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Read It All :Why Don’t We Have A Nuclear Fusion ?

Nuclear Fusion

Scientists realized that it would be a much better idea to generate power using nuclear fusion

In the tumultuous postwar world, as a few countries raced to commercialize nuclear (fission) energy, some scientists realized that it would be a much better idea to generate power using nuclear fusion.  With all the talk about increasing global energy consumption and finding the source of power that won’t run out like fossil fuels one day, we have been looking for something both sustainable and powerful for quite a long time. Since solar and wind are much-discussed options to solve this problem but simply put they are just not efficient enough today to address most of our energy needs and traditional nuclear power which relies on uranium fuel that may be depleted one day as well also presents the additional problems of radioactive waste and possible meltdowns. The arguments in favour of fusion are compelling.  

Nuclear Fusion

Enter fusion power – we have been kicking this idea around for so long that it seems like fusion research is becoming another quest for the fountain of youth. Well, the fusion can surely produce lots of energy from relatively small amounts of fuels by literally smashing atoms together. First, there is the fuel as fusion runs on hydrogen, or accurately, on the two isotopes of hydrogen, tritium, and deuterium. Slam them together hard enough and a deuteron and a tritium nucleus will fuse, producing helium, a neutron and lots of energy. This means that fusion is extremely powerful even more than conventional nuclear fission which splits atoms instead of smashing them together and because the only by-product is helium we would be rid of carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels and wouldn’t even worried about radiation presenting an environmental hazard. 

Nuclear Fusion

Deuterium, on the other hand, can be easily extracted from water as one in every 6700 atoms of hydrogen in seawater is a deuterium atom. That doesn’t seem like much but given the amount of water in the world’s oceans, enough deuterium is there to supply all the world’s energy needs for billions of years. Tritium is trickier because of its unstable nucleus with a half-life of twelve years so, it has to be manufactured. The easiest way is to do it with Lithium, a metal used in batteries. Lithium can be extracted from easily mined minerals and there is enough around to supply the world with power for several hundred years. When that runs out, there is enough lithium in seawater for several hundred years. 

Nuclear Fusion

So it is not like we don’t have enough fuel but there are other problems, besides from the obligatory funding issues and political wrangling that come with any major scientific endeavour one major issue is that you need lots of energy to start a fusion reaction in the first place. Our own Sun is a natural fusion reactor, in fact, hydrogen fusion has kept it burning for billions of years and will keep it burning for billions more but the Sun can do this naturally because it is so large. The intense gravity at its core creates temperatures of millions of degrees that its hot enough to make the atoms fuse and creating such conditions on Earth is much more difficult. Right now, there are experimental fusion reactors that do work but because we have to heat deuterium to such high temperatures they require more power to be put into them than they actually generate. A very strong magnetic field is one possible solution to the containment problem which is being used in one of the newest experimental fusion reactors located in Germany where their goal is to keep a reaction going for a mere 30 minutes to see if sustainable fusion is something that’s even feasible down the line.

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