Lockheed Martin made some noise on Wednesday with its announcement that it had made a breakthrough in nuclear fusion reactors. Specifically, it claimed advances in developing a compact reactor. Based on size reductions achieved through new magnetic confinement techniques, the company will be able to develop a prototype reactor within five years that could power about 80,000 homes and fit in the back of a truck.
The announced advancements are relatively thin on details, suggesting that the promised advancements are currently theoretical. Even if those gains can be demonstrated, a radical shrinkage in the size of fusion reactors could upend the regulation of nuclear reactors. Smaller reactors will make it easier for non-governmental parties to build and use them (though deep pockets may well be required). While the matters of waste, radioactivity, and weapons proliferation are different for fusion reactors than their fission cousins, they still need to be managed. If there’s the slightest chance that Lockheed is not overstating its case, I think it’s worth having a conversation about how to regulate smaller fusion reactors. Better to have rules before the technology is mature than after.