We’re One Step Closer To Nuclear Fusion - The Future of Limitless Clean Energy

in science •  18 days ago

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For the past three centuries, we have powered the rise of our modern day civilisation with fossil fuels. We take great pride in the exponential progress that we have enjoyed till now and still doing so, but it doesn’t happen just like that.

It requires tons of research and development, human resources, trial and error, constant problem solving and all that in turn, requires energy. Till now, we have been solely dependent on fossil fuels and that has served us well. But it can’t always go on.

It’s a surprise to me that the energy sector hasn’t seen much progress and we are still using the energy tech that is hundreds of years old. Yes, we have renewable sources as well in solar, wind and hydro plants, but they are no where near as advanced as we need them to be. I wonder why.

Fossil fuels have great disadvantages. First, they are limited, so we will need to look elsewhere, eventually anyways. Then they cause pollution, global warming and climate change, though the last two are still debated. All that could change though, if we manage to nail down nuclear fusion - the holy grail of energy.

Nuclear Fusion - Clean, Limitless Energy

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Often times, renewable sources like - solar, water or wind power are touted as the green alternative to fossil fuels. But if you study closely, they are not too green at all. Granted, from the onset of energy production, they may be green but we often fail to consider their manufacturing.

Making wind turbines, solar panels or hydro plants cost a great deal of energy and has huge harmful effects on the environment. Add to this, the energy storage requirements in large batteries and the situation gets even worse. Not enough bang for the buck, ultimately.

Here’s where nuclear fusion steps in. Whenever we say nuclear power, people immediately think of the large reactors of nuclear power and the horrible stories in history associated with them. But what they fail to understand is that there are two types of nuclear power.

The one that you generally think of, comes from nuclear fission. That is quite dangerous as it involves radioactive materials. Nuclear fusion on the other hand, is clean, limitless source of energy. It is the same process that goes on in the core of our sun.

How It Works

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In nuclear fission, a heavier element (like Plutonium) which is radioactive in nature, is broken down into two or more elements, which are also radioactive (thus dangerous). This process generates a lot of energy.

In nuclear fusion however, the exact opposite happens. Two atoms come together to form a single heavier element. For example, Hydrogen atoms (the most abundant element) coming together to form Helium. This process too generates a lot of energy, which we are well aware of as we can experience the heat of the sun even from such a huge distance.

At the core of the sun, the gravity is enough to keep the nuclear fusion reaction going while the hydrogen serves as the fuel. On Earth, replicating that is quite difficult, as the process requires a highly confined environment with a very high temperature (in the millions) and pressure.

This is exactly why nuclear fusion has proven very difficult thus far, even after more than 70 years of development. There are basically four ways of harnessing nuclear fusion but two of them have gone through the most research and development; one uses lasers, and the other one uses magnetic fields.

Recent Breakthrough Brings Us One Step Closer

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Creating sun like conditions on Earth may sound impossible, and that’s why it has taken us this long. But the continuous endeavours in this field, has slowly been inching us forward towards nailing it down.

Recently, Tokamak Energy, a UK based company, managed to reach temperatures of 27 million degrees Fahrenheit for its hydrogen plasma (where the fusion process happens). This is hotter even than the sun, by the way!

They plan to make commercial fusion energy available by 2030, which is a lot faster than the 2050 that the experts generally estimate. The faster the better though.

Their next target is of 212 million degrees Fahrenheit which will be the required temperature for commercial nuclear fusion. That is like 8 times what we can currently do, but I am sure we will get there one day.

Why Nuclear Fusion Is A Must

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I can’t stress how important developing nuclear power is for the future of the human race. It is quite literally the holy grail of energy, thanks to its many, many benefits.

For starters, we have abundant fuel to power nuclear fusion. How abundant you ask? Well, for millions of years at the least. Then it is highly energy efficient with one kilogram of fusion fuel capable of providing the same amount of energy as 10 million kilograms of fossil fuels. Think about that for a second.

Also, the fuel used at any given time is equivalent to just the size of a postage stamp unlike the tons of radioactive fuel used in nuclear fission power plants. Therefore it is very safe as there are no chances of a meltdown.

Even the radioactive waste are limited to only the plant components that can be easily disposed off or dealt with even with our current engineering capabilities. And last but not the least, it will rid the planet of carbon emissions and all the harmful effects associated with it.

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My knowledge on nuclear is limited so this is more like a question.

I used to think anything nuclear produces a lot of waste which is difficult to dispose and can cause genetic changes.
It requires a lot of detail, any small alteration could be disatrous.

From your explanation everything seems great and it could be a reliable source of electricity if they achieve the goal.

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Nuclear fission does indeed do that. Nuclear fusion is much safer on the other hand. The only radioactive waste is the reactor's components themselves which can be easily disposed as they have a short decay time (100 years) compared to thousands of years of nuclear fission waste.

Sounds Very Cool Right !?

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nuclear power if used in controll manner and in the favour of humanity, then there is no comparison of other power wrt nuclear. PARMANU

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yes that's right!! :)

I do believe that fusion would solve many problems but once again with new technology comes non-anticipated use of this technology.

Not to say we should stop innovating but it is an issue worth thinking about.

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Yeah, we need to weight the good against the bad and then decide. I hope we make the right decision about this.

To listen to the audio version of this article click on the play image.

Brought to you by @tts. If you find it useful please consider upvoting this reply.

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Thanks for this.

Wow! Really great information. Keep sharing. Thanks a lot. Followed you to see more from you in future!

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Thanks a lot!

how are we actually one step closer? You didn't actually address that.

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I did in this section: "Recent Breakthrough Brings Us One Step Closer"

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I read that, but I don't think we are on the same page here. Firstly, I think you would be credible as a reporter (unless you are a scientist or engineer) if you included your sources or background. While I'm not a nuclear engineer, I did study higher level physics in college, and reading your article was very misleading to say the least. Here is why, nuclear fusion reactors have existed for a few years already, but the elephant in the closet is a reactor that creates less energy than you put in. So even if you could achieve higher temperatures, what mechanism are you employing to reach higher output than input?

The other thing I want to mention is that you are being supported by someone on this platform and you are earning based on other people's research and you are simply reporting their findings. When other people come here and see your headline and then read the article, what do you think people will expect? I was a bit disappointed to say the least. It doesn't look good for the platform.

That's just my 2c.

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Thanks for your feedback. Will keep in mind to include the sources the next time I am reporting on something like this.

Generating sustained power from nuclear fusion reactions sure is tricky and as you mentioned, the big elephant in the room is that right now, the input is greater than the output. That is because we are just not able to keep the chain reaction going for longer period of time. The higher temperatures (100 million degree celsius) are required for the fuel (deuterium and tritium) to become plasma. Once plasma is created, an electric current can be passed through it to initiate a chain reaction, that if held for a longer period of time, will give out more energy than is used to hold that state. The mechanism used here is a magnetic confinement one, where the plasma is held in place with the help of superconducting magnets.

According to the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy, a large power station, could provide 20 to 30 times more output than the input.

Thanks again for feedback. Will mention the relevant sources the next time and hopefully you won't be disappointed the next time you read a post from me. :)

great science..energy will rule the world in a near future..
in fact, to overcome two issues (Water and Energy) determines how successful we will be in future..
I can see clearly that on day comes in which every one has a battery for his/her gadgets and cyborg facilities being run by this energy resource..
I'm too interested in seeing the future and how life will look like..

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Energy is very critical as its demand will be much higher in the future. That is why we need something like fusion power to work asap.

Your article is very positive, it's good from one side, but in my opinion the usage of another shape of tokamak is not really breakthrough. On the other hand stellerator may be a good direction e.g. W7X project in Greiswald, Germany. Personally I think that magnetic confinement fusion is not so good direction t o obtain cheap and safe energy. In fact fusion energy will not be cheap, and probably neither safe nor ecological. Be aware that in order to confine plasma one need a great amount of energy, specially developed materials etc. One can say that this technology has been being developed for over last 50 years, but till now there is not any working prototype. The closest to prototype level, the ITER project is far from working. Of course the post ITER project, the DEMO reactor is at design stage already, and is designed to be operational fusion reactor, but I think it will not work till 2050 or even maybe never.
On the other hand of nuclear fusion types is inertial confinement fusion e.g. laser based National Ignition Facility in the USA or electrostatic confinement fusion e.g. polywell. The last device mentioned by me can be a good direction. There is a reason why DoD is still financing it.

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Years ago I had the opportunity to work on the ITER project at EPFL, but the ridiculous amount of bureaucracy, delays, and politics involved led me to believe it wasn't something I wanted to be a part of. I still love the tech and am excited about it, but I don't see ITER getting off the ground anytime soon, if ever.