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Lockheed energy breakthrough

October 15, 2014

Lockheed Martin, the American defense contractor, has claimed a major breakthrough in nuclear fusion as an energy source. The company said it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year.

Futurando 95 (Kernfusion)
Image: DW

Lockheed Martin said Wednesday it was developing a compact power source based on nuclear fusion that was 10 times smaller than any existing fusion reactor.

In an online statement, the company said it planned to have a prototype ready in five years and deploy an operational reactor within "as little as ten years."

"Our compact fusion concept combines several alternative magnetic confinement approaches, taking the best parts of each, and offers a 90 percent size reduction over previous concepts," said Tom McGuire, head of the Skunk Works' Revolutionary Technology Programs.

While the company did not go into more detail online about what such an energy source might look like, the Reuters news agency, citing McGuire, said Lockheed Martin had shown it could build a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet (two meters by three meters) - small enough to fit on the back of a large truck.

McGuire noted that Lockheed Martin was now going public to find potential partners in industry and government for their work.

An inexhaustible source of energy

If realized, Lockheed's fusion reactor would put mankind one step closer to finding an inexhaustible source of energy.

Reuters cited McGuire as saying the reactor would use deuterium-tritium fuel, which can generate nearly 10 million times more energy than the same amount of fossil fuel.

Nuclear fusion is the merging of hydrogen atoms - the process that occurs on the Sun. This differs from nuclear fission, the splitting of atoms - mostly uranium - that is common to conventional nuclear power plants.

While both processes release enormous amounts of energy, fusion power has its advantages. The supply of hydrogen for fuel is virtually unlimited because seawater can be used, for one, and fusion power does not require the long-term storage of radioactive waste.

uhe/cjc (Reuters, lockheedmartin.com)