Scientists have been working on nuclear fusion power for 75 years, but a practical and sustainable solution is still out of reach, according to the latest information from the research community. While fusion power has long been hailed as a potentially clean, efficient, and inexhaustible energy source, it has proven to be incredibly challenging and complicated.
One of the primary challenges in developing fusion power is controlling and extracting useful energy from the fusion reaction. While it is relatively easy to initiate the reaction, sustaining it has proven to be much more difficult. Scientists are pursuing two major approaches to fusion power: inertial confinement and magnetic confinement.
Inertial confinement involves using lasers to trigger a brief fusion reaction, while magnetic confinement relies on powerful magnetic fields to squeeze on a plasma until fusion occurs. In 2022, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) achieved a major breakthrough by reaching “breakeven” with inertial confinement. This means that more energy was released from the fuel than was put into it. However, the NIF is not designed to generate electricity, and the process is not yet viable for a power plant.
Magnetic confinement, exemplified by the ITER project, is still facing challenges in maintaining stable plasma and achieving breakeven. The ITER project, an international research consortium, aims to become the first magnetic confinement device to achieve breakeven, although it is also not designed to generate electricity itself.
The timeline for achieving sustainable fusion power remains uncertain, with estimates ranging from a 10% chance within the next 20 years to a 10% chance of it never happening. Fusion power is considered a generational challenge that requires long-term investment and resources. The lack of significant investment in fusion research in the mid-20th century, due to prioritizing nuclear weapons development, has resulted in slower progress in fusion power research.
However, fusion research is now progressing at a similar pace as other areas of research, indicating that it could take roughly a century to achieve practical fusion power. Despite the challenges and the time required, scientists remain committed to developing fusion power as it holds great promise for a clean and sustainable energy future.
It is clear that nuclear fusion power still has a long way to go before it becomes a reality. However, scientists are not deterred by the challenges and continue to work towards harnessing the potential of fusion power. While the timeline remains uncertain, the long-term investment and resources being dedicated to fusion research are a testament to its importance in securing a clean and sustainable future.