B Madjaros investigates one of the most burning issues facing the world today
You might have heard about nuclear fission. Nuclear fission is where the atomic bomb got its power from. Fission has a huge amount of energy but is extremely destructive and we can only harness 20% of the energy and is not very safe or efficient.
But have you heard about nuclear fusion? Nuclear fusion is less dangerous and creates a lot of energy from an almost infinite energy source. This is how stars make their energy. Nuclear fusion is fairly recent, only used from 1991 but it produces huge amounts of energy in short amounts of time. How large am I talking? 1-2 Gigawatts. This can power not much of South Sudan for seven hours and this energy is produced in five seconds in a “pulse”. Nuclear fusion is continuous, is eco-friendly and is near inexhaustible. There are about 20 nuclear fusion reactors in the world and they aren’t used often but produce huge energy when used. We will be looking at the positives and negatives and see whether it is the way to stop the crisis.
What is Nuclear fusion?
Nuclear Fusion is what the stars use to power themselves. They fuse hydrogen into helium primarily and also make beryllium and lithium. The way stars are formed give them a lot of gases which are easy to fuse due to a star's nature. The extreme mass and gravity force the atoms of the star into the centre where they are fused due to a star's extreme heat, generating more power. This is what science does. Like stars, they use hydrogen mainly, but not just hydrogen. They use isotopes of hydrogen called deuterium and tritium. An isotype is an element that contains more neutrons than the normal element. Deuterium contains one (so Hydrogen 1), and Tritium contains two (so Hydrogen 2). These isotopes are easy to get, release more energy and require lower temperatures.
The positives of Nuclear Fusion
A common misconception is that nuclear fusion is dangerous. It is not as this is nuclear fission creeping in. If there was a breach or mistake in the reactor the heat would escape and the reaction would immediately stop. To begin with, it is obvious that the energy output is larger than the amount required and still does make quite a lot of energy. What’s even better is that there are breakthroughs constantly happening and there is about to be a major breakthrough in energy usage and the energy required for nuclear fusion could be halved! A few countries are collaborating to make a powerful reactor in France that is hoped to progress science in nuclear fusion. Even better, nuclear energy is sustainable. It doesn’t damage the environment and the atoms fused are common and there isn’t any worry about running out of them. Hydrogen is very common (it is one of the main components of water) and it fuses into helium which can also be fused (although with less energy produced). All you need is Hydrogen and heat (as well as a reactor)! Summing it all up, it is safe, renewable and harmless to the environment.
The Negatives of Nuclear Fusion
Although it looks like there are only positives, every cloud has a silver lining. For example, not every reactor produces a positive energy output, and there are not many reactors in the world and the fact that hydrogen and helium can run out (or their ideal isotypes). Or that the energy from them isn’t being used at the moment. So let's look at all these issues. The first one is there is an abundance of nuclear fusion reactors. There are only about 20 in the whole world. These are hugely expensive but, as with all scientific innovations, the cost will plummet as fusion becomes more widespread.
In conclusion, nuclear fusion is a young and developing science but is already giving positive outcomes. In a few decades it could become the main source of energy if allowed considering the fuel source is easy to obtain and it is fine for the environment as well as being young but efficient enough. That is only my opinion though, so let us know what you think in the comments below!