Babbage: The race for nuclear fusion goes private

Imagine a power source that produces hardly any waste and is carbon-free. That’s the tantalising promise of controlled nuclear fusion, which physicists have been trying to achieve for 70 years. It is a simulacrum of the process that powers the sun, colliding atomic nuclei of various sorts to release huge amounts of energy. 

Fusion research was once the provenance of governments and national laboratories, but now private companies are getting in on the act. Dozens of them are exploring different ways to create the extreme conditions needed to achieve fusion here on Earth. And, contrary to the old joke that fusion power is thirty years away, and always will be, some of them think they can get there in a decade.

Fernanda Rimini, an experimental fusion scientist with the UK Atomic Energy Authority, explains how nuclear fusion works. Geoff Carr, The Economist’s science and technology editor, explores why fusion is coming back into fashion for private companies. Geoff also speaks to Bob Mumgaard of Commonwealth Fusion Systems, Warrick Matthews of Tokamak Energy and Nick Hawker of First Light Fusion. Plus, Stephen Cowley, the director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory assesses how helpful the latest private fusion ventures are in advancing the field. Alok Jha hosts.

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