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Quest for the Holy Grail of Fusion

  • Michel ClaessensEmail author
Chapter

Abstract

While ITER holds the spotlight in the field of controlled fusion this success should not hide the fact that several different kinds of technology are being explored in the quest to achieve nuclear fusion on Earth. In this chapter we are going to look at “alternative” projects, such as the National Ignition Facility in the United States and the Laser Mégajoule in France, investigating inertial confinement fusion (ICF). In addition, a dozen fusion-related startups supported by private money have recently emerged and are moving fast in this competitive field. Fusion has indeed attracted high-profile investors over the last few years. Several small companies have entered the still embryonic market of fusion reactors, such as Alpha Energy (recently renamed TAE Technologies) in California, Helion Energy in Seattle, LPPFusion in New York, General Fusion in Canada, Tokamak Energy, First Light Fusion, and Applied Fusion Systems in the United Kingdom, and a new company set up by MIT in Boston called Commonwealth Fusion Systems. They are all exploring new concepts. The total investment made in these entrepreneurial fusion projects is estimated to be about USD1.5 billion. In any case these stories seem to support Bill Gates’ view declaring in February 2016: “We need a massive amount of research into thousands of new ideas—even ones that might sound a little crazy—if we want to get to zero emissions by the end of this century. What we need to get that probability [of a breakthrough] up to be very high is to take 12 or so paths to get there … Like carbon capture and sequestration is a path. Nuclear fission is a path. Nuclear fusion is a path. Solar fuels are a path. For every one of those paths, you need about five very diverse groups of scientists who think the other four groups are wrong and crazy.” The proliferation of these public and private initiatives can only be welcomed. Dynamism and opportunities in a scientific field are measured by the research effort that accompanies them and by related indicators such as the number of publications and patents. From this point of view fusion is a powerful driver of scientific research and technological development.

Keywords

ITER Inertial confinement NIF Laser Mégajoule Startups Investors Fusion technology 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European CommissionBruxellesBelgium

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