There has recently been a breakthrough in nuclear fusion energy which happened in December 2022. Nuclear fusion energy is considered by many to be one of the best forms of energy that we could possibly use. That is because it produces a large amount of energy and little radioactive waste. This breakthrough is very important for our future as it could solve many problems such as excessive fossil fuel usage.
Nuclear fusion is the process in which light atoms are joined together to form heavier atoms which releases a lot of energy. It is the process which fuels stars such as our sun and gives them the energy to keep burning. It’s the opposite of nuclear fission, in which heavy atoms are split apart into smaller atoms which releases energy. Nuclear reactors today are powered by nuclear fission, however, it produces a lot of dangerous radioactive waste.
Nuclear fusion, compared to nuclear fission, produces much more energy and releases less waste. However, its energy intake is also much larger as the temperature and pressure of the environment has to be extremely high in order for the atoms to fuse.
An experiment was conducted in the National Ignition Facility in California, USA which cost 3.5 billion US dollars. A very small amount of hydrogen was put inside of a small capsule. A 192-beam laser was then used to heat up the capsule to 100 million degrees celsius and then to compress the hydrogen atoms together so they would fuse and release energy. The input of the lasers was 2.05 megajoules and the output produced by the fusion energy was 3.15 megajoules.
Many experiments like this have been conducted in the past, however, none of them were able to have their output be greater than their input. But this one was able to do it. However, the energy produced was only enough to boil a few kettles. And while the output was bigger than the input from the lasers, it took much more energy to actually power the lasers, a lot more than what was produced by the fusion.
This is still only the start. It will take decades to produce reactors which can actually be used in power stations. Scientists have to find ways to reduce the costs, while increasing the energy output. This might be very difficult. However, if it is actually done, then this could really help us. Climate change is a big issue, and, according to most climate scientists, to reduce our global warming to 2 degrees celsius or less, we would have to reach net-zero emissions by 2050, which sounds very difficult to achieve.
Fusion energy produces no greenhouse gases, which means it is a very green source of energy, which could help us solve climate change related issues. It also does not produce much nuclear waste, which means that it is safe. If humans can figure out how to solve these problems and make fusion reactors more accessible and efficient, then it can be very promising for us and our future.