Finally Fusion Energy Gets Ready for Experimental Use
Until 1920, humans had no real sense of how the sun and stars create their vast amounts of energy. Then, in October of that year, Arthur Stanley Eddington, an English astrophysicist, penned an essay elegantly titled “The Internal Constitution of the Stars.” “A star is drawing on some vast reservoir of energy by means unknown,” he wrote. From that moment, scientists began the quest to harness unlimited, carbon-free power on earth. They've built more than 200 reactors that have tried to slam hydrogen atoms together and release fusion energy. In 1988, engineers began designing the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER). Along the way, 35 nations have split the $23.7 billion price tag to construct its 10 million parts. Now, surrounded by vineyards in France's Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, the 25,000-ton machine is set to be flipped on in 2025. The isotopes butting heads will be deuterium and tritium. To get the atoms whipping around the inner chamber of the Russian-nesting-doll-like machine, a magnet will drive 15 million amperes of electricity through them. They'll also be zapped by 24 microwave generators and three semi truck-sized particle guns, until they reach 270 million degrees F and crash into each other, releasing heaps of energy. There's no guarantee ITER will achieve fusion by 2035, as scheduled. But Edward Morse, who teaches nuclear engineering at UC Berkeley, says it's the “only viable” hope we have to secure the energy we'll need over the next millennia.