Dr Julian Cook's science laboratory

04-04-11

PEOPLE are terrified of nuclear reactors again. As always this is based on ignorance, but in reality we have nothing to fear. And that’s because reactors are a lot like Duran Duran.

Very bad for the sea

The workers at Fukushima are having an awful time with their radioactive chemicals. My ‘O’ level chemistry teacher was a brilliant man who inspired many a young buck in his day, but present him with an overhead projector and he became a senile old fool. That’s the problem with nuclear fission: professors can lecture you silly about iodine but if you try to get one to operate the Sky Plus remote, they become orang-utans who’ve been given a gram of ketamine and instructed to send a text message.

Back in the 1980s, I could almost have been a member of Duran, with my frequent trips to the Far East and the real love I felt for Jane Fonda. It was around this time I was lucky enough to visit one of the earliest nuclear fusion reactors. Before it had been finished, I put my ear to one end and asked my friend Dr Bussard to sing Save a Prayer down it. I don’t know what it was about that vacuum chamber but he sounded magical – like the real thing. I knew then that fusion was special and fission was yesterday’s news.

As a fission reactor, Fukushima is like Simon Le Bon. He’s been forcing himself upon us for decades and brings with him all manner of suspicious sounding items such as uranium. All this time, we thought it was best for us. But then we thought about nuclear fusion and saw it was just like Nick Rhodes. It’s a much more appealing alternative: safer yet fancier – and no dye in its beard. Nuclear fusion doesn’t need Le Bon’s hazardous baggage.  All it needs is deuterium.

And what’s deuterium? Well, if you’ve ever scoffed ‘stupid dirty sea! I can’t drink you! You claimed Shelley Winters and cover birds in crude oil’ then you’ll be pleased to hear that the sea is full of useful deuterium.  Aside from making Dr Bussard sound stupendous; the fusion reactor also fuses deuterium to release power.

So if you thought you could get along without Nick Rhodes just like you could without the sea, think again. There could even be a future for him in nuclear physics. I know a certain fusion-loving professor from Manchester whose eminent career began when he too tinkled his ivories and wowed audiences with beguiling haircuts. I’m sure he’d provide some gentle coaching to Rhodes, should he ever question his career move.  I know he was a rock for Professor Brian May.

Imagining Duran Duran without keyboards is ghastly enough. If we don’t embrace nuclear fusion, we’ll soon be listening to them without electricity and then we’ll see who’s dancing in the sand?  

Dr Julian Cook is a senior research fellow at the Institute for Studies
 

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