The Hustle

A nuclear fusion breakthrough suggests we can copy the way the sun makes energy

Based on research from a team out of MIT (and a spinoff company), nuclear fusion could be here by 2024.

October 6, 2020

Completely lost in the recent news cycle was a major breakthrough in nuclear power.

According to The New York Times, a recent study indicates that compact nuclear fusion reactors are “very likely to work.”

Such an advance would allow us to create energy the same way the sun does and facilitate a rapid transition away from fossil fuels.

We could have a reactor for creating nuclear fusion electricity by 2024

That’s according to the timeline set out by researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Commonwealth Fusion Systems, an MIT spinoff company that has raised $200m.

The compact fusion reactor is called a SPARC. It has dimensions similar to current midsize nuclear reactors, with the potential to become a source of clean and limitless power.

The project’s timeline is a decade faster than the world’s largest fusion power project, the 35-nation International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).

Fusion creates energy through the collision of lightweight atoms

In contrast, existing nuclear options create power from fission, the splitting of atoms.

As compared to the fission process, fusion has a number of advantages, according to the NYT:

Building these reactors pose major challenges

Fusion involves raising the reactor temperature to tens of millions of degrees to create “a roiling ultrahot cloud of atoms” that will “damage or destroy anything it touches.” (Like Jimmy Butler’s Game 3 performance).

It will also not be cheap.

The larger ITER project is pegged at ~$22B. While the SPARC team believes its solution will be cheaper, cost overruns — and delays — are the norm here.

One professor tells the Times he thinks the project will take twice as long as estimated… meaning SPARC wouldn’t be ready until well into the 2030s.