The government on Thursday awarded a $40 million contract to scientists and engineers at a public university to build and test what they believe is a simple design for a compact nuclear fusion reactor that could power the energy industry within decades.
If scientists prove themselves correct, the work could be a huge advance in the development of nuclear fusion, a process scientists have been trying for decades to harness and use to produce zero-emission electricity, as The New York Times reported last year. The Energy Department called the prototype “a highly promising project.”
Science News first reported the news.
Despite its lack of immediate profit, the success of nuclear fusion would be seen as a major step forward for innovation in the United States. The project has the potential to create carbon-free electricity more quickly and cheaply than the nuclear plants, as well as more efficiently than the sprawling storage sites needed for stored nuclear waste.
But it remains unclear just how much time and money it will take to build a laser-equipped reactor capable of cruising through the atmosphere at thousands of miles per hour and within minutes creating large amounts of harmless, coolant-free neutrons.
Scientists involved in the work said the limited acceleration required to deliver this kind of particle would be reduced to millions of times its weight after two days or a month of operation,
The Los Alamos National Laboratory, the nation’s most notable nuclear research and development center, will be leading the research.