Near-limitless clean energy is the promise of fusion power, and it’s a promise that’s been being made for over fifty years. This article aims to revisit the topic of fusion power once again – and highlight the progress that’s been made.
The basics of fusion are that it involves ramming hydrogen atoms together to form larger helium atoms, the same process that powers our sun, and through it all life on Earth. The first artificial fusion device came about way back in 1951, as a weapon of war – a fusion-fission bomb, significantly more devestating than previous nukes. People of the time thought that controlled fusion for the purposes of energy production was just a hop, skip, and a jump away, but it wasn’t until 1991 that world saw the first controlled release of fusion power – and it had still taken more energy to cause the fusion than was released. It started to look like dreams of clean energy were just dreams after all.
Then, in 2013, man-made fusion produced excess power for the first time. This was an absolutely massive breakthrough. Now once again experts are promising the advent of fusion power, within the next 15 years. Obviously, the public is skeptical about such predictions after being burned in the past. Fusion energy seems too good to be true, and it’s been promised for as long as many of us can remember, always just over the horizon. The only difference is that we’ve made real, measurable progress in the intervening years, including some recent developments such as a discovery that involves using radio waves to stabilize fusion plasmas.
One effort towards fusion power is ITER, a multi-national project located in Southern France with member nations including the United States, the European Union, and China. ITER hopes to be the first to achieve significant milestones such as producing 500 megawatts of fusion power. The organization has passed the halfway point towards First Plasma, which it intends to achieve in 2025.
Let’s be honest: maybe it’ll be another fifty years before commercial fusion power. Maybe it’ll never happen. But at the moment, the news looks very, very promising. Companies like Lockheed Martin and TAE technologies think it’s worth taking the gamble to try to build prototype within the decade. Surely those of us watching on the sidelines can afford to take the gamble to be hopeful? Fusion power could put a halt to global warming overnight, and offer consistent, safe electricity to those who currently go without, and could even make for cheaper space travel. It would revolutionize the world. And if we’re lucky, if the experts are right this time, it’s only a few decades away.