What’s Stopping a Nuclear Fusion Revolution? cost
“Over the past year, nuclear fusion has inched closer to reality,” the Washington Post reported Friday.
“Scientists are mere years from getting more energy out of fusion reactions than the energy required to create them, they said. Venture capitalists are pumping billions into companies, racing to get a fusion power plant up and running by the early 2030s. The Biden administration , through the Inflation Reduction Act and the Department of Energy, is creating tax credits and grant programs to help companies figure out how to deploy this kind of energy.” (One fusion company’s CEO argues that “Once the technology is shown to work, it’s less risky, and the next buyer of that technology could get a commercial loan.”)
But even with all this new excitement, challenges still remain, nuclear scientists warn: The US energy grid would need a significant redesign for fusion power plants to become common. The price of providing fusion power is still too high to be feasible. “We’re at a very exciting place,” said Dennis G. Whyte, director of MIT’s Plasma Science and Fusion Center. “But we also have to be realistic in the sense that it’s still very hard….”
Phil Larochelle, a partner at the venture capital firm Breakthrough Energy Ventures, said private money is flowing into fusion at such high levels because scientific advancements, such as better magnets, have made cheap nuclear fusion a likelier possibility. Going forward, Larochelle noted that getting nuclear fusion to market probably will require formal cost-sharing programs with the government, which he said could be similar to how NASA is partnering with SpaceX for space travel innovation. “In both the US and the UK, there’s now kind of new government programs and support for trying to get to a [fusion] pilot,” he said. “It’s a good kind of risk-sharing between public and private [sectors].”
Despite the growing government collaboration, Whyte said, a few challenges remain. The effects of climate change are increasingly irreversible, and the clock is ticking, he said, making fusion energy a crucial need. Companies will have to figure out how to deploy the technology widely. Doing it cheaply is most important, he said. “What I worry about is that we’ll get to a system where we can’t actually make it economically attractive fast enough,” he added. Moreover, to create an electricity grid through which fusion technology provides large amounts of power, many things need to happen. Universities need to churn out scientists more capable of working on fusion technology. Fusion power companies need to build devices that create more energy than they consume. Scientific and manufacturing materials must be constructed in difficult ways if power plants want to scale.
“Can we get there?” Whyte asked. “I think we can if we get our act together in the right way. But there’s no guarantee of that.”