Fusion: A Future Worth Pursuing

Connor Kalvar '23, Guest Columnist

Unlimited, clean power using the hydrogen from water as a fuel. It sounds like fantasy, right? With the use of fusion, it’s definitely possible. Usually, the term “green energy” evokes pictures of wind turbines and solar panels, but fusion power should be added to that list.

Its potential to power the planet cleanly and efficiently is unmatched, and as Trinity STEM teacher Mr. Stephen Hammer said, “It is beneficial to the planet. It is a carbonless fuel source.”

Fusion power is the be all and end all of power. It uses the same physical process that stars use to “convert tiny amounts of mass into vast amounts of energy,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The reward would be worth the investment.

Compared to other green sources, fusion power plants would be set up like more traditional power sources such as coal and gas. Compare that to solar panels and wind turbines, which need to be spread out across large areas to make the power needed to replace our current power sources.

Fusion reactors produce large amounts of heat, which would be captured and used to generate steam that would power turbines, similar to traditional power sources, according to the World Nuclear Association. This means that they are just as space efficient as coal and gas plants, with none of the carbon emissions. Fusion, according to the WNA, is also better than fission as “once ignition is achieved, there is net energy yield – about four times as much as with nuclear fission.” This means we don’t have to use copious amounts of land for wind turbines and solar panels to power the world greenly.

So now is the time to continue forward with fusion, turn the impractical into practical, and make fusion power a reality.

— Connor Kalvar '23

Along with the compactness, fusion power could be a very cheap power source to run given the availability of deuterium and lithium, the elements needed to drive the reactions.

Farrokh Najmabadi and Stewart C. Prager wrote: “Deuterium can be readily obtained from seawater—about one in every 3,000 water molecules contains a deuterium atom. Lithium is also abundant and inexpensive.”

Lithium is necessary to produce tritium, which is fused with deuterium in the reactor. We use such a D-T reaction because it produces about four times the energy as a D-D reaction, according to the WNA.

Despite the low cost of the fuel, other factors must be considered, among them initial investment cost and dealing with, as my father, Damien Kalvar, says, “the massive amounts of radioactivity (that) make the inside walls irradiated.”

Unlike fission plants, these radioactive byproducts aren’t as long lasting and can be dealt with easily, according to the WNA, as “the long-term radiotoxicity of the fusion wastes would be considerably lower than that from (the radioactive elements) in used fission fuel.”

We are closer to viable fusion now than ever before. With myriad startups pursuing different ideas and massive international collaboration projects like the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor nearing completion, fusion technology is advancing forward at a great pace.

Organizations like the International Atomic Energy Agency have coordinated and connected experts and technology from many different groups and companies. Additionally, as Najmabadi and Prager contend, our understanding of the physics of plasma has allowed for “the evolutionary improvement of plasma parameters… (to place) experiments at the threshold of energy breakeven.”

We are one or two more breakthroughs away from net gain in fusion power, but Damien Kalvar points out we are “nowhere close to production level systems.”

So now is the time to continue forward with fusion, turn the impractical into practical, and make fusion power a reality.