Fusion Power: Is It Still “30 Years Away”?

Future Tense
The Citizen's Guide to the Future
Aug. 24 2011 11:55 AM

Fusion Power: Is It Still “30 Years Away”?

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Photo by TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images

Will fusion ever make it from the lab to the real world? In the Guardian, professor Steve Cowley, director of the U.K.’s Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, argues that it’s not only feasible—it’s necessary. Fusion, according to Cowley, could solve our energy crisis and help mitigate climate change.

The Guardian’s Leo Hickman writes,

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Fusion energy—in essence, recreating and harnessing here on earth the process that powers the sun—has been the goal of physicists around the world for more than half a century. And yet it is perpetually described as "30 years away". No matter how much research is done and money is spent attempting to commercialise this "saviour" technology, it always appears to be stuck at least a generation away.

Cowley hopes to see real progress in fusion within the next decade, anticipating that the “break-even point”— “the moment of parity when the amount of energy they extract from a tokamak equals the amount of energy they put into it”—will occur within the next five years. (A tokamak is a device that uses magnetic fields to confine and heat plasma for controlled fusion.) International governments are betting on fusion as well, with the European Union, the United States, China, India, Russia, and South Korea investing $20 billion to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. The ITER is scheduled for completion in 2019 but is already facing “rocketing” costs.

Read more on the Guardian.

Future Tense is a partnership of SlateNew America, and Arizona State University.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 

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