This question is a continuation of Unprepared and Without a Homeworld.

The premise of this idea is that a substance called an Atomic Catalyst exists that can lower the temperature at which particles in contact with it can undergo fusion by a factor of ~10,000:1 so that Hydrogen fuses at ~1,300K, Helium at ~10,000K, etc. The catalyst itself is very stable such that it is not destroyed/consumed by the reactions that it triggers.

The Question:

Suspending disbelief that such a substance might exist to begin with, could it accidentally create a world-ending event?

  • $\begingroup$ Clarification requests: (a) Atomic Catalyst (AC) is not a nuclear fuel, it's a catalyst for nuclear fuels, so your first bullet doesn't make sense. Nuclear fuels today are fissionable, not fuseable, so what material are you applying AC to and what existing fuel are you comparing it to? (b) Is AC consumed? Do you need a gram of AC for each gram of fuel, or will a gram of AC drop the fusability T for everything? PLEASE NOTE! SE's model is one-specific-question/one-best-answer. You're asking 4 questions. We're lenient with new users, but please keep it in mind. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 17 '19 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ Points of interest removed. The Atomic Catalyst is not degraded or consumed by reactions. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Jan 17 '19 at 21:04

Nope, we're good.

Fusion requires a gem at the core of your being. Then you need a body that can turn into light. Then you need a partner who you trust with that light. not only a comparatively high temperature, but also a comparatively high pressure. Stars achieve these by being massive. We do it with super strong magnetic fields, and lasers or ion beams to force atoms against each other.

Your magical catalyst may cause some failing reactors to go out in bigger blasts, but the planet as a whole will survive. The pressures required for a runaway fusion reaction that would destroy the planet are not readily available in nature.

  • $\begingroup$ Is there a set pressure that is required for a reaction or is there a function where additional heat can substitute the normal pressure requirements and vice versa? $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Jan 17 '19 at 20:53
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki the latter exists, but I don't have it on me. Still, it takes a stellar core to achieve the pressure naturally. $\endgroup$ – Renan Jan 17 '19 at 21:02
  • $\begingroup$ If the catalyst had an effect on the pressure threshold as well, such that hydrogen could fuse at ~1,300K at a pressure of 1 atmosphere, would there be other factors preventing a runaway reaction? $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Jan 17 '19 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki no. In that case we would all die as the whole planet would explode and become plasma. $\endgroup$ – Renan Jan 17 '19 at 21:18

If some super evil villain decided to launch this so called catalyst into the sun, it would most definitely cause some issues. The core of the sun already has a fusion reaction going. As this catalyst enters the suns atmosphere, the temperature would be enough to try to fuse hydrogen around it.

As Renan pointed out, it would require a pressure, because as the material tried to fuse it would create its own pressure pushing away all other matter. But as it sank further, the pressure would be enough to sustain such a fusion reaction.

Now, with the amount of energy required to initiate fusion is now so low and the energy released stays the same, they sun would consume its nuclear fuel substantially faster, and probably create significantly more pressure due to the increased released energy.

I don't have the numbers, but I would bet that the sun would either burn out quickly or blow itself apart. Now for the question on it being earth, there is not many places in which sufficient quantities of hydrogen exist at those temperatures. It would make fusion reactors easier to start, but just as hard to maintain the reaction.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Great point! This stuff is actually starting to sound pretty safe all things considered, now here is one last idea about how things might go terribly wrong. What if a freighter full of the stuff crashed into the Ocean. Once it hits a critical depth, the whole ship would implode releasing the heat from the reactor into all the hydrogen fuel and catalyst onboard the ship. Would the water pressure contribute to a super explosion (itself becoming fuel if it gets hot enough) or still be subject to the same issue of expanding too fast to chain react? $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki - Reinstate Monica Jan 18 '19 at 18:27

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