Harnessing the power of nuclear fusion has been the holy grail of energy technology for the last 60 years. And for good reason. It’s clean. It produces no harmful radiation. And it has unlimited potential to power ships, aircraft and even cities using very little fuel. But it also has its drawbacks.
Unlike fission, which splits atoms apart, creating large amounts of heat that can be used to generate power, fusion uses heat to fuse ions together, causing them to release large amounts of energy. The process generates three to four times more power than a fission reaction and about a million times more power than a chemical reaction. In fact, it’s the same process by which the sun generates unbelievable amounts of energy. The tricky part is keeping those ions (which form blazing hot plasma) away from the sides of a reactor container, a feat which is traditionally thought to require massive magnets and a reactor the size of a large building.
Although still in the theoretical stage, a new approach is being investigated that scales down the reactor to about one-tenth the size of previous concepts. By reducing the size of the device, it will be easier to build and faster to develop and refine. And in the end, instead of a building-sized reactor, a fully functional reactor capable of powering a city of 100,000 people could fit on that back of a truck.
For information: Lockheed Martin, 6801 Rockledge Drive, Bethesda, MD 20817; phone: 301-897-6000; Web site: www.lockheedmartin.com/us/products/compact-fusion.html