A breakthrough in fusion could solve the world's energy problems, but remains improbable. David Biello reports
The military, space and aviation experts at Lockheed Martin want you to know that they're closing in on fusion. The firm's secretive Skunk Works has announced that its compact fusion reactor is a mere 10 years away and would investors please send money.
The device would work… if it works…by fusing atoms of hydrogen together. This fusion produces a larger atom—helium—plus copious energy. As a bonus, fusion does not produce radioactive waste, unlike its poor cousin fission that's in use in nuclear reactors around the world today.
The key to Lockheed's device, they say, is superconductors. They’ll create magnetic fields strong enough to contain the superhot plasma created by fusion. When the atoms of heavy hydrogen fuse in that plasma, neutrons are released that then hit the reactor wall, heating it. That heat then boils water to make steam to spin a turbine.
Or so the theory goes. Unfortunately neutrons have a nasty habit of making materials brittle, among other challenges faced by Lockheed and everyone else chasing fusion.
Of course, the world already enjoys the benefits of one fusion reactor, which sits at a comfortable remove and can be easily harnessed with a working technology called photovoltaics. It's called the sun.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]
[Also see: Scientists Skeptical of Lockheed’s Fusion Breakthrough]