Fusion power on the cheap? Not so outlandish…
My feature in the Toronto Star today is about General Fusion, a Vancouver-area startup that believes it can build a prototype of a nuclear fusion reactor for $50 million within four years. While the multibillion-dollar ITER and U.S. fusion programs are using costly lasers and electromagnets to achieve “net gain” — that is, creating a fusion reaction that releases more energy than put it — the folks at General Fusion are cleverly pursuing a mechanical approach that uses concentrated sound waves to compress a deuterium-tritium plasma and trigger a fusion reaction. The key, as you’ll see, is the use of precision digital controls that simply didn’t exist back in the 1970s when the idea of magnetized target fusion was first explored.
You can read the article for more details and a deeper explanation of how it works. General Fusion recently secured $13.9 million from Sustainable Development Technology Canada so it can pursue its prototype development, contingent on the company raising another $30 million or so from private investors. SDTC‘s average deal size is around $3 million so the fact it’s giving General Fusion nearly five times that amount speaks to the credibility of what it’s doing.
My readers would know that I love an underdog, and this certaintly counts as one of them. Unfortunately, Canada doesn’t have a fusion program and all expertise and experience around nuclear technology is around fission reactors — i.e. Candu. But if General Fusion can show four years from now that its approach can achieve net-gain, the company will have no problem attracting investment and attention from some of the world’s best nuclear minds.