Fusion energy

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Fusion is a process by which two light nuclei join together (fuse) to form a heavier nucleus, and in doing so release considerable energy. It is the way in which the sun and stars produce their energy. It is possible to create conditions on earth which are sufficient to generate many fusion reactions which may be harnessed to produce large amounts of thermal and/or electrical power.

Contents

Why should I be aware of this?

  • Fusion has some key features which make it an attractive option in a future energy mix: the fusion process is inherently safe; waste which will not be a burden for future generations; no emission of greenhouse gases; and the capacity for large scale energy production. [1]
  • As there are no long-lived hazardous by-products and a plentiful supply of almost universally accessible fuel, fusion power has the potential to produce virtually limitless amounts of power in an environmentally friendly and economically viable way.

All about fusion energy

Based on Einstein's theory that mass can be converted into energy, scientists have discovered two practical methods for achieving this conversion.

The methods are:

  • Fission - in which heavy atoms, such as uranium, are split, thus releasing the internal energy that holds the atom together. Fission energy is now being used commercially in the United States to produce about 20% of the nation's electricity.
  • Fusion - is the other method of transforming mass into energy is in which light atoms, such as those of hydrogen, are fused or joined.

All present-day nuclear power plants operate based on fission energy, but many scientists are hopeful that a power plant based on fusion energy will be developed before 2050.

Fusion reactions

Fusion of deuterium (D) and tritium (T) produces a particularly favourable reaction. Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen, so-called "heavy hydrogen", and is found in seawater (about 33g per tonne). Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen, and is readily made from lithium, which is widely available, both from ore from the earth and also from seawater.

Abundant fuel supply

Deuterium may be readily extracted from ordinary water, which is available to all nations. The surface waters of the earth contain more than 10 million tons of deuterium, an essentially inexhaustible supply. The tritium required would be produced from lithium, which is available from land deposits or from sea water which contains thousands of years' supply. The world-wide availability of these materials would thus eliminate international tensions caused by imbalance in fuel supply.

Safe power plants

While fusion is a nuclear process, the products of the fusion reaction (helium and a neutron) are not intrinsically radioactive. Therefore, a properly designed fusion power plant would be passively safe, and would produce no long-lived radioactive waste. Design studies show that electricity from fusion should eventually be about the same cost as present day sources.

CopperBytes

  • Like all stars, the sun is a huge fusion reactor, pumping out 100 million times as much energy in a single second as the entire population of Earth uses in a year. [2]
  • Each star is a huge fusion reactor, pumping out 100 million times as much energy in a single second as the entire population of Earth uses in a year. [2]

90 degrees

While fusion sounds simple, the details are difficult and exacting. Heating, compressing and confining hydrogen plasmas at 100 million degrees is a significant challenge. A lot of science and engineering had to be learned to get fusion to where we are today. Both magnetic and inertial fusion programs expect to build their next experiments which will produce more energy than they consume within the next 15 years. If all goes well, commercial application should be possible by the middle of the 21st century, providing humankind a safe, clean, inexhaustible energy source for the future. [3]

References:

  • Fusion Energy
  • What is Fusion Energy?

Source

  1. The ITER Project
  2. 2.0 2.1 FusEdWeb
  3. US DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY