Nuclear atom

Inside its core, the sun heats and compresses hydrogen atoms until they fuse, releasing enormous amounts of energy. It’s a process known as nuclear fusion.

Harnessing the same process on earth could provide a vast source of clean electricity.

Mauel: “There’s no air pollution. Zero.”

Mike Mauel of Columbia University co-chaired a National Academies of Sciences panel that recently assessed the state of nuclear fusion research.

One of the obstacles in developing fusion power is that it requires an immense amount of heat. No one has yet created a fusion reactor that generates more energy than it uses.

But Mauel says researchers are making progress.

For example, a project in France is projected to start producing net power in 2035 – though only for minutes at a time.

So there’s a long way to go before fusion could become a major electricity source. But Mauel says ongoing investment in fusion research is worth it.

Mauel: “The promise of abundant energy from fusion I think is so compelling that we owe it to ourselves to carry out reasonable, well-managed research for decades to reach this goal.”

Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media.

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