The fusion energy industry is calling for greater political support, hopeful that a landmark breakthrough by US scientists last year has given policymakers confidence to bet on the nascent sector.
Physicists have been trying to harness the fusion reaction that powers the sun for decades but, until December, no group had been able to produce more energy from a fusion reaction than it consumed.
That goal, known in the field as scientific energy gain, was finally achieved on December 5 at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California, using the world’s biggest laser. Jennifer Granholm, US energy secretary, called it “one of the most impressive scientific feats in the 21st century”.
However, even fusion’s most ardent supporters, who tout its potential to deliver abundant zero-carbon energy, say it will take at least a decade, and probably longer, to translate the NIF achievement into commercially viable power. Sceptics joke that, at any given point in time, the dream is always ‘at least 30 years away’.
Nevertheless, fusion executives hope the pace of progress can now accelerate. “The next step is: how does the government incentivise this already rolling push?” says Andrew Holland, chief executive of the Fusion Industry Association, a trade body.
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