If fusion could truly be controlled and put to work generating electricity, the world’s energy and climate problems would be over in a single stroke. The only problem is with the “if” part.
“Fifty years ago, viable fusion power was 50 years in the future — and it still is,” states Steward Prager, a lab director at the Princeton, N.J., Plasma Physics Laboratory. A key reason for those overly rosy early scenarios was that fusion pioneers imagined they’d get a reasonable level of funding, given the potential importance of what they were trying to do.
While experiments have also been done in England, Japan, South Korea and a few other countries, no one has yet reached so-called “breakeven,” where a reactor generates net power. The best bet for that milestone lies with a machine called ITER(for International Thermonuclear Test Reactor), now under construction in southern France. The 100-foot-tall, 23,000-ton device is a joint project of China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the U.S., and will begin generating energy sometime in the late 2020’s.
“Over the past five years, “the big experiments have been either in Asia or Europe. The rest of the world has pushed forward with $5 billion class facilities.” The U.S., he implied, is falling behind.
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