Energy from the moon
The future of clean, safe nuclear power plants might use fuel quite literally out of this world—Helium-3 from the moon. Existing nuclear power plants use a process called nuclear fission to generate energy, which creates radioactive waste, and wasteless experimental processes such as nuclear fusion lose significant amounts of energy in the process. Since nuclear fusion generates energy the same way the sun does by combining hydrogen atoms to create helium, a solution could be to power “aneutronic” (i.e. without neutrons) fusion reactors with the isotope Helium-3, which is rare on Earth but found in abundance on the Moon. Since it has no atmosphere, the Moon’s surface has absorbed billions of years worth of high-energy particles from the sun—approximately 1,100,000 tonnes worth. Helium-3 can be extracted by heating Moon rock to 600 degrees Celsius, and since just 25 tonnes of the substance could power the US for a year, it’s not surprising that governments around the world have shown interest in mining the Moon. Helium-3 could efficiently fuel a new generation of clean fusion power plants, as it produces no spare neutrons and therefore no waste or radiation. Such plans could come into fruition within the next few decades: NASA has announced plans to establish a permanent base on the Moon by 2024, citing Helium-3 as a main point of research. However, although the concept is solid, researchers have so far only been able to sustain a fusion reaction for a few seconds—it’s estimated that commercial-sized reactors are still at least 50 years away.