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Lockheed Martin announces stunning breakthrough in fusion power, the key to limitless energy for the planet

Fusion power

(NaturalNews) Lockheed Martin scientists have made a breakthrough in developing a nuclear-fusion-based power source, the company announced last year. The company projects that the first commercial reactors, which would be small enough to fit on the back of a truck, could be available within 10 years.

"We can make a big difference on the energy front," project head Tom McGuire said.

According to McGuire, Lockheed Martin has been working for 60 years to find a way to make a power source based on nuclear fusion, as a safer and more efficient alternative to the fission reactors in use since the Cold War.

Operational in 10 years?

Nuclear fission, the energy source for modern nuclear power plants, occurs when heavy, radioactive elements such as uranium break apart into smaller elements. This process produces dangerous radiation as a byproduct and leaves behind toxic nuclear waste that can endure for centuries.

In contrast, fusion -- which powers stars, including our own sun -- occurs when small, light atoms, such as hydrogen, smash together to form heavier atoms. This process also releases enormous amounts of energy, without the risk of harmful radiation or radioactive byproducts that can pose a health or national security threat. To date, however, scientists have been unable to initiate fusion reactions on Earth without using more energy than the reaction produces.

In an effort to replicate the inside of stars, fusion reactors typically consist of plasma, a gas heated to approximately 100 million degrees C, hot enough that it ionizes. A major technological hurdle has involved finding a way to contain this superheated gas.

According to McGuire, Lockheed Martin has been working on the current fusion project for about four years. Preliminary work has suggested that it would be feasible to build a 100 megawatt (MW) reactor that is only 7 by 10 feet, about 10 times smaller than existing fusion reactors. This reactor would consume only 25 kg of fuel per year.

One hundred MW is enough power to light up a city of 80,000 homes.

The company is now seeking government and industry partners to build a prototype. It hopes to have the prototype completed in 5 years and a fully operational reactor within 10.

"What makes our project really interesting and feasible is that timeline as a potential solution," McGuire said.

The race for fusion power

Because the company is seeking to develop a commercial product, it did not release any details of how the supposed technological breakthrough works. For that reason, scientists have been cautious in their response to the announcement. Some said that, if not for Lockheed Martin's well respected name, they would have dismissed the announcement out of hand.

"You have to be ready for somebody to change your mind, you have to be," said Steve Cowley, director of the Jet Project, another effort to create viable fusion-based power.

"I don't know in this case. It might be that they have some good ideas, but partly because they are doing it commercially they are not going to tell us, so it can't be subject to the normal scientific peer review.

"If they do have some innovative ideas they'd be fools to tell us."

Concerns such as dwindling fossil fuel reserves and a changing climate have given new urgency to the decades-old race for fusion power. Excluding Lockheed Martin's alleged breakthrough, the Jet Project is still the closest that anyone has come. That effort used 24 MW of power to produce a fusion reaction that gave off just 16 MW. A collaborative global project known as Iter is based on that effort and also hopes to have an operative fusion reactor by the middle of next decade.

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