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Pathfinders

What would socialist society do about nuclear energy?

The need for a radically new energy technology is not just pressing. As India, Asia and China rapidly  industrialise, it's becoming a crunch issue. If China were to burn coal at the current U.S. level of two tonsper person, the country would use 2.8  billion tons per year--more than current world production of 2.5 billion  tons.

And if the Chinese use oil at the same rate as Americans now do, by 2031 China would need 99 million barrels of oil a day. The world currently produces 79 million barrels per day and may never produce much more than that (YahooNews, March 9)

Nuclear fission is firmly back on the agenda, with Labour and Tory hedging on the subject and only the unelectable Lib-Dems against. But the waste problem is unsolved and waste free nuclear (hot) fusion is still decades and hundreds of billions of dollars away. If only there was another way.

For scientists, it was like the moment Sir Perceval murmurs the fateful words in King Arthur's ear: "Sire, I have seen it. The Grail. I had it in my very hands."

When the world's first successful cold fusion experiment was announced in 1989 the scientific establishment dropped its collective clipboard, rubbed its horn-rimmed glasses and gasped. It couldn't be. Cold fusion, at last! Indeed it couldn't, and alas, it wasn't.

Like Sir Perceval, the team at Oak Ridge in Tennessee found it and lost it again. Nobody could reproduce the experiment. Cold fusion - the ability to convert matter into energy the same way the sun does it, but without the temperatures - is so fantastic an idea that everybody wants it to be true. A single match will light a cigarette, but the mass of that match, if converted according to Einstein's equation 'Energy = Mass times the speed of light', would light London for months.

Forget Nobel prizes, the scientist who delivers success at this will be famous forever for abolishing the world's energy problems - forever. The idea of fusing heavy hydrogen nuclei at temperatures less than 10 million degrees Kelvin goes against every scientific principle. Cold fusion was off the agenda. And then, incredibly, with a new technique called sonoluminescence, it seemed possible again. By focusing sound waves into bubbles in acetone, experimenters, again at Oak Ridge, found bubbles forming with fantastic levels of heat, upto 10,000 Kelvin. The process has been called the 'star in a jar'.

But was it fusion? BBC Horizon decided to recreate the experiment into bubble fusion (Feb17) and got a negative result. Improved timings showed no generation of neutrons, one sure sign of fusion. Another problem was that 10,000 K is orders of magnitude too low for fusion. But the controversy rages on. The sun's surface is only 7,000K because all the real heat is indoors, and new measurements suggest it may be the same with bubble fusion, with new bubbles in sulphuric acid being the hottest ever recorded (New Scientist, March 5).

What's interesting is  that infinite energy would be as uncomfortable to capitalist markets as it is to
scientific orthodoxy. It could never be allowed to get out. If bubble fusion ever becomes proved, we
can absolutely rely on one thing - our electricity bills won't go down. New technology tends to deliver
wealth upwards, to the rich who own and control it, not downwards to the rest of us. An orgy of free energy would still have to wait for socialist society to be realized.

Will there be religion in socialist society?

Opinions are divided.Religious people obviously think there will be religion no matter what economic arrangements exist. Socialists tend to regard religion as the mind's desperate attempt to invent unfalsifiable explanations for a disordered and insane reality, and they also point to religion's long history of being used by ruling elites tocontrol ignorant and fearful populations.
  
History indicates that the more a society knows about the world through science the less religious it becomes. In Britain today hundreds of parishes have fewer than ten in the congregation, many churches have closed down (some of them to become pubs, encouragingly) while others are closed through the winter or used as derelict hang-outs for drug addicts and prostitutes  (BBC1 News, Jan 19).

The raging controversy over allowing homosexuality in the Anglican church is partly informed by the sheer difficulty of getting any priests at all. The average age of a priest is 68, and in ten years half of them will be dead.

In France there are so few ordinations that priests are being imported from Senegal and Burkina Faso to mind parishes with 40 churches but congregations of five. These African priests blame western security and comfort (!), since back home they can get 5000 to a Sunday sermon . (BBC Radio 4, Jan 6).

The question is also open from a scientific perspective. Evolutionary biologists have taken up  E.O.Wilson's idea that religion has an evolutionary advantage,and gone looking for the genetic evidence.

The geneticist Dean Hamer in 'The God Gene' even claims to have found the holy gene itself, VMAT2 , (NewYork Times,Feb 19)  while the neuropsychologist Michael Persinger  claimed to be able to produce religious states in people by stimulating their temporal lobes with magnets (Economist, Dec 16, 04), although later research using  double-blind techniques has refuted this claim.
 
Evidence supposedly citing identical twins' similar levels of spirituality are scarcely conclusive since  'spirituality', if it exists, can not be measured.

Socialist society is likely to be full of parties, celebrations  and seasonal rituals, because they're fun
and because we all like to find meaning in life,  but there's no scientific evidence that socialists are ever  likely to be more cosmic than sun worshippers in a beach paradise.