Laser fusion makes important steps

Part of the UCLA tokamak fusion reactorThe quote physicists often say when asked about nuclear fusion is that ‘commercial fusion is 40 years away, but we’ve been saying that for 40 years’. Two main types of fusion are in development – ‘tokamaks’ like JET and ITER that use magnets to fuse hydrogen in a torus of plasma and those that shoot high powered lasers at pellets of hydrogen a few times a second, making bursts of energy.

Neither process is currently producing more energy than is put in to start the reaction but there have been some developments in laser technology that may help the latter approach. The EU has recently decided to fund a new high energy laser research project to build a working reactor. Laser fusion may ‘ignite’ and provide energy before the magnetic fusion research reaches the same point but the pulses of laser energy need to come much faster and more efficiently for this to be economically viable. Without considerable funding, the technological challenges of getting hydrogen to fuse will be insurmountable. However, fusion offers a real hope in the long term (30 years+) of providing clean energy.

[via the guardian, image of UCLA tokamak by r_neches]

2 thoughts on “Laser fusion makes important steps”

  1. There is another way:

    Bussard Fusion Reactor
    Easy Low Cost No Radiation Fusion

    It has been funded:

    Bussard Reactor Funded

    The above reactor can burn Deuterium which is very abundant and produces lots of neutrons or it can burn a mixture of Hydrogen and Boron 11 which does not.

    The implication of it is that we will know in 6 to 9 months if the small reactors of that design are feasible.

    If they are we could have fusion plants generating electricity in 10 years or less depending on how much we want to spend to compress the time frame.

    BTW Bussard is not the only thing going on in IEC. There are a few government programs at Los Alamos National Laboratory, MIT, the University of Wisconsin and at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana among others.

    The Japanese and Australians also have programs.

    If you want to get deeper into the technology visit:

    IEC Fusion Technology blog

    Start with the sidebar which has links to tutorials and other stuff.

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