Nuclear Fusion for Dummies

They say nuclear fusion could solve the world’s energy woes in one fell swoop. The problem is, fusion is as hard to understand as it is to achieve. My solution? To get the CEO of General Fusion, a local company at the nuclear-fusion vanguard, to expla

Inside a massive generator, two atoms are forced together into a new whole. This connection gives off large amounts of energy, which is then converted into electricity.

In its fusion reactions, General Fusion uses two slightly different forms of hydrogen – deuterium and tritium. The reason?The two react well together and have a high probability of joining. Their affinity owes to the precise environment created and

The success of fusion relies on a combination of density and time in confinement. Richardson distilled this major challenge into a metaphor that I, and surely any 6-year-old, could understand.
“One way to think about it is like teenagers in a gym a

The goal: Fusing isotopes of hydrogen. The challenge: Creating and sustaining the perfect environment for fusion.
Inside the generator’s spherical metal tank is a mixture of liquid metal spinning fast enough to create a vortex (empty space) at its

Above and below the generator’s metal tank are two injectors, which shoot a hot, gaseous mixture (plasma) of deuterium and tritium into the vortex. Once injected, the plasma needs to be compressed for fusion to take place and generate energy.

To compress the gas mixture (the gymnasium shrinks to a basement), about 200 precisely timed pistons (above: one such piston) pound the outside of the tank. The resulting shockwave collapses the vortex, forcing the plasma into a higher density.

As the atoms fuse, energy is released in the form of charged helium atoms and free neutrons. The neutrons exit the plasma, bouncing off the metal walls. The neutrons contact the metal mixture, transferring energy to it. Eventually they slow and are absorb

The liquid metal is pumped out of the chamber and through a separator. The metal passes through a heat exchanger, in which the metal’s energy heats water, creating steam. Part of the steam goes back to the generator to fuel the pistons; the rest turns


For more on nuclear fusion and the B.C. company that may solve the world’s energy problems, read The Audacity of General Fusion from the BCBusiness February issue.