Nuclear fusion energy inches closer toward reality – The Washington Post

by | Aug 26, 2022 | Energy

Listen6 minComment on this storyCommentGift ArticleUsing nuclear fusion energy to power the world has long been two things: the ideal form of alternative energy and a development that’s decades from becoming reality.The science relies on smashing two atoms together at incredibly high speeds and transforming the energy from that reaction into electricity that can power homes and offices. If mastered, fusion power plants could provide cheap and endless energy without emitting carbon into the air or dumping radioactive waste into the environment.For years, the science has proved difficult to master. But over the past year, nuclear fusion has inched closer to reality.Scientists are mere years from getting more energy out of fusion reactions than the energy required to create them, they said. Venture capitalists are pumping billions into companies, racing to get a fusion power plant up and running by the early 2030s. The Biden administration, through the Inflation Reduction Act and the Department of Energy, are creating tax credits and grant programs to help companies figure out how to deploy this kind of energy.AdvertisementYet challenges remain, according to nuclear scientists. The U.S. energy grid would need a significant redesign for fusion power plants to become common. The price of providing fusion power is still too high to be feasible.“We’re at a very exciting place,” said Dennis G. Whyte, director of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center. “But we also have to be realistic in the sense that it’s still very hard.”The Inflation Reduction Act could push climate change tech into the futureThe quest for nuclear fusion technology started around the 1950s. Soviet scientists designed a machine called a tokamak — a doughnut-shaped device that uses magnetic fields to confine plasma and heat it to the outrageously high temperatures needed for hydrogen nuclei to smash together.In the years following, several countries decided that nuclear fusion energy would be a boon for the world, but they would need to collaborate to make it a reality. In the 1970s, European countries began working on a fusion experiment, called Joint European Torus. In the 1980s, the United States and the Soviet Union decided to cooperate to harness fusion energy for peaceful purposes, creating an international collaboration called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor.AdvertisementTogether, the countries made strides in fusion science, Whyte said, and figured out fundamental principles of how to heat and keep plasma at temperatures broaching 150 million degrees Celsius (300 million degrees Fa …

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