There must be an emphasis on the extreme here as a citizen science project, since the financial requirements are high (an understatement, for sure). Although the actual process of low-scale fusion in a properly sealed chamber is reasonably safe (in particular, there is low radiation and no nasty nuclear waste left over to throw away), high voltages are required and an advanced technical flair must be developed.
A fusion reaction occurs when two similar light weight atoms are brought together under high temperature and high pressure, slam together, and re-form as a single atom. Energy is released from the process … a lot of energy … and efficiently harnessing the outgoing energy has been a holy-grail project of physicists for more than a half-century. This is the energy process that powers our Sun. And it has been efficiently glowing for some time now.
One of the key challenges is that it takes more energy to generate the fusion reaction in the laboratory than what you can extract, which doesn’t make so much economic sense for the utility industry.
So, the primary goal of institution researchers — and of the amateurs — is to design and create a functioning “break-even” fusion reactor, where you harvest the same amount of energy that you put into the system. Success here still would not be the end-game, but it is a goal that seems to be reasonable for reaching in the near future.
The ultimate payoff here, of course, is so incredible and is becoming more desired every day (see all that sludge sloshing toward the gulf coast line?). No large-scale carbon emissions. No politically- and environmentally-threatening nuclear waste. No sloppy oily deposits. Just clean, beautifully-glowing plasma to bring slick and fast electricity to satisfy all of our energy-hungry lives.
If you have the cash, you might try converting your garage to a fusion reaction laboratory. The entire human population on Planet Earth would be grateful.
“Extreme DIY: Building a homemade nuclear reactor in NYC” :: BBC News, Matthew Danzico :: June 23, 2010 :: [ READ with Video ]
Mark Suppes Blog about his Prometheus Fusion Reactor [ VISIT ]
The Open Source Fusor Research Consortium [ VISIT ]
Learn more about fusion from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory [ VISIT ]
UPDATE July 25, 2010:
Tip Sheet for Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Fusion Investigators, by Tom Ligon, from fusor.net :: [ DOWNLOA PDF ]