Road to COP26—is nuclear fusion the future of clean energy?

Road to COP26—is nuclear fusion the future of clean energy?

Can nuclear fusion, a novel method of generating nuclear energy by replicating the same fusion process that maintains the sun, provide a commercially viable method of producing low-emissions energy? 

Decarbonising the energy sector is a key objective for Parties to the Paris Agreement, being an agreement between 197 nations to limit global temperature increases to 2 degrees Celsius above than pre-industrial levels. At the 26th UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) set to take place this November, Party delegates will discuss how countries can meet their domestic greenhouse gas emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement, in part by phasing out coal as an energy source and increasing investments in renewable energy. But could advances in nuclear fusion technology make both such methods of clean energy generation obsolete?

While nuclear fusion is not yet a commercially viable means of producing electricity, developments in research and experimental programmes reveal that fusion technology could soon provide large scale clean energy, while avoiding the safety risks associated with traditional fission nuclear reactors or the practical limitations of intermittent renewable energy sources such as wind, hydro and solar power. For this reason, nuclear fusion is sometimes referred to as the 'holy grail' of clean energy. 

In the latest instalment of our series of News Analyses preceding COP26, we provide further information on the science behind nuclear fusion technology, he engineering challenges faced by scientists working on its development, and how it compares to other forms of sustainable energy production. We also include commentary by Ian Salter, Ian Truman, and Peter Ramsden of Burges Salmon LLP, advisors to the UK Atomic Energy Authority, on: 

(1) recent government investments in nuclear fusion research, 

(2) the anticipated regulatory requirements surrounding fusion-based power, 

(3) perceived obstacles to global adoption of fusion technology, and 

(4) whether advancements in the 'holy grail' of clean energy will negate the need for nuclear fission plants. 

Read the full article here: Putting the sun in a box—the search for marketable nuclear fusion technology.

More information on energy can be found here.

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