The ancient village of Culham, nestled in a bend of the River Thames west of London, seems an unlikely launching pad for the future. But next year, construction will start here on a gleaming building of glass and steel that could house what many people consider to be an essential technology to meet demand for clean energy in the twenty-first century and beyond.
Long derided as a prospect that is forever 30 years away, nuclear fusion seems finally to be approaching commercial viability. There are now more than 30 private fusion firms globally, according to an October survey by the Fusion Industry Association (FIA) in Washington DC, which represents companies in the sector; the 18 firms that have declared their funding say they have attracted more than US$2.4 billion in total, almost entirely from private investments (see ‘Fusion funding’). Key to these efforts are advances in materials research and computing that are enabling technologies other than the standard designs that national and international agencies have pursued for so long.