Opinion | Could Fusion Arrive in Time to Solve Climate Change? – The New York Times

by | Dec 21, 2022 | Climate Change

This article is part of the Debatable newsletter. You can sign up here to receive it on Wednesdays.When researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California announced last week that they had achieved the first controlled nuclear fusion reaction to produce more energy than it took to start, they brought humanity one step closer to the decades-long dream of harnessing the power of the sun — not by absorbing its rays from 93 million miles away, as solar panels do, but by igniting, in effect, a miniature star on earth.The Biden administration has said that it aims to make commercial fusion energy a reality by 2032, in the hopes that the still-speculative technology could help wean the United States off fossil fuels and reach net-zero emissions by 2050. “This shows that it can be done,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.But the history of nuclear fusion is long and riddled with false starts and hopes. Is this time really different, and what are the chances that it could play a meaningful role in the global effort to halt climate change? Here’s what people are saying.The ‘holy grail’ of fusionScientists have been thinking about how to harness fusion ever since the process was first demonstrated in the 1930s. Like fission, the nuclear reaction that powers today’s nuclear plants, fusion produces emissions-free electricity, but without the long-lived toxic byproducts or risk of catastrophic accidents. While the splitting of atoms in a fission reactor can become self-sustaining, risking meltdown if not precisely controlled, the fusing of atoms can happen only under conditions that are very difficult to maintain; any disturbance to a fusion reactor would cause the process to stop.Fusion does create radioactive waste, like fission, but it is less hazardous and could be recycled within 100 years, instead of necessitating storage deep underground for tens of thousands of years.Fusion also yields several times more energy by weight than fission and millions times more than the combustion of fossil fuels: A few paper clips’ worth of reactants (isotopes of hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe) could produce enough energy for a pers …

Article Attribution | Read More at Article Source

Share This