Nuclear fusion can't come soon enough

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: Nuclear fusion has long been considered the holy grail of clean energy. Today in California, Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger are set to dedicate a $3.5 billion facility, one that aims at bringing fusion closer to commercial reality. From the Sustainability Desk, here's Marketplace's Sam Eaton.


Sam Eaton: It's called the National Ignition Facility. This stadium-sized building at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab houses the world's largest laser. Scientists hope to use that laser to ignite a miniature fusion reaction, the same that occurs at the center of the sun.

If it works, fusion could become a potential game changer in the quest for abundant, carbon-free energy. But Matthew Bunn, an energy policy expert at Harvard, says there's one small problem:

Matthew Bunn: We can't afford to wait for fusion.

He says even if the experiment works, fusion power plants on a commercial scale are still decades away. And Bunn says that's too late to prevent the worst effects of climate change.

Bunn: We're going to have to have a huge investment in carbon-free energy that comes on long before fusion becomes available to be part of that picture.

Fusion is also much more expensive compared to other alternative energy sources like solar and wind. And Bunn says the fear is that fusion projects could divert funding away from these proven technologies.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.

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