Lockheed Martin, the aerospace and defence conglomerate, is claiming to have made a major breakthrough in nuclear fusion, which could lead to development of reactors small enough to fit on the back of a truck within a decade.
The news came at Google’s Solve For X, Charles Chase describes what his team have been working on: a trailer-sized fusion power plant that turns cheap and plentiful hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) into helium plus enough energy to power a small city. It’s safe, it’s clean, and Lockheed is promising an operational unit by 2017 with assembly line production to follow, enabling everything from unlimited fresh water to engines that take spacecraft to Mars in one month instead of six.
This probably comes as very interesting news to those that follow the ITER development. Most would have anticipated that the gargantuan tokamak reactor in southern France would be the first to make the big breakthrough in fusion, but this is not due to start testing until 2020. Lockheed on the other hand have indicated that they are aiming for 2017.
The other interesting thing is scale. The ITER design is standing on the shoulders of many other fusion experiments going back decades. Fundamental to the design is size, to get a sustainable fusion reaction the reactor needs to be massive. So this begs the question how are the guys and girls in Skunk Works doing this on such a small scale.
In all of the research I’ve done for my novel ‘FUSION’ one of the things I kept coming across was a quote from an eminent nuclear physicist, who’s name I can’t remember… it went something like this….
“Fusion power is a least a decade away,
and in a decade it will still be a decade away.”