Why fusion is needed
New, environmentally sustainable forms of electricity will be required to meet the aspirations of a growing world population.
By 2050, an expected rise in global population from six billion to nine billion and better living standards could lead to a two to threefold increase in energy consumption.
No single technology will fulfil this demand. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and a mix of power sources will be needed to meet the challenges of energy security, sustainable development and environmental protection. Future energy supply options may comprise fossil fuels, nuclear fission, fusion, and renewables.
At present, 80% of the developed world's energy comes from fossil fuels. Environmental problems – the greenhouse effect and the effects of acidic pollution – and diminishing fuel supplies mean that reliance on coal, gas and oil will have to be severely constrained.
Nuclear fission will continue to make a major contribution to electricity generation but its growth could be curtailed by issues of public and political acceptability. Supplies from renewable sources are reliant on environmental conditions, and are therefore not guaranteed to be constant. They are also subject to technology challenges of energy storage. To provide constant baseload electricity, predictable, non-varying sources of energy are needed. This means a short-term reliance on fossil fuels and fission and then the addition of fusion power as soon as it becomes available.
Fusion offers a secure, long-term source of supply, with important advantages. These include: no production of greenhouse gases from the fusion process; no long-lived radioactive waste (all waste will be recyclable within 100 years); inherent safety features; and almost unlimited fuel supplies. On current estimates, the cost of fusion-generated electricity is predicted to be broadly comparable to that obtained from fission, renewables and fossil fuels.
Fusion, therefore, could have a key role to play in the energy market of the future, with the potential to produce at least 20% of the world's electricity by 2100.