TECHNOLOGICAL BREAKTHROUGHS start not with a big bang but a whimper. Our lives are busy, events are fleeting and so all too often discoveries are made in laboratories, improved on in small workshops and so the world finds it has changed.
Discoveries of the last 50 years have had such dramatic effects that they have come to define ages and even redefine nations.
Estonia went from a post-Soviet backwater, burning oil shale, to becoming a communication superpower when Skype was launched.
Sweden and Finland for a time were the go-to centres for cellular telephones, essential in such sparsely populated countries.
Taiwan is home of consumer electronics, South Korea of assembly line shipbuilding.
We were here once. Scottish engineers pioneered a new age of industry and humanity when they made carbon our slave. Slavery collapsed, cities mushroomed, the miracle on the Clyde and the Mersey and the Thames created modern Britain.
We are on the edge of a new age. Carbon is becoming not our slave but our master and every solution to this has come from either promoting energy austerity, or relying on windmills and batteries which consume rare and precious minerals.
There is hope. Scientists in Britain and elsewhere have made huge advances in the engineering behind nuclear fusion. We are now able to build prototype nuclear reactors that can generate power. With the research of these prototypes the biggest advance since the steam engine will be unleashed.
Fusion is the release of energy by fusing hydrogen but this requires incredible forces to hold atoms together long enough to fuse. This is why it has been so difficult to achieve.
The devices that can do this are almost like warp cores from Star Trek. Like in Star Trek there is a magic number, a barrier we must breach called Q5.
Q5 means a reactor creates 5 times as much energy from fusion as is required to hold these atoms together. At that point the reactor becomes self-sustaining, creating constant power that is pollution free.
Q5 will the equivalent of splitting the uranium atom and building the jet engine in one discovery. Incredible energy available to deliver extraordinary power.
The UK has just longlisted sites across the islands where the first British power station will be built. The Q5 power station. It will be world changing and global in significance. So, of course, we must commit now to building it in Scotland and five Scottish sites are in the longlist.
There are sites across Scotland with connections to the grid because they once had power stations. These sites are close to major universities and often to nuclear sites where there are already engineers trained in handling special nuclear material.
The steam engine cemented the union because it meant the union was placed to lead economic growth in Europe. It offered,
Cheap, limited power for centuries.
With nationalists offering nothing but fossil feuds what can the 300 year old union offer?
Clean, unlimited power for millennia.
This is the game changer. The Q5 power station will attract dignitaries and visitors from all over the world. It will be a monument on its first day of operation. It will have a big, beautiful flag on it and a little plaque unveiled by the monarch.
And it’ll be ours.
With the advent of steam, the growth of the railways changed the ability for people and goods to move in large number at speed – first in Britain, then exported around the world. Likewise, the internet allowed greater access to, and movement of, information. Fusion will alter the basis of how we price and evaluate energy – challenging support for the growing restrictions thought-up to fight climate change. Being part of the British team is a new opportunity for Scottish-based scientists, businesses and their employees.
The jobs created by the prototype will be dwarfed by those across the UK as we take first move advantage and export power to the rest of Europe. Look only to Denmark and see how its wind sector dominates the Continent.
This is our chance to do the same, writ large. The Covid-19 vaccines surely must show the potential when Britain does embrace the white heat of technology and stops its defeatist talk of constitutional change.
How fitting it would be for the man on whose shoulders Einstein said he stood, James Clerk Maxwell to be the name of the first nuclear fusion power station, build in Maxwell’s own country, maybe even his own county of Dumfries & Galloway.
What a present from the father of electromagnetic radiation, the second great unification in physics, to the future of the Union. He was born in 1831.
Let’s make 2031 extra special and very, very British.
Photo of the cern geneva international research centre by francescodemarco from Adobe Stock