A future with fusion?

Unlike fission used in todays’s nuclear power plants, which breaks atoms apart, fusion fuses atoms togther, which releases massive amounts of energy- 3 to 4 times more energy than fission and releases few radiative particles compared with fission [1]. Fusion is how the sun produces massive amounts of energy. What’s the catch? Fission requires a lot of energy to overcome the electrostatic repulsion so that atoms can be brought together. Today, scientists are working on achieving the break-even point, which is when the energy output equals the energy input.

In February, the Presidential budget request for 2013 was released. The budget for fusion science remained essentially the same at 400 million dollars. However, the budget request called for significant budget cuts for U.S. fusion labs because funding for ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) was increased by 45 million dollars [2]. ITER is an international nuclear fusion project, where the goal is to build the most advanced fusion reactor and is funded by the U.S., the EU, India, Japan, China, Russia, and South Korea [3].

While few argue the importance of ITER, there is concern that the proposed budget cuts for the U.S. fusion labs will be highly detrimental to advancing fusion research. It was proposed in the budget request that C-mod, a laboratory part of the MIT Plasma Science and Fusion Center, be terminated [4]. The researchers at C-mod believe that ITER will be more successful if there is a healthy national fusion program and that choosing between ITER and the domestic program will lead to bad consequences.  

Fusion has always been promising but faces huge technological challenges. With projects like ITER, the world is getting closer to making fusion reactors a reality. However, it seems unwise to “put all our eggs in one basket”.

1. http://www.diffen.com/difference/Nuclear_Fission_vs_Nuclear_Fusion

2. http://fire.pppl.gov/fy12_budget_fusion_Synakowski.pdf

3. http://www.iter.org/

4. http://www.fusionfuture.org/faq/

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