Something like the sun – could nuclear fusion be our get out of jail card?


Shakespeare started a poem “my mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun“. For the past 400 years we  have been struggling to find a source of energy that provides us with a little of the sun’s intensity.

The Sun is currently our great enemy, its energy melts glaciers, parches good land and raises sea levels swamping low lying countries.

But it could provide us with inspiration to meet our energy needs safely and within the shortening time-window before a global catastrophy is complete. Wiki-tells me that

the Sun is a main-sequence star, and thus generates its energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. In its core, the Sun fuses 500 million metric tons of hydrogen each second.

For decades, scientists have looked to fuse atoms to unlock energy as happens within the Sun’s core.  This week,  researchers confirmed they have overcome a major barrier – producing more energy from a fusion experiment than was put in.

This from the Guardian.

This from the BBC website, describes the breakthrough in words

It works by taking pairs of light atoms and forcing them together – this “fusion” releases a lot of energy.

It is the opposite of nuclear fission, where heavy atoms are split apart. Fission is the technology currently used in nuclear power stations, but the process also produces a lot of waste that continues to give out radiation for a long time. It can be dangerous and must be stored safely.

Nuclear fusion produces far more energy, and only small amounts of short-lived radioactive waste. And importantly, the process produces no greenhouse gas emissions and therefore does not contribute to climate change.

So is it “job done” – well no.

So far the amount of fusion energy (net of the energy needed to source it) is only enough to boil a few kettles, the sun is fusing 500m metric tons each second, we have a long way to go to scale this process.

This is a step on the way to zero emissions and it may be too small a step , too close to the endgame. It certainly should not be used to justify pollutants continuing to destroy our planet nor our efforts to move to net-zero.

But it suggests something which I was taught in college . There is in the world we live in “negative capability”, that which is unspoken but which is latent and powerful if unlocked. In literature we talked of negative capability as the suggestive force of words to incite the imagination to more. Science too has this force.

For fifty years , scientists have worked on harness  the destructive force of the sun , to solve our problems. Ironically, fusion could be used to destroy the planet (as part of a nuclear armoury). But the much more optimistic view of this “breakthrough” is that we may at last be in sight of a long-term solution to the climate crisis.

You can look more into the work that took place at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California in this hour long Q&A

The negative capability in Shakespeare’s famous line is evident by its resonance over 400 years. His mistress when she walks “treads on the ground” and the sonnet is about keeping things real.

For six decades, nuclear fusion has existed in the realm of the abstract, comparisons with the sun have shown that we can do nothing like it. Now , we have scientific evidence we can do something like the sun, and at a time when mankind is in a dark place, recreating the sun’s rays on earth is welcome news.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
This entry was posted in pensions and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Something like the sun – could nuclear fusion be our get out of jail card?

  1. Pingback: How do we know if our money’s mattering? | AgeWage: Making your money work as hard as you do

Leave a Reply