The future of powering our planet


As a youngster, I played the city micromanagement game at school, called SimCity 2000. In the game, you are responsible for building a city and constructing all of the facilities that its citizens need, such as fire stations, police stations, road and rail, hospitals, residential, commercial, and industrial zones, and, to top it off, the things that power all of this infrastructure… power stations.


In SimCity 2000, you begin with being able to select from three main sources of power for your power plant. These are oil, coal, and gas. Relatively basic, and in use for decades in the real world already. As you progress through the game, you are able to put money into researching new sources of power, and turbine (wind), hydro (water), nuclear and fusion power plants become available. And it is the last one that always got me thinking about fusion power in the real world, as to my mind, it is the most advanced and cleanest form of energy that we can have. Compared to burning oil or coal, which produce large amounts of pollution, and even building huge turbine wind farms (which many people find as destroying the landscape of their communities), fusion power has virtually zero drawbacks.


The way fusion power works is relatively simple. It generates energy by combining, essentially, two differently charged particles, and the resulting “explosion” from bringing the two together is what creates the energy which can then be harnessed and used to power entire cities. Think of it like forcing two same-ends of a magnet together. By bringing each same pole into contact (where they don’t want to be), a force is generated. You can literally feel it if you’ve ever tried to do this with a home science kit or in your science class at school. Well, a fusion power plant does this same idea, but on a much larger scale. Scientists have been able to define negatively and positively charged ions in the atmosphere, and this is what they have been working with in the fusion reactors that have been constructed to this stage.


Fusion power is even more advanced than nuclear power, which itself has been shown to be extremely problematic, such as the nuclear reactor meltdowns in Japan a few years ago, which have damaged the land and water beyond all repair. Whereas nuclear power was once thought of as the “be all and end all” of scientific discovery, it has been proven that fusion power is an even more advanced, safer, cleaner, and more powerful method of generating energy. Stephen Hawking, among others, is a devout advocate for fusion power as it has been described as a ‘near-limitless, pollution free, cheap source of energy that would power human development for many centuries to come.’


So, what’s the hold up? It hasn’t been developed yet. Generating energy from fusion power has been said to be one of the greatest scientific challenges of our time, yet equally as important. However, research bodies such as the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy claims that with adequate funding, the first fusion power plant can be operational by the 2040s.


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