In a rare breakthrough, scientists were able to generate more energy than they put into a nuclear fission reaction. Here’s how it’s a blessing in times of climate crisis.
Nuclear fusion is a clean energy source that has many advantages over other forms of renewable energy (Photo: File | Representative)
By Samrat Sharma: Efforts to save the planet from climate change and cut down on the use of fossil fuels have taken centre stage now. At this moment, success in generating energy through nuclear fusion has come as a saviour. While nuclear fission reactors have already been used, it is not yet possible to control the nuclear fusion reactions that use hydrogen isotopes as a source.
In an interview with India Today, Archana Sharma, CMS Experiment Principal Scientist, Physics Department of CERN, Switzerland, highlighted what the success of fusion reactions means for the world and how it is different from existing nuclear energy.
Why is success in nuclear fusion important?
Achieving success in nuclear fusion is of utmost importance for the world, as it has the potential to revolutionise energy production. Nuclear fusion involves combining two or more atomic nuclei to generate energy and could provide an almost inexhaustible source of clean, safe, and affordable power. This would reduce dependence on fossil fuels and help countries meet their objectives and SDG targets.
The economic benefits of nuclear fusion should also be considered. By reducing our reliance on fossil fuels and providing an alternative source of clean energy, countries could save money on fuel costs while creating jobs related to the research and development of new technologies related to nuclear fusion. This could lead to increased economic growth in many parts of the world while helping us move towards a greener future.
How does it differ from existing nuclear fission technology?
Nuclear fusion is distinct from nuclear fission in several ways. Firstly, it produces more energy than fission does; whereas fission splits atoms to release energy, fusion combines them to generate it. This means that a given amount of fuel yields much greater amounts of energy with fusion than with fission.
Secondly, the waste products created by nuclear fusion are less radioactive and have shorter half-lives compared to those produced by nuclear fission.
Thirdly, while both processes require large amounts of energy to initiate and sustain them, significantly less energy is needed to start and maintain a fusion reaction as opposed to a fission one; this makes constructing and operating reactors using nuclear fusion technology simpler and cheaper than those using traditional nuclear fission technology.
Finally, since there are no long-lived radioactive isotopes generated during the process of nuclear fusion, it is considered safer than traditional uranium or plutonium-based power plants due to the reduced risk of radiation exposure or contamination.
How is that more advantageous than other clean energy sources?
Nuclear fusion is a clean energy source that has many advantages over other forms of renewable energy. It does not produce any greenhouse gases or air pollution, making it an attractive option for large-scale electricity generation without contributing to global warming or climate change.
Moreover, nuclear fusion produces much more power than solar and wind energy due to its use of hydrogen atoms as fuel in a controlled reaction which releases tremendous amounts of energy in the form of heat and light; this process is also safer than traditional fission reactors since there is no associated risk of meltdown or radiation leakage.
Furthermore, the waste produced by nuclear fusion can be safely stored underground for thousands of years with minimal environmental risks.
Additionally, compared to other renewables such as solar and wind, nuclear fusion requires relatively small amounts of land area due to its high efficiency rate, making it ideal for densely populated urban areas where land availability may be limited but demand remains high.
In addition, building and operating a nuclear reactor tends to cost less compared to other sources because they have higher efficiency rates coupled with longer lifespans (upwards of 50 years).
Why did it take so long for this success?
For decades, scientists have sought to achieve nuclear fusion, yet it has taken a long time to be successful. This is because the process of nuclear fusion is highly complex and requires temperatures and pressures that can only be attained through powerful lasers or magnetic fields.
Additionally, the materials used must be carefully chosen and prepared in order for the reaction to occur correctly; this may take months or even years, depending on the complexity of the experiment.
Furthermore, safety protocols must be followed due to the potential release of radiation if something goes awry during an experiment. All these factors contribute to why it has taken so long for nuclear fusion to become successful: high temperatures and pressures are needed; materials must be selected and prepared with precision; and strict safety regulations must be adhered to before any experiments can begin, all adding up to a lengthy process before results can be seen from an experiment.
Dec 16, 2022