Fusion power: safe, green and coming soon

Posted on 14 Feb 2017 by Michael Cruickshank

New projects around the world are bringing us ever closer to the dream of achieving commercially viable fusion power.

A new consortium of Canadian researchers and fusion companies have launched a project called Fusion 2030 which they claim will be able to build a viable fusion power plant by 2030.

Including the University of Alberta, the University of Saskatchewan, the Canadian Nuclear Society, and private companies like General Fusion, the Fusion 2030 project aims to share research in order to promote faster development of the technology.

“We’re all learning from each other,” said Dr Michel Laberge from General Fusion. “The potential benefits of fusion energy are so significant that it’s crucial that we all work together.”

Fusion 2030 believes with just a mere CA$125mn ($96mn) of investment it can deliver on its aims within this comparatively short time frame.

By contrast, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), which was previously the largest planned, and most promising fusion energy project in the world, has a price tag in the billions, and will not begin full operation until 2035.

While the technical hurdles for the Fusion 2030 project to overcome are immense, recent years have seen significant and promising advances in the field of fusion power.

Most notably,  the National Ignition Facility in the US has seen significant successes without using the popular donut-shaped ‘Tokamak’ designs.

Their approach, using high-powered lasers to generate the temperatures and pressures needed for fusion, differs from that of ITER, suggesting that this method of fusion is more promising.

Fusion benefits

Despite the technical complexity, fusion power has massive advantages over almost every other currently available power source.

Unlike current nuclear fission plants, fusion power does not have the risk of a meltdown, as they only use a small amount of fuel at any given time. Moreover, due to the precise conditions needed for fusion to occur, any system failure, will simply result in the end of the fusion reaction.

Additionally, the radioactive by-products of nuclear fusion have significantly shorter half-lives than those of nuclear fission, meaning they would only need to be safely stored for a matter of decades.

Finally, nuclear fusion creates no carbon emissions, while being able to run more or less around the clock, making it a superior source of green energy to wind and solar power.

Should fusion power become economically viable, it would solve many of humanity’s current and future energy supply problems.