“Nuclear fusion? It's as beautiful as the sun and generates infinite energy”

«The sun shines, it has no alternative»: Samuel Beckett was certainly not a scientist, but ultimately in this sentence of his there is everything needed to change the future of humanity. It's about giving new …

"Nuclear fusion? It's as beautiful as the sun and generates infinite energy"

«The sun shines, it has no alternative»: Samuel Beckett was certainly not a scientist, but ultimately in this sentence of his there is everything needed to change the future of humanity. It's about giving new energy, in short, and it's not just a practical question but even a philosophical one, if we think that the sun could be the driving force of a much more peaceful world. Then there are men of course, and fortunately there are those who study to ensure that the sources that drive the planet's business are no longer the object of conquest.

Between war and peace, therefore, there are great minds at work. And one of these, that of Professor Piero Martin, professor of Experimental Physics at the University of Padua and scientific director of the DTT project in Frascati, can tell the continuous progress of nuclear fusion. That is, the technique that will allow us to reproduce what happens on our star in power plants designed to produce infinite energy with zero impact.

Professor Martin, we are talking about nuclear power. However…

«But nuclear is a word that is scary for various reasons. In our case, however, we are talking about the greatest scientific effort for a sustainable future”

Let's tidy up, then.

«Nuclear fusion is a fundamental process in nature: it is, in fact, what powers the Sun and the stars. It involves the heart of matter, the nucleus. It is a process in which two light nuclei, typically hydrogen or its isotopes, fuse to form a heavier nucleus, for example helium.”

What happens at that point?

«Following the reaction, energy that was stored in the parent nuclei is converted and can therefore be used to produce electricity. It is precisely the alternative process to fission, where instead a heavy nucleus such as uranium splits.”

What are the benefits?

«We are talking about a source of electricity that will not produce CO2 and which does not release waste with long-lasting radioactivity. Furthermore, the fuels used in a future reactor, namely water and lithium, are easily available. Let's think, in the first case, of the sea.”

We've been talking about fusion for a while. What is the progress?

«Fusion works in nature: above our heads we have a wonderful natural reactor, the sun. We can say that thanks to fusion in the sun, life exists on Earth. We are working hard in the laboratory to reproduce the phenomenon. Research groups around the world are developing the science and technological solutions that will lead to the prototype reactor.”

Research groups that at this moment in history represent almost an exception.

«This research brings together cutting-edge physics and engineering, with the aim of creating an efficient reactor. In France, for example, Iter is under construction, a large project created thanks to a collaboration between the European Union, China, Korea, the Russian Federation, Japan, India and the United States. All together to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion, and will be followed by the prototype demonstration reactor for the production of electricity.”

Italy is at the forefront of this research.

«The experimental DTT device is being built at the Enea laboratory in Frascati, which will be one of the most advanced in the world and will be called upon to provide crucial answers for the development of reactors. It is achieved thanks to an important collaboration between public and private research: Eni is also involved with a 25% stake in the consortium company responsible for the construction of which Enea is the majority shareholder. Infn, Cnr, universities and research consortia are also members.”

Another important part of the research is in Padua.

«In the laboratories of the RFX Consortium of Padua we continue the work of building an important component of the Iter experiment. The Italian industry is heavily involved at an international level in the supply of its components with over one and a half billion euros of orders and for various laboratories”.

When can Iter be fully operational? And when will this future be possible?

«Over the last 2-3 years we are witnessing a strong acceleration of scientific and technological activities on fusion, which is increasingly the subject of ambitious programs in many countries, and has recently attracted over 6 billion dollars of investments in start-ups private in the sector. Iter, then, as we said, eco-financed by the major world economies.”

And this means that…?

«That fusion has reached a notable degree of scientific maturity. Important results have been obtained which confirm the theoretical models and allow them to be extrapolated with a good degree of certainty to the working conditions of a reactor. Even if some technologies require optimization, the union of ambitious and focused scientific programs with a pragmatic industrial approach will, I believe, allow the construction of a power plant, in such a timely manner as to ensure that the technology becomes a precious element for the sustainability of the energy transition”.

Will fusion really change the world?

«Together with renewables it is destined to be the protagonist of a sustainable energy future. Fusion uses practically unlimited and widespread fuel, does not produce greenhouse gases, is an intrinsically and naturally safe process, has a limited environmental impact, without long-lasting waste, and lends itself well to continuous energy production, in this sense integrating well with renewables. These are all properties that make it an irreplaceable ingredient, together with renewables, of a future safe and sustainable energy basket. With a detail that is revolutionary these days.”


“If energy is available in large quantities to everyone and at an affordable cost, the countries of the world could discover that going to war would become useless.”