Nuclear fusion has long been the holy grail as a source for energy. Consider that one kilogram of natural gas will light a hundred-watt light bulb for six days, but one kilogram of nuclear fuel will light it for 140 years.
Unfortunately, there is some truth to the old joke that fusion power is ten years away—and has been for fifty years. Major government-funded projects such as the giant International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) under construction in France lend credence to this adage. The ITER is thirty meters tall, weighs twenty-three thousand tons, and has one million parts. With an original budget of $6.6 billion footed by seven participating countries, the cost is now estimated at $21.4 billion, and will certainly continue to rise through completion.
Construction on ITER began in 2010 and is scheduled to be completed in 2019. The goal of the ITER project is to produce five hundred megawatts of power for one thousand seconds—that’s a little over sixteen minutes. Not exactly a practical and efficient power generating station.
ITER won’t produce any marketable electricity; its only purpose is to demonstrate the ability to generate heat energy. Some two hundred government-funded reactors of similar design have been built to date throughout the world. Not one of these has generated more energy than it takes to run it.
Now, however, Skunk Works Advanced Development Center at Lockheed Martin has announced a radically new fusion reactor design that promises to break the jinx of that old joke. Charles Chase, senior program manager at Skunk Works, appeared recently on Google’s Solve For X program to talk about the reactor’s design. . . .