Fusion is thirty years away…and always will be. That is an oft-repeated cliché concerning one of the world’s most coveted – and so far unreachable – sources of energy. However, some recent developments in fusion energy technology could one day make that phrase obsolete.
Fusion energy is the phenomenon that powers the stars. Unlike conventional nuclear fission, where a uranium atom is split, giving off enormous volumes of energy, nuclear fusion is the process by which two hydrogen atoms are slammed together. This also gives off a vast quantity of energy, and with it, the promise that man can harness the most ideal source of energy.
That is because fusion would be nearly limitless. Hydrogen would be the principle source of fuel, an element found commonly around the world. But it would also be a clean source of energy since fusion would not emit greenhouse gases. And unlike the nuclear reactors of today, it would not present problems of weapons proliferation or meltdowns, since fusion reactors simply shut down if they encounter a problem.
That is the vision, anyway. The problem is that fusion has been a tough nut to crack. There have been enormous advances in the science and engineering, yet technical challenges remain. In short, the problem has been the inability to generate more power out than is required to be put in.
Research into fusion has been ongoing since the 1950’s. It even became a cause for peace…