Lockheed claims nuclear fusion reactor to be ready within a decade

16 Oct 2014

Lockheed Martin’s Skunkworks division is claiming its design for a clean energy compact fusion reactor (CFR) could be powering cities and factories within a decade.

The military contractor who has produced some of the US Air Force’s most advanced technology has invested heavily in producing a reactor capable of powering upwards of 100,000 homes without emitting any harmful emissions and the need to dispose of nuclear waste.

The science and technology behind a nuclear fusion reactor, as opposed to nuclear fission that currently powers the world’s nuclear plants, is significantly cleaner and safer than its fission counterpart, but despite 60 years of research, the idea had yet to be expanded upon to a feasible prototype.

Now, according to Lockheed Martin, they have developed a reactor that when fully operational, will be the size of an 18-wheeler truck yet will have the power output of 100MW, compared with a traditional fossil fuel power plant which is on a much bigger scale.

Previously designed reactors proved to be far too large, about 10 times the size of Lockheed’s reactor, and would have not been feasible for commercial use, as well as it not being terribly efficient.

Speaking of his work, Tom McGuire, compact fusion lead for the Skunk Works’ Revolutionary Technology Programs said: “Our compact fusion concept combines several alternative magnetic confinement approaches, taking the best parts of each, and offers a 90 percent size reduction over previous concepts. The smaller size will allow us to design, build and test the CFR in less than a year.”

To put its fuel consumption into comparison, the deuterium-tritium fuel that this reactor would generate would create 10m times more energy than the same amount of fossil fuel.

Aside from the potential clean energy uses of such an advanced form of energy creation, nuclear fusion, in theory, could also help future spacecraft go further and faster than any current chemical-fuelled craft that has existed until now.

However, in the next decade, one of the first likely uses of such a fuel will go into military aircraft carriers and submarines which have used nuclear fission reactors since the late 1950s.

The news comes shortly after an independent research team have also claimed to have created a nuclear fusion reactor capable of producing 1m times the power of fossil fuels, known as the E-Cat, which could be small enough to carry.

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic