Lockheed Martin announced on Oct. 15 that they have brought the world one step closer to nuclear fusion power. Their new approach to this age-old problem could lead to an operational reactor in just 10 years. Although Lockheed is moving forward, other laboratories across the country are not far behind.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, located in Livermore, California, houses the world’s most powerful laser at the National Ignition Facility. And last year, they raised the bar for laser nuclear fusion research by being the first in the world to produce a reaction that released more energy than what the researchers initially put in.
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, located in Middlesex County, New Jersey, ran large-scale simulations of nuclear fusion reactions at the Argonne Leadership Computing Facility. What they found after the ALCF’s supercomputer finished crunching the numbers was an encouraging insight into the process of extracting energy from fusion reactions. They hope their work will help with development of magnetically-confined fusion energy systems, in particular, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor tokamak under construction in France, which, once completed, will be the world’s largest tokamak system.
Earlier this month, researchers at the University of Washington announced their efforts to design a nuclear fusion reactor that is cheaper than coal. Their design is similar to Lockheed Martin’s in that it uses a hot plasma to generate the conditions for nuclear fusion reactions. If their design was ultimately developed in to an operational reactor, they estimate that it would cost $2.7 billion to produce 1 billion watts of power whereas it costs coal plants $2.8 billion to produce the same amount of energy.