By Roger Highfield
Within the next half century, scientists will build a fusion power plant to harness the same processes that make the sun shine. The moment this star winks on, life, economics and everything will change. That is what Cold War scientists said half a century ago when, after the uncontrolled release of fusion energy in hydrogen bombs, they took an interest in the controlled release of fusion energy in reactors. They’re still saying it today, only a number of companies are now working in a nuclear field that was once only the domain of superpowers. Are we approaching the Age of Fusion at long last?
A century ago, scientists gleaned the first insights into how stars, like our sun, convert hydrogen into helium by the process of fusion and in the process release colossal amounts of energy. By the mid-1950s machines to fuse light elements were working in the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, the United States, France, Germany and Japan.
The dream was that the lithium from one laptop battery and the deuterium – an isotope of hydrogen – from a bath of water would generate enough energy to power a single citizen for 30 years, and present fewer radioactive waste problems than conventional nuclear reactors. ...more