Often regarded as the ‘holy grail’ of energy, nuclear fusion has been long thought of as a source of unlimited power!
Nuclear power currently generates energy through the process known as nuclear fission. This is more commonly known as the process of splitting an atomic atom (or more accurately the splitting of the nucleus). When the nucleus is split it produces large quantities of energy that we use to produce electricity. Nuclear fusion on the other hand is the process of combining two smaller nuclei to create a larger nucleus. This process creates a significant amount of energy, much more than nuclear fission produces.
Nuclear fusion power uses this method in a reactor to generate clean, virtually limitless electricity!
What’s all the hype over?
This type of energy production has been proposed since the early 1940’s with research being carried out well into the 1920’s. The main reason this form of energy generation has excited scientists for decades is how advantageous it will be as a power source. Over nuclear fission, nuclear fusion would boast:
- Reduced radioactivity
- Little high-level nuclear waste
- Ample fuel supplies
- Increased safety
How close are we to commercial nuclear fusion?
There has been two recent advancements in the world of nuclear fusion. These advancements have sparked new found optimism in nuclear fusion. Scientists and policymakers alike are excited about both the breakthroughs and opportunities that this new energy source could bring.
The first advancement is a discovery made by the PPL. They have discovered how to reduce what is known as ‘plasma disruption’. This is currently the largest obstacle that nuclear fusion development faces. The Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) uses radio frequency technology to reduce ‘plasma disruption’. Reducing this will help sustain fusion as a form of energy generation.
The second advancement is a report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. In this report they detail how nuclear fusion could become a commercially viable option for electricity generation. The report states that $200m of annual investments could see the production of a nuclear fusion reactor before 2050! For a technology, that to many did not seem viable just a few years ago, this is a major step in the right direction and an admirable goal.
Nuclear fusion power and the UK
The UK government recently announced that they are to invest £220m in UKAEA (UK Atomic Energy Authority) as they attempt to design a nuclear fusion power station. The power station will be located at Culham Science Centre in Oxfordshire.
The investment should see the design completed by 2024. STEP or Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production would be a huge step toward commercial nuclear fusion and not only a step toward a cleaner world but a significant solution to energy security across the world! The production of this site would be nothing short of revolutionary.
Is it realistic?
Not at the moment, but there is definitely potential for nuclear fusion to be viable in the future.
Is the UK goal realistic? No, unfortunately the current estimation- as discussed earlier in this post -for a commercially viable reactor is around 30 years away. Though recent advancements have revived interest, the near $30bn spent on fusion research in the US has most experts sceptical of the UK’s recent plans.
Let’s keep our fingers crossed and our eyes peeled for more updates and hope we see some more updates soon!
Thanks for taking the time to read this post, have a great day!