What is Nuclear Fusion?

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Scientists have managed to repeatedly produce nuclear fusion ignition for the first time, marking a major milestone towards achieving near-limitless clean energy at scale.

About Nuclear Fusion

  • It is the process by which two light atomic nuclei combine to form a single heavier one while releasing massive amounts of energy.
  • Fusion reactions take place in a state of matter called plasma—a hot, charged gas made of positive ions and free-moving electrons with unique properties distinct from solids, liquids, or gases.
  • The sun, along with all other stars, is powered by this reaction. 
  • What are Tokamaks?
    • The devices designated for the task of doing this here on Earth—nuclear fusion reactors — are called tokamaks.
    • Tokamaks are often also called 'artificial suns' due to the fact that these doughnut-shaped machines replicate processes that occur in the sun.
    • There are currently over 200 tokamaks in operation across the globe, with the scientific milestones achieved in these devices developing a roadmap for the operation of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, the world's largest fusion experiment under construction in the south of France.
    • A commercial tokamak will aim to use the thermal energy of plasma heated by fusion to heat water, create steam, and, in turn, spin a turbine that generates electricity.
    • Though fusion can involve a wealth of chemical elements, the nuclear reaction that most tokamaks aim to make viable is the fusion of the heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium (with a nucleus of one proton and one neutron) and tritium (one proton and two neutrons). Fusing the atoms of these elements together creates a neutron and a helium nucleus. 
  • Advantages of Nuclear Fusion:
    • Nuclear Fusion produces more energy than fission does. Fusion could generate four times more energy per kilogram of fuel than fission (used in nuclear power plants) and nearly four million times more energy than burning oil or coal.
    • It also doesn’t produce radioactive byproducts that need to be stored or harmful carbon emissions; it simply produces inert helium and a neutron.
    • Unlimited Fuel Supply: The fuel to make fusion happen is simply heavy hydrogen atoms, which can be found in something that Earth has in abundance: seawater. No mining of uranium is required.
    • It is much safer than nuclear fission, since fusion can’t create runaway reactions.

Q1) What is Nuclear Fission?

Nuclear fission is the process of breaking large atomic nuclei into smaller atomic nuclei to release a large amount of energy. This process is usually done by forcing the nuclei to absorb neutrons  —  the particle usually found in the atomic nucleus with protons. The phenomenon has been harnessed by humanity to both provide energy via nuclear power plants, but also to power nuclear weapons.

Source: Nuclear fusion enters ‘new era’ after major breakthrough for near-limitless clean energy