Researchers at Lockheed Martin made headlines this week with the announcement that they are on the fast track to building a nuclear fusion reactor. But experts responded with skepticism.
Fusion promises unlimited clean, renewable energy without the nasty byproducts of the uranium-splitting fission that drives today's nuclear plants. The problem is figuring out how to contain it. For hydrogen atoms to smash together with enough force to fuse, they must jitter and bounce with many times the heat of the sun's core. Tom McGuire, the Lockheed project lead, tells Popular Science their reactor will run at 200 million degrees. Matter that hot leaves the simple world of solids, liquids, and gasses to form a plasma. No solid vessel will contain that material, so fusion generators resort to suspending the roiling mass with powerful electromagnets.