Lockheed Martin’s legendary Skunk Works says their compact fusion reactors will be operational in ten years. If so, this could change the world. Seriously. Compact fusion reactors are emissions free, safe, and produce prodigious amounts of energy, 3-4x more than nuclear fission. Further, gas lines into existing gas turbines can be replaced with heat exchangers coming off fusion reactors, so infrastructure for it already exists.
Normally I would tend to discount such research. However this is coming from Skunk Works, developers of multiple famous aircraft designs and lots more too.
This is an invention that might possibly modify the civilization as we know it: A compact fusion reactor presented by Skunk Works, the stealth experimental technology section of Lockheed Martin. It’s about the size of a jet engine and it can power airplanes, most likely spaceships, and cities.
Nuclear fusion works by stripping electrons from atoms of two isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium, mixing the resulting nuclei and confining the mixture, called a plasma, into a small space. The plasma then is heated to accelerate the nuclei (in a gas, particle speed is a function of temperature). This is necessary because both nuclei are positively charged and high velocity is necessary to overcome electrostatic repulsion to force them to collide. At high enough speed, fusion produces a helium atom and a highly energetic neutron, whose energy can be captured by slowing it down. Transferring this energy to a coolant allows it to be used to generate electricity. A small amount of deuterium and tritium can match the performance of a conventional nuclear reactor, but without the nuclear waste and with much lower radiation risk.
European Safety and Environmental Assessment of Fusion Power concluded that fusion has very good inherent safety qualities, among which absence of ‘chain reaction’ and no production of long-lived, highly radiotoxic products. The worst possible accident would not be able to breach the confinement barriers. Even when a hypothesis is done that confinement barriers be breached, any accidental radioactive release from a fusion power station in this case cannot reach the level that would require the evacuation of the local community.
At the end of a fusion power station’s working life the radiotoxicity in the reactor chamber and other structural and waste materials will decay rapidly. In less than 100 years the residual activity of these materials would be less than the radiotoxicity found in the waste from a conventional coal-fired power station.
More from the Skunk Works Compact Fusion site.