Fusion reactors hailed as the future of nuclear energy
Fusion reactors could become an economically viable way of generating electricity within decades and replace traditional nuclear power or fossil fuels, scientists have said.
Advances in superconductor technology have led researchers from Durham University and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire to re-calculate the costs, previously considered too high for commercial power generation.
They have concluded that fusion reactors could generate electricity at a cost similar to a traditional fission plant. The advantage would be that fusion reactors do not create highly radioactive waste.
Professor Damian Hampshire, of the Centre for Material Physics at Durham University, who led the study, said: “Obviously we have had to make assumptions, but what we can say is that our predictions suggest that fusion won’t be vastly more expensive than fission.”
The findings, published in Fusion Engineering and Design, support the idea that fusion reactors could offer almost unlimited power without contributing to global warming or producing large amounts of hazardous waste.
They work by heating plasma to 100 million degrees centigrade so hydrogen atoms fuse together, releasing energy. Fission reactors work by splitting atoms at much lower temperatures.
Fusion reactors are considered safer as there is no high level radioactive material to leak out, meaning disasters like Chernobyl or Fukushima could not happen. Plasma would simply fizzle out if it escaped. Nor do they create weapons grade material as a by-product.