Energy Efficiency

A recent deal by Microsoft to contract with fusion company Helion for electric power starting in 2028 has renewed interest in the technology.

What Is Nuclear Fusion and Why Is It Growing in Popularity?

A recent deal by Microsoft to contract with fusion company Helion for electric power starting in 2028 has renewed interest in the technology.

Nuclear fusion has gained popularity in recent years, with more money flowing into start-ups that are focused on the clean energy source. The hope is that fusion, which does not carry the risks associated with nuclear fission, may soon provide more power in the United States and around the world.

Microsoft recently signed a deal with Helion, a Washington-based fusion company, to supply the tech giant at least 50 megawatts of energy by 2028. This is the first such agreement for a fusion firm, according to Axios. “It comes as money and interest pours into the much heralded, yet-to-be-realized clean energy source,” Axios reported.


Helion will locate its fusion plant in Washington state. Microsoft, also headquartered in Washington state, plans to use the electricity to power its data centers. Helion reported that its Polaris fusion reactor is on track to meet the 2028 deadline.

Axios called fusion the “Holy Grail of clean energy,” but what is it, exactly? Does it offer a way to avoid the sort of disasters people expect when fossil fuel energy runs out?


The Power of the Stars

Nuclear fusion is a process that occurs when two atomic nuclei come together to form a single, more massive nucleus. Thus, the name – they are “fused” together. This process releases massive amounts of pure energy in the form of light and heat because the one nucleus has less energy than the two separate nuclei. Nuclear fusion is the process that powers the sun and other stars in the universe.

When the nuclei combine, they form a more massive nucleus with a slightly lower energy than the original nuclei. This difference in energy is released in the form of light and heat, and the newly formed nucleus can either be stable or can undergo further radioactive decay.

The most common type of nuclear fusion reaction occurs between two isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium, and tritium. When these two nuclei come together, they form a helium nucleus, a neutron, and release a large amount of energy. This reaction is the basis for nuclear fusion research, as it is the most efficient and practical way to generate energy from fusion reactions.

Scientists are interested in studying fusion because “if nuclear fusion can be replicated on earth at an industrial scale, it could provide virtually limitless clean, safe, and affordable energy to meet the world’s demand,” according to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Benefits of Nuclear Fusion

Perhaps the best-known benefit of nuclear fusion is that it does not produce the radioactive waste associated with nuclear fission, which is the process used in nuclear power plants today. Additionally, nuclear fusion produces significantly more energy than nuclear fission and does not rely on scarce resources like uranium and plutonium.

However, nuclear fusion reactions require extremely high temperatures and pressures to initiate and maintain, which poses significant technological challenges.

Scientists and engineers are working to develop nuclear fusion reactors that can harness the power of nuclear fusion in a practical and efficient way. These reactors use magnetic fields to contain and control the hot, ionized gas, or plasma, that is necessary for nuclear fusion reactions. While significant progress has been made in nuclear fusion research, developing a practical and sustainable nuclear fusion reactor remains a significant scientific and technological challenge.

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