The sun loses 4 million metric tons of mass every second. That mass is converted into energy and we feel it here on earth as heat. Imagine if we could harness the same power source the sun uses to solve our energy problems. This is exactly what Professor Brian Cox envisions as he discusses fusion power as man’s next greatest achievement on BBC’s Horizon, a series about science and philosophy.
The primary questions Cox seeks to ask in the video are: “Is it possible that fusion is a power source for the future, can a nuclear fusion power station be constructed, and can we do it sufficiently quickly that we can use it to address the pressing and serious energy crisis that we’ve got today?”
Cox frequently compares fusion power to the sun in the video, using it as a motif. At one point it was noted that, through experiments at the NIF, the power of the sun had been created, here on earth, for a few fractions of a second. While this might not seem like a lot in the grand scheme of things, it is a very notable achievement for mankind and proves that we will eventually be able to generate electricity this way.
The segment gives viewers an overview of fusion, specifically inertial confinement methods using lasers, as seen at the National Ignition Facility (NIF). The NIF is a facility that covers an area equal to three football fields. It houses one of the world’s largest and most powerful lasers, designed to compress the molecules necessary for creating a self sustaining fusion reaction.
At the end of the video, several experts, including NIF Director Ed Moses, are asked to predict when we would have fusion power. Most of them said 2030 or later. Some of them said if fusion is going to be achieved, then greater commitment is needed – specifically funding, as Moses points out. We can achieve fusion power sooner if there is more public, political, and financial support. Getting this type of support will be almost as much of an achievement as creating fusion power itself, but one which we should work towards and everyone can benefit from.
For more information on American fusion progress, see Senior Energy Fellow Andrew Holland’s report Fusion Energy: An Opportunity for American Leadership and Security.
Also check out our fact sheet on fusion