inaudible 00:03:28].

No, it’s a star in a box. This is the whole idea. This is why nuclear physicists have been salivating on this idea forever. It’s taking a star and putting it in a box on earth and tapping that energy that goes forever. It’s what Ironman has in his chest.

Alison (03:44):

Now we understand.

Bill Weir (03:45):

It’s this endless clean energy machine. And the appeal of it is you don’t have any nuclear waste, there’s no fallouts, there’s no accidents. We don’t have to drill or mine for fuel anymore because the fuel is seawater. We have 30 million years of seawater theoretically to feed these machines.

But what Bill was describing there, these 200 lasers aimed at what is essentially a peppercorn of hydrogen, a long way from there to where you can plug in your house to this stuff. This is for our grandkids probably as a meaningful technology. Bill, maybe you’re more optimistic than I am about how fast this takes. In the meantime, there’s all this incredible breakthroughs that are happening with wind and solar and more will go online next five years than went online in the last 20. So it’ll be interesting to see how this news is received by those who say, we should be putting our billions of dollars into the technology we know works today and getting off oil and gas ASAP, and then maybe saving life as we know it before we go for these amazing moonshots. But at the same time, the promise of this private money’s going to chase public after this and so this could be a brave new world

Laura (04:57):

Bill, do you think that it could be in our grandchildren’s lifetime, could it be continually sooner?

Bill Nye (05:04):

Absolutely. I mean, so I just think about how quickly people went from discovering chain reactions, the Szilard crossing the street in 1928 and they had this idea and then just two decades later we had nuclear power plants. Well, this could be the beginning of something amazing. So everybody, this expression, H2O, water, there’s no shortage of hydrogen. Man. If we can find a way to make this happen continuously, what you’d do is capture the heat and almost certainly capture the heat, boil water, and make steam and run a turbine just as we do now in a coal-fired plant or a natural gas fired plant or a nuclear plant, using fission. So it’s really an exciting thing and it shows you the value of just investing, you just invest in basic research. There is no right answer. And I got to say, Bill, to me it’s don’t make me pick. We don’t want to have to pick.

Alison (06:07):

It’s true.

Bill Nye (06:07):

Well, but really, and because the climate situation is so serious, we want to do, as I like to say, everything all at once. We want to develop wind and solar. We want to develop this fusion technology if it’s possible. You may know NIMBY, not in my backyard, we want to avoid BANANA, build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything. We can’t do that either. We have to [inaudible 00:06:37]. We have to build power lines. It’s going to have to go through somebody’s right of way. We’ve got to find ways to distribute electricity and include everybody in a future so that we have a higher quality of life for more people on earth. And we can avoid having catastrophic climate consequences. This is one more piece in the puzzle. Invest, invest, invest.

And plus, people, I was born in the US I don’t know any better. So I want the US to lead in this technology. I don’t want to be catching up with researchers in other parts of the world, who are fine people.

Alison (07:15):


Bill Nye (07:18):

… and [inaudible 00:07:17] colleagues, but I want as a US citizen and patriot I [inaudible 00:07:19] back to you.

Alison (07:20):

A proud American. You make a great point. You make a great point Bill. And I mean this is such a great story. So often, Bill, we have you on and it’s really discouraging climate news and it’s catastrophic in fact. And this is such a hopeful, exciting story. So thank you both for explaining it so well to us. Really great job.

Bill Nye (07:41):

Let us fellow taxpayers and voters, let’s invests, change the world. Thank you.

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