Fusion energy is an emerging technology that has been discussed for many years. Fusion involves the reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei combine to form one or more atomic nuclei and often subatomic particles as well (Fusion energy is coming, and maybe sooner than you think 2020). The fusion process releases energy that can be used to generate electricity. In the event that this technology is widely adopted in the world, it will be possible for people to live in a world where virtually limitless supplies of low-carbon, low-radiation energy would be available. Climate change poses a significant threat to humanity, so a commercial widespread use of this technology could be revolutionary, as it can replace existing energy-inefficient methods of generating power and provide a sustainable source of energy.
What is Fusion Energy?
The basic idea behind the generation of fusion energy is that energy can be released by forcing nuclei together rather than by separating them (Amos, 2022). In contrast, existing nuclear power plants rely on fission reactions. Since no material can handle temperatures above 100 million degrees Celsius, scientists turned to a superheated gas, or plasma, enclosed within a doughnut-shaped magnetic field, to achieve fusion in a laboratory (Amos, 2022).
What is the Current Status of Fusion Energy Generation Research?
Fusion energy generation has recently undergone major breakthroughs. Researchers at the Joint European Torus (JET) near Oxford, United Kingdom, have announced that they have created the highest sustained pulse ever produced by fusion of atoms, more than doubling their previous record set in 1997 (Gibney, 2022). Through the simultaneous squeezing of two forms of hydrogen, they achieved a record-breaking amount of energy extraction (Amos, 2022). Despite the fact that the energy produced from the experiments cannot be used at mass scale as it only produced 59 megajoules of energy over the course of five seconds (11 megawatts of power), it demonstrates the effectiveness of the current nuclear reactor design choices (Amos, 2022).
Advantages of Using Fusion Energy
With any new technology, there are significant advantages. It has been noted that commercializing nuclear fusion will result in an abundant supply of electricity, as fusing atoms together in a controlled way releases 4 million times as much energy as a chemical reaction, such as burning coal, oil, or gas, as well as 4 times as much as nuclear fission reactions (at equal mass), providing the foundation for supplying electricity to cities and industries (Advantages of fusion 2022). Additionally, nuclear fusion is a more sustainable type of energy generation since the fuels are widely available and nearly inexhaustible(Advantages of fusion 2022).
Water can be used to distill deuterium, while tritium will be formed during the fusion reaction as fusion neutrons interact with lithium (Advantages of fusion 2022). Moreover, nuclear fusion reactors do not emit harmful by-products into the environment, and they produce low activity and short-lived nuclear waste (Advantages of fusion 2022). Its major by-product is helium: an inert, non-toxic gas (Advantages of fusion 2022). The implementation of nuclear fusion generators will also prevent Fukushima-type nuclear accidents (Advantages of fusion 2022). The precise conditions required for fusion are difficult to achieve in a tokamak — if any disturbance occurs, the plasma cools within seconds and the reaction ceases (Advantages of fusion 2022). There is only a small quantity of fuel present in the vessel at any given time, and there is no risk of a chain reaction occurring (Advantages of fusion 2022).
Challenges to Implementing Fusion Energy
One of the challenges associated with the development of this technology is that there is a great deal of uncertainty in regards to the readiness of fusion power for commercialization (Gibney, 2022). According to one estimate, the technology might be developed in 20 years (Amos, 2022). Fusion would then need to scale up, which would delay its development for perhaps another decade or two (Amos, 2022). For the time being, scientists are consuming more energy to initiate fusion reactions in the lab than they can generate. JET, for instance, runs experiments on two 500 megawatt flywheels (Amos, 2022). Nevertheless, the scale up of plasmas in the future is expected to resolve this deficit (Amos, 2022).
To conclude, the continual research into nuclear fusion energy generation is vital, as it might become a necessity for humanity to counter climate change. This will not contribute to lessening the impacts of climate change, however (Amos, 2022). It will delay the onset of the effects. Despite the fact that conducting these experiments is costly and energy-consuming now, if this technology were to be deployed in the future, it would serve as a sustainable source of energy that can be used for generations to come.
Amos, J. (2022, February 9). Major breakthrough on nuclear fusion energy. BBC News. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-60312633
Gibney, E. (2022, February 9). Nuclear-fusion reactor smashes energy record. Nature News. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00391-1
ITER. (2022, May 14). Advantages of fusion. ITER. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from https://www.iter.org/sci/Fusion
T. O. (2020, June 9). Fusion energy is coming, and maybe sooner than you think. POWER Magazine. Retrieved May 14, 2022, from https://www.powermag.com/fusion-energy-is-coming-and-maybe-sooner-than-you-think/