Long Reads

Is nuclear fusion really the answer to our clean energy prayers?

There’s a new fusion kid on the block. His name is Nick Hawker and he carries a very big gun – 22m long. It fires a projectile at around 7km/s and aims to hit a bullseye only two atoms wide.

Fusion, of course, is nothing new. The sun has been at it for the last few billion years and is still going strong, producing vast amounts of energy – enough to keep us warm and well-lit in dark, chilly interstellar space – by smashing atoms together and converting hydrogen into helium (a process first proposed by Arthur Eddington and finally figured out by Hans Bethe).

It’s nuclear power, but not as we know it. Energy produced by fission – splitting atoms apart – is a quintessentially 20th-century invention. The disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima – and the partial meltdown of Three Mile Island – remind us that this form of power comes out of the same school as the atom bomb dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The process at the core of both is the same: a chain reaction. Involving, the exact same material: uranium 235.


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