Nuclear Fusion is the ‘Perfect Energy Source’
By Steven Cowley
Until recently, fears of peak oil and dependence on Middle Eastern suppliers were the key factors shaping our energy policy, pushing governments to scramble for fossil fuel alternatives. Then came shale gas, tar sands, and other unconventional sources. Industry found ways to affordably extract fuel for decades to come. So many are now imagining an end to the energy crisis. That’s a dangerous mistake.
First, even the most optimistic predictions leave our grandchildren exposed to an uncertain future. More immediately — and maybe more importantly — burning fossil fuels is the number one cause of global warming and its catastrophic consequences.
We need to innovate alternative energy sources now more than ever … and our choices are limited. There are few viable options that will preserve the levels of prosperity that modern industrial economies have come to expect.
Solar, advanced nuclear fission, and fusion offer the best hope but, unfortunately, none are ready for large-scale deployment. All need time-consuming innovations so we cannot afford to hesitate; research must be ramped up across the board and government must keep up the pace.
Of our three most promising technologies, fusion would be the biggest prize. It is in many respects the perfect energy source. Sea water provides millions of years of fusion fuel. Fusion reactions are safe, they emit neither radioactive waste nor greenhouse gasses and fusion reactors would take up relatively little space.
The catch is fusion is very hard to do. Two isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) must be held at 200-million degrees until they collide and fuse to make helium. It is not easy to build a device that runs at ten times the temperature of the Sun, but it is possible.
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