Canada could have an operational fusion power plant by 2030 if the country is willing to invest in the technology, according to a new report.
Prepared by the the University of Alberta, the University of Saskatchewan and several companies, the report claims that for a relatively minor investment of $125 million over the next five years Canada could become a major player in nuclear fusion technology.
“It’s something that could be competitive with fossil fuels on the grid,” Michael Delage, the chief technology officer of the Canadian company General Fusion, told CBC News. “There’s an opportunity here … we need to see an investment in research capacity and academia in order to make sure we’re producing the graduates with the skills that can contribute in this field.”
Fusion power could be “too cheap to meter,” meaning the cost of generating new power would be below the cost of determining how much power an individual was using, effectively making electricity generation nearly free. Unlike existing nuclear fission reactors, which produce energy by splitting atoms, fusion reactors would generate power by combining atoms.
Cost overruns have long set back plans for fusion power, delaying the critical International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactors (ITER) by 10 years and $4.6 billion, according to a report by the French newspaper Les Echos. The project has a long history of delays and cost increases. ITER was originally expected to cost approximately $5.7 billion, but overruns, design changes and rising raw material prices tripled the amount by almost to $ 14.9 billion in 2015.
The ITER’s total estimated cost overruns will add up to almost $20 billion, which will be paid for by the project’s financial backers, including the U.S., China, the European Union, Russia, India and Japan.
Other recent breakthroughs in fusion could restart the atomic age, an era when nuclear progress was lauded as a pinnacle of human achievement. Operational fusion power would put most other forms of electricity generation permanently out of business and could occur very soon.
In America, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is developing a compact fusion reactor small enough to fit in a truck, which could generate enough electricity to power 80,000 homes.
A fusion reactor in Germany began testing in December. German engineers from the Max Planck Institute successfully activated an experimental nuclear fusion reactor and successfully managed to suspend plasma for the first time. The German reactor was reasonably priced compared to ITER, as it only took 19 years and $1.1 billion to build. The reactor passed the major technical milestone of generating its first plasma, which had a duration of one-tenth of a second and achieved a temperature of around one million degrees Celsius. It could demonstrate the first stable artificial nuclear fusion reaction sometime next year.
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