An Experimental Fusion Energy Plant May Be Coming to a Town Near You

Five locations have been shortlisted. But is it safe?
Loukia Papadopoulos
The photo credit line may appear like thisUK Atomic Energy Authority

In April of 2021, we announced that nuclear fusion may not be science fiction anymore. TAE Technologies claimed to have hit a critical milestone in the development of a new technology capable of generating power from nuclear fusion.

Now, a new nuclear fusion project is seeking sites to set up its operations. The UK Atomic Energy Authority’s STEP (Spherical Tokamak for Energy Production) is exploring five locations for its new fully operational power station when completed in the 2040s, according to PhysicsWorld.

The sites include one in Scotland and four in England with a final decision to be made by the end of 2022. This announcement begs the question: is it safe to live near a nuclear fusion plant?

What about its safety?

According to the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA), nuclear fusion plants are perfectly safe and environmentally friendly.

"Fusion on (...) does not create any long-lived radioactive nuclear waste. A fusion reactor produces helium, which is an inert gas. It also produces and consumes tritium within the plant in a closed circuit. Tritium is radioactive (a beta emitter) but its half-life is short. It is only used in low amounts so, unlike long-lived radioactive nuclei, it cannot produce any serious danger," wrote the IAEA on its site.

The agency also explained that since fusion energy production is not based on a chain reaction, as seen in fission, it can therefore not cause a nuclear reaction. For fusion to occur, plasma must be kept at very high temperatures.

Every shift or change of the working configuration in the reactor causes the cooling of plasma which leads to the reactor automatically shutting down within a few seconds. This means that if anything goes wrong with a fusion reactor, the device would simply come to a halt with no further after effects. Good news!


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