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Fusion energy

Fusion is the process that powers the sun and stars. It is the reaction in which two hydrogen atoms combine or fuse to form a helium atom. In the process, part of the hydrogen mass is converted into energy. The easiest fusion reaction to take place is to combine deuterium (or “heavy hydrogen) with tritium to make helium and a neutron. Deuterium is abundantly available in ordinary water. Tritium can be produced by combining the fusion neutron with the abundant light metal lithium. Thus, fusion has the potential to be an inexhaustible source of energy.

In order for fusion to take place, the hydrogen atoms must be heated to very high temperatures (100 million degrees) so that they are ionized (forming a plasma) and have enough energy to fuse, and then be held together, i.e., confined. , long enough for fusion to occur. to occur. The sun and stars do this by gravity. More practical approaches on Earth are magnetic confinement, where a strong magnetic field holds ionized atoms together as they are heated by microwaves or other energy sources, and inertial confinement, where a tiny pellet of frozen hydrogen is compressed and heated by an intense beam of energy. , like a laser, so quickly that fusion occurs before the atoms can separate.

Scientists have been trying to make fusion work on Earth for more than 40 years. If we are successful, we will have an inexhaustible source of energy. One in every 6500 hydrogen atoms in ordinary water is deuterium, giving 4.5 liters of water the energy content of 1363 liters of gasoline. Furthermore, fusion would be environmentally friendly, producing no combustion products or greenhouse gases. Although fusion is a nuclear process, the products of the fusion reaction (helium and a neutron) are not radioactive and, with proper design, a fusion plant would be passively safe and would not produce long-lived radioactive waste. Project studies show that fusion electricity should cost about the same as current sources. We're getting close. While the fusion looks simple, the details are difficult and precise. Heating, compressing and confining hydrogen plasmas to 100 million degrees is a significant challenge. It took a lot of scientific and engineering research for fusion developments to get where they are today.

Both magnetic and inertial fusion programs are experimenting to develop a commercial application. If all goes well, commercial application may be possible, providing humanity with a safe, clean and inexhaustible energy source for the future.


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