Nuclear Fusion Reactor

A torus-shaped vacuum chamber containing hydrogen atoms can produce a virtually unlimited amount of low-carbon energy when placed under extreme pressure and high temperatures.
Technology Life Cycle

Technology Life Cycle


Initial phase where new technologies are conceptualized and developed. During this stage, technical viability is explored and initial prototypes may be created.

Technology Readiness Level (TRL)

Technology Readiness Level (TRL)

Lab Environment

Experimental analyses are no longer required as multiple component pieces are tested and validated altogether in a lab environment.

Technology Diffusion

Technology Diffusion


First to adopt new technologies. They are willing to take risks and are crucial to the initial testing and development of new applications.

Nuclear Fusion Reactor

A nuclear fusion reactor is a donut-shaped (also known as torus or tokamak) vacuum chamber containing hydrogen atoms that come together under extreme pressure and high temperatures. The resulting matter of the fusion reaction generates an electrically charged gas containing helium atoms, neutrons, and limitless amounts of energy. This is a similar fusion reaction to a proton-proton chain, a predominant scheme to power hydrogen bombs and stars, such as the sun.

Different from nuclear reactors that use nuclear fission to generate power — where energy is harnessed by splitting one heavy atom of uranium with high-energy neutrons into large amounts of energy, radioactive waste, and radiation — nuclear fusion reactors are considered to be safer, more efficient, cleaner, and a possible endless source of energy.

The principles of nuclear fusion lie in a power-generation process that harnesses energy when two atoms join to form one. However, in order to achieve fusion between atoms, there are particular conditions to be followed. The protons contained in each nucleus of the hydrogen atoms tend to repel each other, similar to when two magnets are placed together — mainly because they have the same charge (positive, in the case of protons). The only way of overcoming this electrical repulsion is by increasing the temperature of the vacuum chamber by around 100 million Kelvin, a temperature six times higher than the sun's core. At this temperature, hydrogen is not yet a gas but a plasma, instead (a high-energy matter in which electrons are removed from the hydrogen atoms and can freely move throughout the vacuum chamber). To fuse the atoms, magnetic fields, lasers, and ion particles squeeze hydrogen atoms together in their core and later produce enormous amounts of energy.

Future Perspectives

Currently, there are two main branches of research and development: fixed large-scale plants and compact high-field redeployable units. The main challenge surrounding fusion relates to the physical structures necessary to allow the fusion reaction to occur. The plasma must be sustained for some time in a high-density, high-temperature, and high-pressure-controlled environment inside a magnetic field.

As more breakthroughs happen, this source of energy could serve as a baseload power source, providing a consistent and reliable supply of electricity and integrating renewable energy grids. Nuclear Fusion Reactors could also power energy-intensive processes such as desalination, addressing freshwater scarcity in many regions of the world. Nuclear fusion reactors could revolutionize space missions by providing a compact and efficient power source for spacecraft. Fusion propulsion systems could enable faster and more efficient interplanetary travel, significantly reducing mission durations.

Image generated by Envisioning using Midjourney

Physicist Steven Cowley is certain that nuclear fusion is the only truly sustainable solution to the fuel crisis. He explains why fusion will work -- and details the projects that he and many others have devoted their lives to, working against the clock to create a new source of energy.
Researchers have found a way to prevent helium from weakening nuclear fusion reactors, potentially eliminating an obstacle to harnessing fusion energy.
Scientists create the highest plasma pressure ever recorded with the Alcator C-Mod reactor in a breakthrough for clean energy technology
It could provide clean, cheap, inexhaustible power to the world. So why haven't we figured it out yet?
The next decades are crucially important to putting the world on a path of reduced greenhouse gas emissions. By the end of the century, demand for energy will have tripled under the combined pressure of population growth, increased urbanization and expanding access to electricity in developing countries. The fossil fuels that shaped 19th and 20th century civilization can only be relied on at the cost of greenhouse gases and pollution. A new large-scale, sustainable and carbon-free form of energy is urgently needed. The following advantages make fusion worth pursuing. Abundant energy: Fusing atoms together in a controlled way releases nearly four million times more energy than a chemical reaction such as the burning of coal, oil or gas and four times as much as nuclear fission reactions (at equal mass). Fusion has the potential to provide the kind of baseload energy needed to provide electricity to our cities and our industries. Sustainability: Fusion fuels are widely available and nearly inexhaustible. Deuterium can be distilled from all forms of water, while tritium will be produced during the fusion reaction as fusion neutrons interact with lithium. (Terrestrial reserves of lithium would permit the operation of fusion power plants for more than 1,000 years, while sea-based reserves of lithium would fulfil needs for millions of years.) No CO₂: Fusion doesn't emit harmful toxins like carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Its major by-product is helium: an inert, non-toxic gas. No long-lived radioactive waste: Nuclear fusion reactors produce no high activity, long-lived nuclear waste. The activation of components in a fusion reactor is low enough for the materials to be recycled or reused within 100 years. Limited risk of proliferation: Fusion doesn't employ fissile materials like uranium and plutonium. (Radioactive tritium is neither a fissile nor a fissionable material.) There are no enriched materials in a fusion reactor like ITER that could be exploited to make nuclear weapons. No risk of meltdown: A Fukushima-type nuclear accident is not possible in a tokamak fusion device. It is difficult enough to reach and maintain the precise conditions necessary for fusion—if any disturbance occurs, the plasma cools within seconds and the reaction stops. The quantity of fuel present in the vessel at any one time is enough for a few seconds only and there is no risk of a chain reaction. Cost:  The power output of the kind of fusion reactor that is envisaged for the second half of this century will be similar to that of a fission reactor, (i.e., between 1 and 1.7 gigawatts). The average cost per kilowatt of electricity is also expected to be similar ... slightly more expensive at the beginning, when the technology is new, and less expensive as economies of scale bring the costs down. The ideal future energy mix for the planet would be based on a variety of generation methods instead of a large reliance on one source. As a new source of carbon-free baseload electricity, producing no long-lived radioactive waste, fusion could make a positive contribution to the challenges of resource availability, reduced carbon emissions, and fission waste disposal and safety issues.
Nuclear fusion is the process by which the sun works. Our concept will mimic that process within a compact magnetic container and release energy in a controlled fashion to produce power we can use. A reactor small enough to fit on a truck could provide enough power for a small city of up to 100,000 people Building on more than 60 years of fusion research, the Lockheed Martin Skunk Works approach to compact fusion is a high beta concept. This concept uses a high fraction of the magnetic field pressure, or all of its potential, so we can make our devices 10 times smaller than previous concepts. That means we can replace a device that must be housed in a large building with one that can fit on the back of a truck.

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