What if we could harness the power of the stars to create virtually unlimited clean energy and no waste? It sounds like a dream, but this is the promise of nuclear fusion technology. And, it’s looking more and more likely that it can be a major source of carbon-free energy in the future.
Nuclear fusion is literally the process that happens inside stars as hydrogen atoms fuse together and produce helium, along with massive amounts of energy. This process contrasts with today’s nuclear power plants where electricity is produced by splitting uranium atoms. Achieving nuclear fusion would be a huge planetary win. There would be a bottomless source of carbon-free power with no threat of meltdown.
Dreams of nuclear fusion energy are especially important today since the technology would be welcome in the effort to reduce carbon emissions. Unfortunately, achieving nuclear fusion has proved difficult in previous experiments. Scientists have brought fusion to fruition on a few occasions. Yet, more energy was expended in those experiments than was released – illustrating that nuclear fusion wasn’t quite ready for primetime deployment.
However, there are promising signs on the horizon. Supercomputers can be employed to model and design fusion systems and new superconductors can be utilized to increase the magnetic fields that contain the artificial star and dramatically reduce the size of fusion systems. As a result, several countries and scientific institutions are rushing to take the lead on this new technology. In fact, the U.S. Department of Energy recently announced a new program to promote nuclear fusion research and development.
Other countries are jumping on board as well. China has invested a billion dollars in its fusion program and Britain has invested $246 million towards developing a commercially viable fusion power plant by 2040. The biggest project in the world, however, is a collaboration between China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States to develop a giant fusion experiment in southern France called ITER. The project is expected to come online by 2025 and produce plasma (the fourth state of matter that powers the stars, including our sun) by 2035.
Energy Fairness has been consistent in its advocacy for new nuclear technology over the years and we believe that any progress is great news — globally. We’ll be watching closely to see what happens next with this exciting new form of nuclear power.