How long can we keep this up?
When we think about pushing on into the future, about continuing to live our lives the way we do; we all, in some way have to acknowledge that this lofty ambition might not be possible. Choosing to live the way we currently do, discrediting the importance of making positive changes in our societal habits, and looking no further in terms of energy sources is a reality we can’t necessarily afford. Without the discovery of new forms of energy that require less use of greenhouse gas-creating materials like fossil fuels, we can trust that our stores of materials and resources will support a liveable climate for us in the long term.
What is Nuclear Fusion?
If someone were to ask you what the biggest form of energy is what would your answer be? Here’s a clue: think large, impossibly bright, the source of natural energy for everything on Earth, radiant, glowing, raises our levels of vitamin D… resembles a large glowing ball of fire. The sun may be the obvious answer for the purest and largest form of energy that we know of, but do you know what fuels it?
Nuclear fusion refers to the type of energy creation that occurs within the sun. An Atomic Nucleus is what lives at the core of an Atom and makes up less than 0.01 percent of the volume of the atom, but is responsible for almost the entirety of its matter. Atomic nuclei contain the power to interact with each other in such a way that a larger, more powerful nucleus is created. Within this interaction and the forming of a larger nucleus, a massive amount of energy is created. In order for the nuclei to fuse together, creating this large amount of energy, the presence of extremely high temperature and pressure is required.
This is why Nuclear Fusion is able to take place in the sun; the high temperature and level of pressure being created within the sun forces the nuclei to remain hot enough in close enough proximity that they can fuse. The conditions that exist within the sun allow for the fusion of the atomic nuclei which enables the generation of nuclear fusion energy.
Why is this important to us?
Since the early 1900s, scientists have been studying the fusion of atomic nuclei and the creation of nuclear fusion energy in order to try to find a way to recreate and harness it. This is because Nuclear Fusion-based energy has the ability to provide a cleaner, more sustainable, and more efficient form of nuclear energy. This form of energy could hugely outweigh and outperform the efforts of current Nuclear Fission practices, not to mention the outdated use of fossil fuels for energy generation.
If scientists are able to harness this energy the potential to elongate our energy supply in an affordable way will be greatly increased. Most importantly the types of fuels required to create and reproduce Nuclear Fusion energy are deuterium (a stable hydrogen isotope) and tritium (a rare, radioactive hydrogen isotope). Deuterium can be found and safely extracted from seawater, while tritium can be generated or bred in a process called Tritium Breeding that relies on a machine called the Tokamak. The tokamak creates an environment in which neutrons from plasma can interact with the element Lithium (found in rocks, water, and minerals) to create Tritium. It is estimated that these fuel supplies can be gathered and created sustainably for lifetimes.
Nuclear Fusion Vs. Nuclear Fission:
Nuclear fusion and fission are both methods of producing energy, but fission is the method currently in place in power plants. Fission is the act of splitting one larger, heavier nucleus into two nuclei, while fusion is the act of fusing two lighter nuclei into one powerful nucleus. While Nuclear Fission currently works to provide us with energy, Nuclear Fusion has the potential to safely create a much larger quantity of energy without producing dangerous and long-lasting nuclear waste.
The Recent Discovery and Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough
Scientists have been attempting to recreate Nuclear Fusion on Earth since roughly the 1930s. In all that time it has proven to be extremely difficult to harness the energy this way due to the required environment for Nuclear Fusion. The mixture of high temperature and pressure that exist in the sun is extremely difficult to replicate for the amount of time required to see the fusion of nuclei occur.
In December 2022 at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, an experiment was conducted using a high-powered laser. The experiment saw the use of this high-powered laser to heat and compress a small amount of hydrogen, which ultimately yielded an exciting result for the field of fusion technology. Until now the amount of energy used to conduct these experiments was not outweighed by the amount created from the experiment, but this time with the use of the world’s largest laser, more energy was created than the amount of energy used for the experiment. Roughly enough energy was created to power a handful of small appliances.
This may not seem like the breakthrough in fusion energy news that will bring us triumphantly into the future, but rest assured it very well could be. Though the amount of energy created here is relatively small it proves that nuclear fusion energy is achievable. For the future of energy generation, this is massive news with a few of the main pros being: It does not create greenhouse gases, it is much safer to work with than nuclear fission, there is less creation of long-term radioactive waste risks and it has the ability to generate a much larger amount of energy for human use and consumption than the current infrastructure allows.
Research and learn on your own.
To learn more about Nuclear Fusion, Fission, and the potential for longer-lasting, safer energy solutions for the future we recommend visiting websites such as The International Atomic Energy Agency. We at GuidED want to remind you that when it comes to energy solutions for the future there are always pros and cons so it is imperative to do your own research. Though this is an exciting breakthrough and could have incredibly positive effects in the future it is vital to keep up to date with how these operations affect the world. Continue researching topics like these independently so that you can make informed decisions. The future belongs to all of us so let’s keep learning and educating ourselves about the advancements it may bring.