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When will we see the first nuclear fusion reactor?

By James Dacey

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A Canadian company is planning to build a prototype fusion demonstrator that would be a fraction of the cost of a standard fusion reactor, as editor Hamish Johnston reported today in this feature. Undoubtedly this is exciting news for those who have been following the development of nuclear fusion as a potential energy source, especially given these times of dwindling fossil-fuel supplies and environmental concerns linked with increasing carbon-dioxide emissions. But even if the prototype is a success, this is still a long way from the real deal: a fully functioning fusion reactor hooked up to a grid.

But we want to know your opinion on this issue. In this week’s Facebook poll, we want you to answer the following question:

When do you believe we will see the first working nuclear fusion reactor supplying electricity to a grid?

Within the next 30 years
Within 30–60 years
Within 60–90 years
Not until the Sun goes supernova

To cast your vote, please visit our Facebook page and please feel free to explain your answer by posting a comment.

Last year, this same question was put to David Ward from the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in the UK during an interview with Physics World. Ward believes that, realistically, we will not see practical fusion until 2040–2050 at the earliest. IOP members can view this video interview here.

In last week’s Facebook poll we asked you what is your biggest peeve about popular-science writing. 53% of respondents told us that authors “blurring fact and speculation” is their biggest bane, while 24% of pollsters found it more annoying when writers give “bad or unclear explanations”. A further 13% said that they think authors “talking down to readers” is the biggest crime, and just 10% believe that the worst offenders are the writers who use “clichés and overblown language”.

As always, the poll also generated some interested discussion. One respondent, Kate Scaryboots Oliver, who is based in the UK, wrote that authors “not explaining methodology” was her particular pet hate. And you can almost picture the steam escaping from her ears when she added: “Also, if I have to read about space being like a rubber sheet one more time!”

Phil Barker, another respondent based in the UK, feels disgruntled by the fact that popular-science writers often gloss over the mathematics. “Look at how many people each year now graduate with science, engineering, computing, business and other degrees that require a reasonable amount of maths. I’m not saying that every science book or article should be entirely maths-based, just that there is an audience that can cope with and would appreciate something other than hand-waving.”

Thank you for all your responses and we look forward to hearing from you again in this week’s poll.

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