Maximus Yaney on Whether or Not Fusion is the Answer to Climate Change

October 23, 2018

Is Fusion the Answer to Climate Change?

Climate change is more than just a threat to human life on earth, it’s an environmental As a global political issue, it’s a The options facing us are desperate: either we accept the pain of cutting back on electricity use and transitioning to a green-energy society, or we keep on pumping out carbon dioxide until Miami is underwater.

But what if there was a third option? What if a technology existed that could extract untold amounts of energy out of something as plentiful as water, without carbon emissions?

That’s fusion. Or at least, that’s what it’s supposed to be.

What Is Fusion?

is exactly what it says on the label: two separate objects combining into a single one. The prime example of this is the combination of two atoms of hydrogen into an atom of helium, with the leftover hydrogen mass as a huge amount of energy. That energy is the key to fusion’s appeal as an energy source: if this process can be initiated and controlled, the whole world would soon have access to cheap, clean electricity.

The advantages of fusion technology are and it’s very different from the more familiar fission reactors already in use. Furthermore, the main component of a commercial fusion generator is hydrogen, which as a component of water is one of the most the on earth. Instead of boring deep into the earth for oil or coal, acquiring the raw materials of electricity production could be as simple as sticking a bucket in the ocean.

Does It Work?

Fusion has been held up as a miracle technology for , ever since Einstein’s theories on mass-energy equivalence shed light on the possibility. The problem is that in the hundred years since then, nobody’s been able to make it work.

The obstacles to harnessing fusion power for commercial use are non-trivial. From a physics perspective, the central problem is that huge amounts of heat and pressure are required to force two atoms to fuse. That creates two more problems: how to focus so much power in such a tiny space and how to contain the fusing substance as it approaches the critical point.

In layman’s terms, atoms just don’t want to fuse and the only reliable way to make them do it is to nuke them. And though billions of dollars have been poured into approaches ranging from to to (really), we still haven’t quite cracked it. However, we’ve gotten much closer and there are dozen of scientifically credible solutions that still haven’t yet been fully tested.

Will It Work?

That’s the big question. Even if the optimists prove correct and a commercial fusion generator starts up soon, fusion still faces significant challenges. There is the potential intervention of massive fossil fuel companies that might go out of business in a fusion-powered world if they don’t adapt, or resource-exporting nations that depend on coal and oil extraction to underpin their economy. The collapse of the following the in oil prices could foreshadow financial and social disaster for many more exporting nations, if and when fusion power is implemented.

Fusion power would be a miracle. That much is clear. But it’s a complicated miracle, one that could produce global economic upset when it does. It can be the foundation of a society of clean air, electric cars, and stable sea levels, but it won’t create that society overnight. Any technology, even something as revolutionary as fusion, is still just a tool - we will have to learn how to weave it into the fabric of our civilization.

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