Nuclear fusion has enormous promise as a global energy source. The fuel is nearly inexhaustible and the waste products have less environmental impact than the wastes associated with fossil fuels and nuclear fission. Making affordable fusion energy would be a remarkable human achievement. To appreciate some of the key challenges, we examine magnetic confinement fusion energy from four perspectives: Technology, Economics, Fusion and Fission, and Politics and Progress.
The key issues addressed are:
Nuclear issues now dominate fusion research. Formidable challenges include sustaining a “burning plasma,” tritium management, and radiation-resistant structural materials.
Fusion power’s mid-century competitiveness depends on avoiding frequent replacement of internal components subject to radiation damage. Strong climate policy helps too.
Fusion and Fission
The worst conceivable fusion-power accident would release far less radiation than Chernobyl or Fukushima, both fission-plants accidents. Fusion fuel, unlike fission fuel, lacks direct connections to nuclear weapons materials.
Politics and Progress
Countries currently funding fusion research struggle to sustain both robust domestic programs and an extremely costly international project.