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It’s Friday evening. A reception at the United Nations brings world leaders together mingling over drinks and traveling plates of hors d'oeuvres. Business would have been conducted as usual if it weren’t for the Arctic wildfires, devastating storms and killer floods spreading in conversations around the room - terrifying climate change scenarios ignited by children protesting outside, demanding for real action from their governments and international policy-makers.
While climate agreements have been made in the past, without changing the energy system based on fossil fuels, warning limits will surely be surpassed and agreements will be broken as energy consumption keeps rising to feed the appetite of an ever-developing world. Children, becoming increasingly educated, will remain rightfully loud as they build their own life expectations.
When the problem is brought to the table and served, well-known solutions established in previously catered events emerge across the room: “reductions on the use of fossil fuels”; “strict carbon emission limits”; “available clean energy sources”. With this sort of buzz in the background, together with the clinking glasses, another voice might be overheard announcing, “Nuclear fusion”.
This is the moment when we from the nuclear fusion research community stand out from the crowd, slightly embarrassed, thinking not of the fusion promise but rather of the challenges still ahead to finally deliver fusion electricity. We are driven to crack the unsolved puzzle handed to us by fusion forefathers Igor Tamm, Andrei Sakharov and the others that followed. Our drive might be the promise for a sustainable energy source, but our focus is on a given specific problem that we individually have to solve.
On the other hand, fusion technology’s contribution to a future global energy supply system is due to meet other barriers. Not just those overcome in laboratories and experimental devices. How significantly can fusion contribute to base load electricity generation once it is part of a given energy mix? The answer may depend largely on the investment cost and opportunity cost at the time of deployment and throughout its operational life-time. But it will also depend on factors like the existence of strict carbon emission limits (assuming that the depletion of natural resources has not yet had any effects) which could contribute to a stronger market penetration of the technology.
Simply put, an outspoken world with a strong sense of environmental responsibility will support the development and widespread use of fusion electricity.
Put down your cutlery and champagne flutes, stop and listen, as one of the biggest challenges fusion faces is being taken on just outside by our own children.
An outspoken world with a strong sense of environmental responsibility will support the development and widespread use of fusion electricity.