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Lockheed Martin claims major nuclear fusion breakthrough

17 October 2014

Lockheed Martin, the American defence and aerospace group, has claimed a major breakthrough in developing nuclear fusion as an energy source. Lockheed said on October 15 it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year that was 10 times smaller than any existing fusion reactor.

Compact fusion program manager Tom McGuire - Image: Lockheed Martin
Compact fusion program manager Tom McGuire - Image: Lockheed Martin

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% 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 7 by 10 feet (2 by 3 metres) - 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.

If realised, 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 in the Sun. This differs from nuclear fission, the splitting of atoms, that is used in 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 and fusion power does not produce radioactive waste.

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