Chief Executive of UKAEA, Prof. Chris Llewelyn-Smith Chris - Nuclear power has had a bad press in the past, but people like you think that fusion might hold the key to cleaning up its act.
Part of the show Climate Change & Alternative Energy
Chris L-S - Fusion powers the sun so we know it works. If we could master this on earth, it would provide essentially limitless, environmentally responsible sources of energy. We're tantalisingly close to mastering it in the sense that we have managed to create 16 megawatts of fusion power. We had to put in more than that amount of energy to achieve this, but we are convinced that if we built a reactor twice as big, we would be able to produce far more energy than we had to put in to clean up the gas.
Chris - Why is it cleaner or superior to existing fuel?
Chris L-S - The products of the fusion reaction are not radioactive. The heat created is taken out to heat water and turn turbines. Any radioactivity produced in the walls is short-lived and decays away with a half life of about 10 years. There is no problem of long term storage and there is nothing left for our great grandchildren.
Chris - What does a fusion reactor burn as its fuel?
Chris L-S - It burns heavy hydrogen and super heavy hydrogen. This comes from water and lithium respectively. We have to give it a go.
Chris - How long until this is likely to be ready?
Chris L-S - We want to build one the size of a power station, which should be ready to start in the next 10 years. Therefore, it should be built by the early 2020s.
Chris - How much are the costs likely to be?
Chris L-S - The costs of fusion power look reasonable. It's hard to predict the future, but it looks to be in the same range as existing sources of power but with no carbon dioxide or sulphur dioxide.