Science interview with Dr. Alan Glasser on Transmit-Receive

Casey Doran has done an outstanding interview with Dr. Alan Glasser, one of the most brilliant minds working in the field of computational nuclear physics today.

…The fact that Dr. Glasser happens to be my father does not in any way prejudice me in making that claim.  🙂  Go here to listen to the episode!

In the interview, the two of them have a fascinating discussion about the state of nuclear fusion research, the future of energy, and the politics of support for the sciences in general.

You may remember Casey as the former producer of the Tacoma-based show Ask An Atheist, who also interviewed me after I appeared on the show in 2010.  He is apparently hard at work launching a new audio podcast which focuses on interviews and discussions about science and public policy.  Show him some support, will you?



  1. MAtheist says

    I’m sure you’re not biased at all, Russell. 😉

    Seriously though, I’ll give this a listen. It sounds quite interesting.

  2. DobermanGuy says

    Is a good listen. Goes from basic building blocks to to indepth discussion. Thanks. Im a former nuclear navy machinist mate, So i love listening about nuclear reactors and this discussion in general; as should everyone.

  3. piero says

    Fascinating interview. I knew fusion was hard to control, but I had no idea of the disadvantages associated with it.

    It was also quite amazing to hear of a five-generation atheist family. May you reach 1,000,000 generations and be the leaders of the Pangalactic Hypercouncil (whose first decree will be, of course, the free delivery of pangalactic gargleblasters to every household in the universe).

  4. mike says

    Very interesting interview, the potential energy involved with nuclear physics is just enormous, capialising on this should be a priority as it would greatly reduce our need for oil.

  5. John says

    Let me speak more of mind here…..need to throw more of my thoughts in.

    I now come to realizing that my former beliefs in the bible are based on mere illusions, deceptions and lies on such a grand scale that you got to break away from it all to see how mind bending ridiculous it is all is. even with my sub-par intelligence I have, I can still see the wackiness and how laughable the bible really is. I still can’t figure out how I could be deceived for so many years to believe and follow this stuff and defend this stuff with a straight face.

    I sometimes wonder why non-believers waste so much time debating this stuff……..because it seems you would you get so frustrated and angry that every good point you make is over-shadowed by irrationality and illogical arguments, and it’s sad that many people are defending the magic and the fantasy based stuff that is the in bible and yet these same people reject all sorts of other absurd claims.

    I say this and I say this boldly, the most ridiculous claim ever told by humans is none other then the infinite powerful God claim, think my non-believing friends, if such a being exists, a being with infinite magical abilities, then science becomes useless, this god could render every known law and change it with a mere command, this God could make life exist without there being a sun, a God could make us breath in space, a God could make us live on the sun if all it cared, and on and on we can go, and this God could make all other absurd claims that exist in this world come to pass simply because it has the magic power to do it and he himself would be unable to explain how he is able to do it…….this reason alone makes the infinite powerful God idea near impossible to exist.

    My friends, I feel for you, it must get frustrating to debate people who defend this stuff and you’re justified 10 fold to get angry and frustrated…..I feel for you and now I’m getting a small taste of the same medicine I once handed out myself……and boy, does it not taste well, LOL!

    Many of these religious people and those adhere to a religion are good people, but they’re simply misguided and deluded and let their emotions cloud their logical and rational brains. mankind needs to stop fighting each other, for I’ve seen to much pain and suffering in this world, I plead with humans to work together to do everything in their power to make the world have less issues and less suffering in it and more fairness and equality in it.

    There is so much we do not know, but so far all things have explanations to it and are brains are still too limited, and even the highest IQ people are still limited in brain capacity, but their are always answers even if we can’t pin point it…so far there is NO trace that real magic exists and at best if things appear to seem magical to us…. their is real explanations to it as with everything else thus far we know before it, and keep your eyes and ears opened because you never know when we’ll discover amazing things….I can only hope I live to see a grandiose discover that changes the world itself.

    I wish Peace For All!

  6. josh117 says

    Guys, I have some questions about the interview. While he might be an expert in nuclear fusion, it appears his knowledge of modern fission reactor technology is non-existent.

    Starting around 13:40

    “The existing [nuclear] power plants – all existing power plants – you must actively cool them […]”

    This is correct.

    “- in order to prevent the reaction from running away.”
    “The chain reaction.”
    “Yes. There is a fundamental property of these designs which is called I think a positive coefficient of reactivity which means that if you make it hotter then the rate of reaction increases.”

    This is dead wrong. I’ll stop transcribing by hand, but he continues talking while being completely wrong.

    Basically all modern light water reactors (the great majority of modern reactors) have a negative void coefficient, which means as it gets hotter the reaction slows down. (Ok, CANDUs may have a slight positive coefficient, but they’re an uncommon technology. And no Fukushima wasn’t a CANDU.) See:

    He mentioned by Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island. He got only 1 of the 3 right. Chernobyl did have a positive void coefficient, but no one in 50 years has ever made such a retarded reactor design. Fukushima and Three Mile Island did not, contrary to his explicit statements. Take Three Mile Island, for example:
    “Within eight seconds, control rods were inserted into the core to halt the nuclear chain reaction”

    Aka end of nuclear fission.

    “but the reactor continued to generate decay heat and,”

    Fission ended, and thus the negative void coefficient thus became irrelevant. However, the fission products are unstable and spontaneously decay (not fission), generating heat. This is what requires cooling in the event of an emergency when fission is shut down. The byproducts eventually decay away to stability, but in the meantime this does produce a lot of heat, and there’s no way to “turn it off”. If you don’t constantly cool the fission products, then the heat builds up, and the heat is so intense that it can melt the fuel cladding, melt the reactor walls, and get out.

    I’m too lazy to whip up one of the official reports for Fukushima, but it’s the same. As soon as the automatic sensors detected an earthquake, the control rods were inserted, and fission stopped dead. The heat from the decay of the fission products is the difficult part to deal with.

    Also, he claims all current fission reactors have fundamental flaws. That’s curious considering nuclear (fission) power is by far the safest and greenest energy choice available. Less people have died from nuclear ever (excluding Chernobyl which doesn’t count for various reasons) than from a single coal mine accident. New designs, such as IFR and LFTR might make it even the cheapest too.

    Finally, he ignores various other possible fission designs, such as IFR and LFTR, which have fundamentally different (and better) safety characteristics. It is very sad indeed to see a supposed expert lump mostly unrelated technologies together and ignorantly dismiss them all. See for additional information.

  7. josh117 says

    I have to post a minor correction / addition. All in use nuclear fission reactors have a negative temperature coefficient of reactivity. Most reactors also have a negative void coefficient of reactivity. CANDU’s have a positive void coefficient of radioactivity.

    In laymen’s terms, all modern reactors produce less energy as they get hotter. However, if a void forms in CANDU, such as the heavy water boiling, then the reactivity will go up in the CANDU because of its positive void coefficient. Still, it’s quite manageable and safe.