Fusion

Dylan Pearsall, Author

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Nuclear power has always been a topic looked upon with fear. Events like Chernobyl have left much of the public with an understandable level of apprehension towards nuclear power. However there are more types of nuclear power than the general public is aware of.

Nuclear fission is the classic from of nuclear most people think of when talking about nuclear energy. It’s the kind that we use in nuclear bombs that can devastate swathes of  land if anything goes wrong. Fusion on the other hand is the reaction that leaves behind no dangerous waste and can’t lead to a city destroying explosion or radiation poisoning. Nuclear fusion is essentially the opposite of fission. Fusion combines molecules creating energy while fission tears molecules apart to do the same. 

If fusion is so great, why haven’t we switched over to fusion and shut down all our dangerous nuclear fission reactors? Sadly, fusion has remained an ever distant dream, with every groundbreaking development in the field comes a new problem holding us back. According to the World Nuclear Association nuclear fusion as an energy source has been in active study since 1940. 

With the technology being in development for so long some might question if it’s even possible in the first place? Fusion is  certainly possible as the reaction has been created in reactors before with little difficulty. The problem has been generating more power than we put into the reactor in the first place. Essentially there has yet to be any actual energy output from a machine designed to only do that specific thing.    

If the technology is so difficult to achieve and new reactors like the ITER TOKAMAK continue to get bigger and take longer to build, is it even a practical source of energy? We are in an age where reliable sources of renewable energy are in high demand do to the rise of climate change as a global issue. It’s safe to say that nuclear fusion won’t be an answer to climate change and shouldn’t be pursued by governments for that purpose. 

However as the ITER reactor alone has many world powers contributing such as China, the European Union, Russia, the United States and more. It’s clear that world powers at least consider it  fussion something worth pursuing. And with other countries like the UK also beginning to invest large sums in their own personal fusion projects it’s clear that fusion will continue to be developed.

Recently, fusion has had a boost in development and attention due to private companies like First Light and TAE technologies. Fusion is still viewed by many as a technology that needs a huge amount of space to make work, it is after all essentially a miniature star. If these companies or others succeed in making smaller more commercially viable reactors, perhaps fusion will become a bigger player in the climate crisis than originally believed.

The problem with fusion is the same problem it’s had for all of its development, seemingly always just another thirty years away. Even as the race to create an energy producing reactor continues to speed up it still feels like no one is going anywhere. It’s a science the world continues to underestimate the complexity of. 

Is this the final thirty years of fusion development or will there be another thirty more before we have this “sci-fi” energy source? That’s still uncertain in the grand scheme of things and fusion is more than likely not the solution to climate change some seem to think it is. However it is still likely to be a huge player in how we power the world in the future. If that future is thirty years away or 60 is still an unknown.