Nuclear power, once touted as the wave of the future that would eliminate our reliance on fossil fuels, has lost favor in much of the world after high profile incidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima. Even in the United States, where nuclear power has been overwhelmingly safe, other issues, like the banning of MOX fuel and concerns about where to safely store the nuclear waste produced in our power plants have made the construction of new nuclear facilities all but insurmountable: even people that don’t mind the idea of nuclear power are just reluctant to see a nuclear reactor built in their neighborhoods, let alone its waste stored in vats on site.
The fission reactions we rely on for everything from producing electricity to threatening the annihilation of our nation’s enemies are, for the most part, stable and predictable, but the risks, the costs, and the politics associated with the method of power production have left those seeking alternatives to fossil fuels looking to solar and wind powered alternatives. However, a new patent, quietly obtained by Lockheed Martin in February, could change the very face of how our planet conducts business. Just as soon as it’s done changing the way we conduct warfare.
Fusion power generators technically have existed for some time, but never in a form that has proven efficient enough to actually use. Unlike fission, which produces energy by splitting an atom, fusion works in the exact opposite way: fusing four hydrogen atoms together to produce heavier helium. Fission is the process that fuels stars like our sun, using a combination of the immense amount of pressure in the star center and temperatures in excess of 15 million degrees to mash hydrogen atoms into helium. As each bond takes place, a small amount of energy is released – and poof, you have a star.
Unlike fission reactions, there’s no threat of a runaway chain reaction in a fusion reactor that would lead to a catastrophic meltdown like the world saw in Chernobyl or Fukushima, nor does the process produce vast amounts of nuclear waste as we’ve seen in fission reactors. In every sense of the word, a fusion reactor would just be better than most of the forms of energy production we have available today … there’s just one catch, though.