Fossil fuels are running out. To replace them, we would need to build an atomic reactor every day for 20 years, but nuclear is still the only energy source that could come close to meeting our current needs. Japan shut down all of its nuclear power plants in the wake of the Fukushima disaster†, but has had to fill the gap in its grid with imported gas and oil. Italians have rejected homegrown atomic energy for 22 years, but get more of their electricity from abroad than anyone else, most of it from French nuclear plants. To keep your energy supply secure and cheap, take matters into your own hands.
It’s easier than you might think. In 1994, 17-year-old David Hahn of Michigan, USA, used what he learned in school textbooks to set off a radioactive chain reaction in his mother’s backyard. The police arrested him and buried the family’s highly irradiated garden shed, but Hahn has left instructions online for making your own reactor out of smoke detectors, aluminum foil, nail-polish remover and a fishbowl.
Last year, Richard Handl, 32, tried to make a nuclear reactor in his flat in Stockholm, Sweden, using glow-in-the-dark fingers from old alarm clocks. When the saucepan full of clock fingers, smoke detectors, acid and beryllium exploded on the stove, he e-mailed the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority to check if what he was doing was legal. It wasn’t. He was arrested. Keep your reactor secret.
Minor meltdowns foiled the plans of Hahn and Handl, but you can avoid such dangers by attempting nuclear fusion. Fusion reactors use different physics from normal nuclear reactors, with massive benefits. They won’t explode, and the waste they create is harmless after only three centuries instead of over 100. What’s more, they run on deuterium gas, and there is enough of that in the world’s oceans to keep us going, theoretically, until long after the Sun burns out. Unfortunately, no fusion reactor has been developed that can create more energy than it uses to run. For 60 years, scientists have been building fusion reactors, trying to tip this balance, while enthusiasts worked on their personal reactors at home.
Fusion reactions create temperatures up to 40 million degrees Celsius, so you’ll need help if you want to make a reactor that won’t melt. Among the 32 “fusioneers” of Fusor.net who have built their own, look up Doug Coulter. For the past three decades, Doug has been pursuing “a personal freedom thing,” living in a shack in Virginia, USA, powered with solar panels and crammed with over 50 guns. For Doug, his fusion reactor is central to a lifelong quest for self-sufficiency. “I don’t want the end of the world to happen,” he says, “but I want to be ready in case it does.”
† Contrary to popular belief, cockroaches would not survive a nuclear holocaust. In US tests exposing cockroaches to radioactive cobalt, they all died after only 30 days.
How to get rid of your nuclear waste
Before handling used nuclear fuel, dress appropriately. The atomic reaction might be slowing down, but it’s still emitting dangerously high levels of gamma radiation. Borrow a lead-lined apron and gloves from your local hospital’s x-ray department.
With a long-handled shovel, transfer your nuclear fuel (that’s the bit that’s glowing blue) into a swimming pool. Under 2.4 meters of water, the fuel’s radiation will be contained, but you’ll need to keep the pool filter on for six years to cool it down.
Dig a 300-meter-deep hole. Throw the cooled fuel down there, along with your homemade reactor, shovel, lead-lined clothing, and the water from the swimming pool. Fill in the hole.
It will be at least 10,000 years before your nuclear waste is safe for any living creature to touch, so leave a warning sign. Language will be unrecognizeable by then, so maybe start off drawing jagged shapes – people naturally dislike forms with sharp edges.