Scientists developing a compact version of a nuclear fusion reactor have shown in a series of research papers that it should work, renewing hopes that the long-elusive goal of mimicking the way the sun produces energy might be achieved and eventually contribute to the fight against climate change.
Construction of a reactor, called SPARC, which is being developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a spinoff company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems, is expected to begin next spring and take three or four years, researchers said.
Although challenges remain, the company said construction would be followed by testing and, if successful, building of a power plant that could use fusion energy to generate electricity, beginning in the next decade.
Like a conventional nuclear fission power plant that splits atoms, a fusion plant would not burn fossil fuels and would not produce greenhouse-gas emissions. Fusion, in which lightweight atoms are brought together at temperatures of tens of millions of degrees to release energy, has been held out for nearly a century as a way for the world to address the climate-change implications of electricity production. Fusion power has always seemed to be “just decades” away.
That might turn out to be true in this case as well. But in seven peer-reviewed papers published in the Journal of Plasma Physics, researchers laid out the evidence that SPARC would succeed and produce as much as 10 times the energy it consumes. The papers show “this high-field path still looks viable,” said Martin Greenwald, deputy director of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center.