Nuclear Fusion Gets Closer To Reality With This New Reactor

On a revolutionary, compact reactor, MIT researchers have reported promising research. If it is successful, fusion might be reached by the 2030s.

If nuclear fusion could be a reliable energy source, everything could be powered by electricity. Projects like commercial space missions, desalinating sea water, or direct air carbon capture would be possible since electricity would be so inexpensive.

According to MIT researchers, a new compact reactor known as Sparc might make nuclear fusion—the sun's own power source—a reality by 2035.

An Innovative, Small Fusion Reactor

This week, a group of MIT academics published seven peer-reviewed articles in which they made the case that Sparc could generate twice as much electricity as it uses.

According to some scientists, fusion offers the best chance of producing enough safe, dependable energy for the coming century.

For a gas, solar, or conventional nuclear facility, this wouldn't be significant (producing power is the whole idea!). But it's really challenging to maintain nuclear fusion. Fusion reactors have been around for a while, but we haven't used them to generate power since they consume more energy to operate than they do to produce electricity.

MIT and a new firm named Commonwealth Fusion System are still working on the reactor's design, but construction is anticipated to start as early as next summer and take between three and four years to finish. According to the New York Times, if everything goes according to plan, nuclear fusion electricity might be produced within the next ten years, despite the fact that there are still a tonne of challenges to overcome.

Why It's Important

By 2050, it is predicted that global energy consumption will have increased by about 50%, and so will global temperatures. At the moment, we primarily rely on fossil fuels: Only 4% of the world's energy in 2018 came from renewable sources, and 85% of it came from coal, gas, and oil.

According to some scientists, fusion has the best chance of providing the world with sufficient clean, dependable energy for the next century while reducing carbon emissions.

Earth's connection to the Sun

If you can get fusion reactor plasma to run consistently, it has the potential to provide a lot of electricity since it is extremely hot—hotter than the sun.

The problem with this is that it takes a lot of energy to create the plasma, and that plasma will essentially destroy everything it touches. We must create a device that efficiently contains plasma in addition to producing it.

Because of its enormous size, the sun is able to accomplish this feat by compressing hydrogen atoms, heating them to the point of fusion, and confining the entire event. On Earth, fusion reactors typically hold the plasma using electromagnetic fields. The issue is that these fields use a lot of energy, and if they don't push the plasma absolutely uniformly on all sides, the reaction won't be able to sustain itself.

However, the MIT researchers are optimistic that Sparc will get over this problem by utilising more recent electromagnetic technologies. The plasma will be smaller and easier to hold thanks to this technique, enabling it to continue its own reaction without requiring massive amounts of external energy.

Due to its smaller size, Sparc would be able to produce fusion that is comparable to the largest nuclear fusion experiment in the world, known as ITER, and, more importantly, produce it with less energy than it uses. The surplus energy might then be converted into electricity.

Nuclear power plants already exist; this is different.

Over 10% of the world's electricity is produced by the fission process used in our existing nuclear power plants. Contrary to fusion, which involves violently fusing two small hydrogen atoms together, fission involves dividing heavy atoms like uranium.

The same-sized fusion reactor would produce four times as much as a fission reactor due to fusion's superior power.

Additionally, a lot of people worry about the radioactive material that fission produces because it can be quite deadly if not handled properly (hey, Chernobyl). There are no radioactive byproducts of fusion.

Benefits of Fusion

Fission, fossil fuels, and renewable energy sources could all be overcome by fusion.

We would always have reliable, consistent power thanks to fusion.

First off, its fuel supply is essentially endless. Fusion utilises hydrogen isotopes that are either readily obtainable or abundant in nature (such as seawater). We wouldn't require that much, either. With just 11 pounds of hydrogen, a fusion reactor is thought to be able to produce enough energy to equal approximately 36 million pounds of coal.

Second, it's clean; there's no radioactive waste, CO2, or air pollution.

Finally, it would (theoretically) be trustworthy. Fusion would deliver stable, reliable electricity anytime we wanted it, unlike solar and wind energy alternatives, which rely on erratic power sources or huge battery backups.

Big Obstacles Still Exist

Although the reactor is still in its early stages and many of the design elements are still being worked out, these investigations are encouraging. Martin Greenwald, one of Sparc's leading researchers and the deputy director of MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center, is cautious not to make unwarranted claims due to the substantial amount of work still to be done. He does point out that these studies' math and physics serve as a first step in confirming their findings.

He told MIT, "We haven't come across anything where we can say, 'Oh, this is predicting that we won't get where we want. "We think it will succeed,"

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