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Nuclear Fusion: The future of our energy
Energy is a fundamental requirement for modern society. It is needed to power our homes, transport, and industries. The overuse of traditional energy such as fossil fuels can cause long-term environmental impacts such as climate change and global warming. Nuclear fusion is a promising alternative energy source for the future. It is the process where tiny atoms are fused together to form a larger atom, while releasing significant amounts of energy without producing any greenhouse gas or carbon emissions. Nuclear fusion in its essence takes place in our Sun and other stars, where tiny plasma particles fuse together releasing tremendous amounts of heat. The conditions to achieve nuclear fusion require extreme temperatures and atmospheres of pressure. To replicate nuclear fusion on Earth, scientists would require the same temperature and pressure conditions.
One promising approach to achieving these conditions is with magnetic confinement. Which involves using a large magnetic field to confine plasma particles together. This process is done using a Tokamak, a toroidal-shaped device that generates giant magnetic fields using super magnets. It creates a plasma of deuterium and tritium at extremely high temperatures and swirls it around its chamber to fuse them together. Despite its potential, the magnetic confinement method faces difficulties with plasma confinement and finding suitable materials that can withstand high temperatures. When plasma is hot, it tends to form uncertainties and tries to escape the magnetic confinement which would result in its cooling and termination in the reaction. This makes the magnetic confinement method a dangerous one. Current materials pose a risk due to the high heat flux that would act on the inner modules of the reactor, and finding proper materials to withstand high temperatures is necessary.
Inertial confinement, a recent breakthrough in 2022, is another approach to achieving the conditions of nuclear fusion. This process involves heating and compressing a small cluster of plasma of deuterium and tritium using high-powered lasers. Unlike magnetic confinement, where plasma is fused whilst being spread out, inertial confinement directs multiple high-powered lasers at a small cluster of plasma to fuse them. This process is very quick as it lasts only a few billionths of a second. There are difficulties associated with inertial confinement as well. These include the cost and complexity of the lasers and equipment, the efficiency of the reactions, and current materials that are unable to withstand the extreme heat and radiation generated during the process.
Companies can merge the two methods of fusion together for precision and efficiency, called Magneto-inertial confinement. It uses high-powered lasers to compress and heat a small cluster of plasma to the necessary conditions for fusion and then magnetically confines the small cluster to maintain the necessary temperature and pressure for the fusion reaction to take place. One company that does Nuclear Fusion using magneto-inertial confinement is called Helion. Helion works with deuterium, a form of hydrogen found in water. If Helion is successful with their technology, one glass of deuterium oxide can generate nine million kilowatts of safe and clean electricity. This is equivalent to the energy needed to power one home for 865 years, power an electric car for 35 million miles, or replace 10 million pounds of coal as well as 1 million gallons of oil. This makes it a complete replacement for fossil fuels.
Nuclear fusion is a safer and more efficient option compared to other forms of energy. Other methods such as fossil fuels can produce harmful pollutants and contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and nuclear fission has led to tragic accidents like Chernobyl. Nuclear Fusion is clean, reliable, and widely available. The process of fusion emits zero carbon emission, and can produce energy any time of the day regardless of weather conditions by utilizing deuterium found in water; the same water that is found in the Earth’s oceans that contain enough deuterium to generate billions of years of clean energy.
Energy is a vital requirement for modern society, but the overuse of traditional energy can have detrimental long-term environmental impacts. Nuclear fusion offers a promising alternative energy source for the future, as it releases clean energy without producing any greenhouse gas or carbon emissions. Companies like Helion are working towards developing Nuclear Fusion as a complete replacement for fossil fuels. The future of Nuclear Fusion is promising as it has the potential to be much safer and effective than other forms of energy.
By- Sathwik Harrahanapali