News FocusInertial Confinement Fusion

Fusion Power's Road Not Yet Taken

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Science  28 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6055, pp. 445-448
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6055.445

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Fusion energy researchers in the United States involved in inertial confinement fusion (ICF), crushing pellets of fuel to cause small explosions, have been the poor relations compared with their colleagues in magnetic confinement fusion, who aim to confine much larger and less dense plasma using powerful magnets. Magnetic fusion researchers have pinned their hopes on ITER, a huge international reactor currently being built in France, which aims to prove the feasibility of magnetic fusion energy. But with the twin threats of climate change and declining oil stocks, interest in alternative sources of energy is growing. So ICF researchers across the country have been drawing up plans for research that would be needed to take their techniques out of the lab and into prototype power plants. The question for ICF researchers is: Could ICF become a genuine contender capable of putting electricity in the grid before ITER and its successors do?