Lockheed Martin made a huge splash in the energy world this week when it announced that it’s looking for partners to help construct small, modular nuclear fusion reactors capable of powering up to 80,000 American homes, and small enough to transport on the back of a semi-trailer, a ship, or possibly one day a plane. Reuters reports:
Initial work demonstrated the feasibility of building a 100-megawatt reactor measuring seven feet by 10 feet, which could fit on the back of a large truck, and is about 10 times smaller than current reactors, McGuire told reporters.In a statement, the company, the Pentagon’s largest supplier, said it would build and test a compact fusion reactor in less than a year, and build a prototype in five years.
This big reveal comes with all sorts of caveats, the most notable being that the earliest Lockheed expects to produce any sort of operational reactor will be ten years from now. Fusion has a long history of breakthroughs, most recently when a reaction at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was able to produce a fusion reaction that expended more energy than it required. Maybe it’s not so unexpected that setbacks abound when one tries to channel, quite literally, the power of the sun, but given the complexity of the technology involved, skepticism can be healthy when it comes to fusion.That said, there are some broader takeaways here. One of the flaws in projecting the growth of green energy and the rise in global temperatures is the reality that technological progress will continue to change the playing field. We don’t know if compact fusion can really come on line in a serious way, but if it does, this is a massive game-changer, and if it doesn’t, you can reasonably expect some other disruptive technology to fundamentally reshape our energy landscape. We’re already seeing that with the shale boom, which few would have predicted less than a decade ago.The logical policy recommendation here is that government should spend less money subsidizing power sources that aren’t economically sound and impose costs on businesses and consumers. It should rather invest in the kind of basic research that can lead to technology that makes for better living standards and a greener, more sustainable economy.