One of the bitter jokes popular among frustrated aficionados of nuclear fusion power is that practical fusion energy is only 20 years away, and always will be. Yesterday, researchers at Lockheed Martin confidently announced that they had made a technological breakthrough that would enable them to build and test a prototype compact fusion reactor in a year and begin deploying them in ten years. Essentially, the Lockheed researchers claimed to have figured out how to confine the hot plasma needed for fusion in a much smaller and less finicky magnetic bottle than the conventional tokamak reactor. How much smaller? According to the BusinessInsider:
Initial work demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet, which could fit on the back of a large truck, and is about 10 times smaller than current reactors, [Lockheed project head Tom] McGuire told reporters.
In a statement, the company, the Pentagon's largest supplier, said it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year, and build a prototype in five years. …
Lockheed sees the project as part of a comprehensive approach to solving global energy and climate change problems.
The reactor would fuse deuterium and tritium to produce the heat needed to drive generators. Fusion produces much less radioactive waste than fission reactors and no greenhouse gases that warm the planet's atmosphere.
Back during the cold fusion brouhaha in the 1980s, Stanford University population doomster Paul Ehrlich notoriously denounced the prospect of cheap, inexhaustible fusion power, declaring that it would be "like giving a machine gun to an idiot child." I wonder what he makes of Lockheed's announcement?
I, for one, really hope that the Lockheed researchers aren't overhyping their results and that we will see safe compact fusion reactors operating within a decade.