Many folks would like to see us back on the Moon and developing its resources.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Astrofuel�Energy Source of the Future:
Astrofuel—Energy Source of the Future

Air Cmde (Dr.)C.N. Ghosh, Senior Fellow, IDSA

Currently India’s oil consumption is around 84 million tonnes (m.t) per year as against the production of 33 m.t. India’s domestic production will touch 37 m.t by the end of the Ninth Plan period. On the other hand, a sustained GDP growth of 6 per cent will enhance the oil consumption to the tune of 275 m.t by the year 2020. The Times of India wrote on August 23 that India is talking to international partners to establish a gas pipeline through Pakistan from Iran despite the present thorny Indo-Pak relations. How India is to break the ice of the present political impasse with an intransigent Pakistan is not known. A long distant hope of generation of goodwill and a desperate need for a secure energy source may have driven Indian policy makers to make such a move. But a comparatively green political scientist would come to a better conclusion. This step is nothing but anxiety driven. The concern for energy security looms large over the Indian psyche. Natural gas reserves of India are placed at 660 billion cubic meters (bcm). India is not an importer of natural gas at present but it will start soon. By 2002 India is expected to import about 2.2 billion cubic meters of natural gas which would increase to 25.5 bcm by 2010.1 The Indian desire for a pipeline through Pakistan is understandable.

Astrofuel is not merely a subject for scientific curiosity, it will have a major impact on industries of the US and other participating countries. Billions of dollars will be required for research and development. Implementation of use of Astrofuel on Earth will require many technologies to be created. Foremost among them are super conducting magnets, plasma control and diagnostics, robotically controlled mining equipment, life support facilities, rocket launch vehicle, telecommunications, power electronics etc. Though the investment seems to be astronomical, but if compared to the benefit derived, the justification will be more than adequate. For example, the amount of coal required to generate 1,000 MW of electricity will be the effort equivalent of half a gallon of Astrofuel per day. And since fusion plants emit no ash or particles, electrostatic precipitation equipment would be unnecessary. US industries have got a head start to use the Persian Gulf of the 21st century to make it a reality. The commercial viability is enormous. Apart from US requirement it is estimated that an additional quantity of 75 to 100 tons of the fuel would be required for the rest of the world. At an average cost of 1 billion dollars a ton, US industries should be able to scoop up an equivalent whopping sum at that point of time when the fossil fuel will be really scarce i.e by the late 2030s. By that time the world will be energy hungry in real terms.


"The technology to harness He3 energy source is an on-going process in the laboratories of the US universities. Miniaturisation of the He3 driven reactors would have immense dimension in the future ultra new world order. The Kursk tragedy will be forgotten, never to be repeated by an errant Torpedo. This safe energy could propel submarines, ships and airships for unlimited periods. Dimensions of such a fantasy may overtake Jules Verne but could be transformed into reality.

Indian self-sufficiency in the energy sector is a distant dream. The Planning Commission in its report has very clearly established the gap between the demand and supply, but could not give a satisfactory answer how this huge gap could be bridged. Although oil and gas supplies are in abundance in the world, but what could happen 15 years hence is anybody's guess. India will have to form an alliance for energy security. Will India be in a position to engage Pakistan in an useful dialogue in an area of mutual concern to secure energy source and have greater access to Central Asia? Complication of India's energy security interest will arise and at a not too distant future because the US will gradually disengage herself from the Middle East and look elsewhere for its energy requirement. Could Astrofuel be one of them? Indian dependence on energy source will increase rapidly and it would be better for Indian scientists and energy security analysts to analyse this unconventional source and secure a place for India before it is too late.

The time is ripe enough for India to take up the Moon Treaty.27 The Treaty of December 18, 1979 is collecting dust over the last twenty years. It has to be debated upon by all the UN members and to be ratified. India will find many willing participants if it decides to take a lead. Article 1128 of the treaty adequately covers the interests of the entire world community where it states that " The Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind, which finds its expression in the provisions of this agreement. And the moon is not subject to national appropriation by any claim of sovereignty, by use or occupation, or by other means." Americans will not be amused but it will not be difficult to convince the world body.


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