A fusion reactor is now ‘economically viable’, study finds

5 Oct 2015

A future fusion reactor. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The possibility that we could one day have near-limitless clean, cheap energy might just be a little bit closer to reality with the claim from a team of researchers that building a reactor is now ‘economically viable’.

Once any story on the building of a fusion reactor reaches the mainstream press, scepticism is immediately thrown its way from those who see it as a fanciful technology along the lines of alchemy. But, gradually, it appears that it could one day be less science-fiction and more science-fact.

With the possibility of a limitless supply of energy with no radioactive waste being the end-result of a working fusion reactor, it is now the job of fusion researchers to convince policy-makers to invest in the technology, which is proving difficult.

Indeed, some fusion researchers and inventors have claimed that the technology is portable. Most notably, Andrea Rossi and his E-Cat generator, which has received both credit and criticism.

The biggest burden, it seemed, was not the actual science itself but the possibility of running the reactor at an efficient cost that could be reproduced on a mass scale.

According to researchers at Durham University and Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in the UK, their analysis of the technology and what is needed to bring a fusion power station to fruition has called for a revision that now puts it in the category of being ‘economically viable’.

As afforable as a fission energy plant

Specifically, their findings show a fusion power plant can now generate the same amount of power at a similar price to a traditional fission power plant.

Publishing their findings in the journal Fusion Engineering and Design, the research team led by Prof Damien Hampshire say that, with this news, a working and cost-efficient fusion energy reactor could be just one or two generations away.

One of the first reactors that might be built to test their theory will be the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor in the south of France, which is reportedly within a decade of being operational.

“Fission, fusion or fossil fuels are the only practical options for reliable large-scale base-load energy sources. Calculating the cost of a fusion reactor is complex, given the variations in the cost of raw materials and exchange rates. However, this work is a big step in the right direction,” Prof Hampshire said of the results.

“We have known about the possibility of fusion reactors for many years but many people did not believe that they would ever be built because of the technological challenges that have had to be overcome and the uncertain costs.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic