Nuclear fusion is the dream for clean energy advocates. Unlike nuclear fission, fusion leaves behind no long-term radioactive materials. It's also very tough, if not impossible, to make a bomb from the reactor or its waste products. Also, because of the way the fusion reaction occurs, if power to the reactor is disrupted the fusion reaction will simply stop; so there is no possibility of a Fukushima or Three Mile Island type disaster.
Research into using nuclear fusion as a power source has been ongoing since the early 20th century. Last week, Lockheed Martin's Advanced Development Programs division announced that they were in the process of building a new type of fusion reactor capable of providing 100 megawatts of power. Although the project was first announced at a Google sponsored event in early 2013, the most recent press release states that they expect to have a functioning prototype by 2017 with regular operation by 2022.
Breakthroughs in nuclear fusion usually come with ten to twenty years of development to get to a working prototype, with serious problems shutting down development entirely. As such, this short timeline has excited many who follow fusion progress.
Another key differentiation with Lockheed’s reactor is its size. Engineers working on the project say the final reactor will be comparable in size to a jet engine and able to fit in a standard shipping container. For comparison, there is currently a fusion reactor being constructed in France which is scheduled to be begin operation in 2027. Known as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Project, their reactor will weigh more than 23,000 tons.
But even if their reactor is finished on time, we're going to need more than fusion power to produce enough clean energy, especially for those living off the grid. More on those in other blog entries here.
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