British Columbia

Burnaby fusion project subject to ongoing scrutiny

A nuclear fusion reactor being assembled by a metro Vancouver high-tech firm will require ongoing scrutiny, the mayor of Burnaby says.
General Fusion is attempting for build a prototype fusion reactor at a facility in Burnaby, B.C. ((General Fusion))

A nuclear fusion reactor being assembled by a metro Vancouver high-tech firm will require ongoing scrutiny, the mayor of Burnaby says.

Mayor Derek Corrigan says future testing of the project's massive plasma injector, which will heat plasma gas to one million degrees Celsius, will be monitored by local officials.

Burnaby's assistant fire chief in charge of inspections, Dan Kilpatrick, says his department's inspectors have asked to be informed when the plasma injector is fired up.

Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan says he is satified by the company's compliance with city regulations. (CBC)

Earlier this week, a CBC News investigation revealed concerns over the prototype nuclear fusion reactor being developed in the heart of Burnaby. A senior UBC physicist has warned the final design, which is still two to three years from being built, could explode.

The CBC News report prompted inspections of the General Fusion facility by officials from the City of Burnaby and the fire department.

"It is the conclusion of staff that the current operation of General Fusion at the Bonneville site does not pose any risk to its neighbours or the surrounding community," Corrigan said in a statement on Thursday.

Corrigan noted that there are no plans to test the completed device in Burnaby, and it has no radioactive components or materials.

The company itself says there is no safety hazard whatsoever and any testing of the final device will take place at another undetermined location under federal approval.

The company issued a statement Tuesday, saying it has "proactively engaged the Burnaby Fire Department, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) and our insurer’s risk prevention engineer."

In a follow-up email to the CBC, General Fusion's vice president of business development Michael Delage said the plasma injector — the approximate size of a 747 jet engine — will only produce a small burst of super-hot gas.

"You can have a very small amount of gas/plasma at very high temperature, but because it is a small amount, it has very little energy in it and therefore the temperature is not a safety issue."

The company hopes to build the world's first commercial fusion reactor within the next three years.

The reactor would be a three-metre-wide steel sphere filled with a spinning mix of molten lead, lithium and super-heated plasma gas. The contents would be compressed with 200 computer-controlled pistons and the resulting shock waves, in theory, would produce a fusion reaction.