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Catalyst podcast: Is nuclear fusion getting closer?

A technical expert discusses when (or if) fusion will become a reality.

The conventional wisdom about nuclear fusion is that it has always been — and will always be — a decade away. But is something different happening now?

Recently, we’ve seen some breakthrough technical achievements in fusion, including near ignition at the National Ignition Facility in August, which yielded a record 1.3 [megajoules] in fusion energy, releasing, for the first time, more energy than the fuel capsule absorbed.”

Fusion startups have also enjoyed a recent barrage of mega-funding. First, General Fusion raised $130 million. Then Helion Energy raised $500 million with another $1.8 billion committed based on whether it hits key milestones. And then Commonwealth Fusion Systems closed a $1.8 billion venture round. (Energy Impact Partners, where Shayle is a partner, has invested in fusion startup Zap Energy.)

So what’s happening here? To find out, Shayle talks to Scott Hsu, ARPA-E’s program director for fusion R&D.

Shayle asks: What role will fusion actually play in the future of our energy supply? 

Scott and Shayle cover technical advancements that have enabled rapid improvements in the size and cost of fusion systems. They also discuss critical milestones, scaling to cost-competitiveness and technical pathways. And they examine the economics and physics that will determine how rampable a fusion system might be and realistic targets for the cost of a megawatt-hour. 

They also discuss the tritium breeding blanket Shayle is getting for Christmas.

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media andCanary Media.

Catalyst is supported by Atmos Financial. Atmos offers FDIC-insured checking and savings accounts that only invest in climate-positive assets like renewables, green construction and regenerative agriculture. Modern banking for climate-conscious people. Get an account in minutes at joinat​mos​.com.