Can we harness the energy of an earth-bound sun? It’s a question that has obsessed and perplexed scientists for more than half a century. According to Professor Steve Cowley, director of the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy (CCFE) and chief executive of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, it remains one of the "great quests" in science.
For the uninitiated, it’s the kind of big idea that makes your head spin: we’re talking about mimicking the process that powers the stars, heating hydrogen atoms to temperatures in excess of 100 million degrees celsius — the point at which they fuse into heavier helium atoms — and releasing energy in the process.
The creation of a self-sustaining reaction here on earth would be a revolutionary moment for humanity. It would mean we’d have a near-limitless source of energy that is clean, safe and cheap. The fuel used for fusion (two isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium and tritium) is so abundant it will effectively never run out; one kilogram of it provides the same amount of energy as 10 million kilograms of fossil fuel.
And while some fusion reactor components would become mildly radioactive over time, they should be safe to recycle or dispose of conventionally within 100 years, according to fusion experts.
Read the whole article on The Guardian website.