Fusion power is pretty exciting, and has existed in theory for a long time. It’s supposed to be clean—not contributing to climate change—safe, and super-efficient. Fusion is what stars do, and they generate vast amounts of heat and energy.
But it’s incredibly difficult to make happen. For one, atoms needs to be superheated to form a plasma where they can fuse, and release energy. Second, that superheated plasma needs to be contained in a torus, which requires an array of very powerful electromagnets. Both the superheating and the containing processes take a ton of energy. So while fusion is possible to cause, it’s pretty much impossible to do without taking more energy than it makes. Which kind of destroys the point of a power plant.
But there are programs in place to research the feasibility of a real fusion power plant. Unlike the videogame Sim City, pulling off a power plant doesn’t simply require having 500,000 people in your city and having a ton of money.
It also takes a lot of time and research.
There’s a program called ITER, based in France, which is working on building a working nuclear power plant. Its goal is to to build a power plant which can sustain 500 million watts of power for 500 seconds. Which might not sound like much, but just 500 seconds of generating power would give it 10 times the energy output as was required to get it going. So when is this all going to happen?
The plan was formally agreed in 2006. This year, they’re just now expecting to get to construction of the Tokamak. And they expect to get ‘first plasma’ by 2019.
That’s still a ways away!
But there’s more. Even further down the line is DEMO, a proposed followup project to ITER which will produce sustained fusion power, and actually send it to an electrical grid. DEMO still doesn’t seem to have formal funding or participants, but it does have a timeline. And like ITER, it’s aiming pretty far down the line: DEMO will begin operating in 2033, if all goes well.
Here’s some good news. These projects (especially ITER, since the ball is actually rolling on that one) are both going to grow quite a bit, as they progress. And they’re far enough down the line that people who are say, in high school right now, might be able to get a job working at one of these very awesome international projects. Food for thought.
You might have to grind your INT for a while, but that’s what high school and college is for.
Read what I read:
- BBC article “France gets nuclear fusion plant.” From 2005.
- ITER website
- Poster of the famous Tokamaks around the world. Take this pdf file to an office store and get it printed in “A0” format. They’ll know what to do and it won’t cost much.