Lockheed Martin may be best known as being a leading high tech aircraft builder, but the company has far more research projects it funds. At the company’s Skunk Works research center, scientists have been working on compact nuclear fusion reactors so small they can fit on the back of a truck, yet one single reactor could provide enough electrical power for 100,000 persons per reactor. Mimicking the sort of fusion reactions which power the Earth’s Sun where hydrogen atoms are superheated and transformed into helium, where massive amounts of energy are produced, compact nuclear fusion provides safe energy production without all of the major drawbacks of nuclear fission reactors.
Sadly, nuclear fission reactors gave nuclear reactors a bad name for the attempted efficient and cost effective production of safe energy, by producing waste materials that presented major disposal problems or some nations might spin into nuclear weapons. Fission works by splitting atoms, while fusion works by using high electrical currents to heat atoms to force atoms to fuse together. Fusion creates three to four times more energy than fission, but a sustained operation of a fusion reactor may have heat increase up to a million degrees within the reactor, or temperatures that can easily melt not only all known metals but also rock into lava as well. Some sort of heat resistant ceramic with the same sort of characteristics that protect space vehicles during re-entry is required for the core area of the reactor.
Lockheed Martin’s research has been able to find materials that can withstand the heat produced during the fusion process where tubes inject atoms between supermagnets that heat the atoms where they are forced together in the reactor heat blanket. A heat exchanger then transfers the heat into power to turn an electricity producing turbine.
Developing areas of the world with unstable electrical grids could have reliable electrical power for the first time. Cheap electric power can power pumps to bring water to areas where little water now exists. Developing nations can have safe reactors with no chance of nuclear waste presenting disposal problems or being spun into nuclear weapon materials. For the developing world, cheap electric power can benefit economic development and give households more free income to spend to boost the consumer economy. Aircraft and ships can be built with unlimited ranges to travel without having to refuel. The environment will become cleaner and clearer as burning coal to produce electricity can end. In the shorter run, plug-in hybrid automobiles can replace dirty burning gasoline engines, later replaced by all electric, and, maybe eventually automobiles of unlimited range that do not need to refuel, that have their small compact nuclear fusion reactor powering the automobile.
Edison’s lightbulb was once a true advance. But, from the inspiration of Earth’s Sun comes the promise of a cleaner environment, cheaper energy and a better future to all people of the world. Lockheed Martin may soon lead us into the most revolutionary changes of our lives in the very near future.