Fusion Energy: an overview
Everyone knows how nuclear energy works, at least traditionally. We split the atom, a process called nuclear fission, and began the nuclear age back in 1945. Despite the benefits derived from nuclear energy, accidents since like 3 Mile Island, Chernobyl, and most recently Fukushima have taught the public to fear nuclear reactors as unsafe due to the radioactive potential. But what about nuclear energy that has no radioactive byproduct? Nuclear fusion, the exact opposite of fission, can create a stable and self sustaining reaction that’s fuel is just salt and water, not unstable radioactive isotopes of uranium or plutonium. By combining hydrogen atoms into helium, fusion reactors mimic the chemical reactions that keep the Sun shining, earning them the nickname “a star in a jar.”
For decades the running joke of nuclear fusion is that it’s only thirty years away – but it always will be. The biggest hurdle during the last six decades of research has been containing the plasma created by fusion that can reach hundreds of millions of degrees. Now that multiple countries have successfully sustained fusion for extended periods, including the US, China, the UK, Germany, and South Korea, the possibility has been reliably proven. Pooling resources, the aforementioned countries, along with the European Union and Russian Federation, are building a massive fusion reactor in France, ITER, a factor of ten larger than current facilities. Today, the most likely cause of hold ups is political, not physical. Should Russia, China, or any other partner pull funding or expertise the project could be delayed. It is yet unknown how events like Brexit will impact the schedule, and further political delays seem inevitable. The physical barriers have been broken through for smaller scale fusion reactions, but a project as large and ambitious as ITER is literally unprecedented. The technology needed to generate and contain this type of reaction will improve between now and 2025 when “first plasma” is scheduled, but it remains a challenge for even the biggest governments and brightest minds in the world. But for now, the clean and sustainable energy created by ITER is scheduled to hit European energy grids by 2035; in less than 20 years, a man-made star will be charging smartphones.
How does data analytics play a role?
Companies like Lockheed Martin in the US, Tokamak Energy in the UK, and others across the world are working on fusion reactors as small as trucks. These could power entire cities and regions, and knowing the best location to put them is where a company like Praescient Analytics could come into play. A comprehensive list of relevant “factors” would be tens of thousands of data points long, and expert analysts at Praescient could use tools in our extensive suite of software and geospatial analysis platforms to find links between seemingly unrelated pieces of data that would help governments find the most efficient and safe location for each reactor. Additionally, Praescient could monitor social media mentions of nuclear energy to gauge public interaction, interest, and perception of the projects.
Fusion energy is a viable future for our increasingly climate change weary world. The innovation in this field pairs perfectly with Praescient’s marriage of analysis and cutting edge technology to solve complex problems and get ideal solutions. Sustainable and clean nuclear energy helps promote American self-sufficiency, combats climate change on a national scale, and allows for the redirection of massive amounts of federal resources to other projects. Reliable clean energy would help America politically, economically, and environmentally, and is a goal Praescient believes is worth working towards.