General Fusion, a Burnaby-based company getting ready to commercialize nuclear fusion by the end of this decade, is making a bit of a media splash. From a Nov. 30, 2011 news item on physorg.com (written by Tim Lawrence for AFP),
In the race against world governments and the wealthiest companies to commercialize a nuclear fusion reactor, a small, innovative Canadian firm is hoping to bottle and sell the sun’s energy.
They hope to test a prototype in 2014 and eventually become the first to commercialize the technology, offering a safe, cheap, pollution-free and virtually inexhaustible source of energy.
“What we’re trying to do is build the technology that can make the power that drives the sun, make it here on earth,” said Michael Delage, General Fusion’s vice president.
Most times when we hear ‘nuclear’, especially in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear accident, we think of nuclear fission not nuclear fusion, which is a different technology. From the General Fusion website page on Safety,
Nuclear fusion power plants produce electricity without incurring the dangers associated with nuclear fission.
Fusion systems cannot melt down or explode since the fusion reaction only acts on a small amount of nuclear fuel at a time and can only occur if suitable conditions can be created and maintained for a sufficient time. If any part of the process does not work perfectly, fusion will not occur. In contrast, in a fission reactor, fuel is added in bulk and the reactor controls the rate at which a chain reaction occurs; if the control mechanism fails, the reaction can run away and a meltdown can occur.
Fusion systems do not use or produce highly active, long-lived radioactive waste. In contrast, fission reactors create reaction products that are unstable and more highly radioactive than the parent fuel material. Some of these fission products have half-lives of tens of thousands of years, creating long-term radioactive waste storage problems.
Fusion power plants are unattractive terrorist targets since their destruction cannot cause widespread environmental damage or human injury, and they do not produce or contain any materials that could be used for making bombs.
The description of the benefits from the technology are certainly persuasive (from the General Fusion website section on Benefits),
Nuclear fusion power plants produce electricity without emitting greenhouse gases or pollutants.
General Fusion’s technology preserves non-renewable resources and promotes energy access, independence and security.
General Fusion power plants use deuterium and lithium as input fuel. The generator converts the lithium into tritium during the reaction process.
Lithium is abundant and widely available. The current annual lithium production is 16,000 t with 28.5 Mt of known land reserves and 250 Gt of seawater reserves. If fusion power plants were used to generate all of today’s electricity, land and sea reserves of lithium would be sufficient for 207 million years of production.
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Good luck to the folks at General Fusion!