Falling costs bring fusion power closer to reality

The cost of producing energy in fusion reactors has now become cheap enough to be commercially viable according to researchers.

Academics from Durham University and the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire recalculated the costs of the technology in the light of recent advances in superconductor technology.

They found that electricity could be generated at a similar cost to fission reactors without the associated disadvantages.

Fusion is capable of producing energy without contributing to global warming or the dangers associated with fission such as the production of hazardous waste .

In addition, fusion reactors only require deuterium, or heavy water, to operate which can be derived from seawater allowing for a potentially limitless supply of energy and eliminating fears around resource security.

The technology works by heating plasma to 100 million degrees centigrade so hydrogen atoms fuse together, releasing energy. Fission reactors work by splitting atoms at much lower temperatures.

Advances in superconductors mean they could be used to build the powerful magnets needed to keep the hot plasma in position.

Damian Hampshire, the Durham University Professor who led the study, said: "Obviously we have had to make assumptions, but what we can say is that our predictions suggest that fusion won't be vastly more expensive than fission.

"We have known about the possibility of fusion reactors for many years but many people did not believe that they would ever be built because of the technological challenges that have had to be overcome and the uncertain costs.

"While there are still some technological challenges to overcome we have produced a strong argument, supported by the best available data, that fusion power stations could soon be economically viable.”

Hampshire hopes that the study will encourage politicians and the private sector to invest in the technology ahead of a proposed test reactor in France that is around a decade away from being operational.

Last year, the European Commission launched an €850m (£632m) programme to foster development of nuclear fusion as a future energy source.

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