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US researchers report fusion energy progress

In its decades-long quest to capture fusion, the energy that propels the sun and stars, the US declared a “significant scientific breakthrough.”

Fusion

  • By exerting sufficient pressure on neighbouring hydrogen atoms that they smash together to form helium, fusion generates vast quantities of heat and energy.
  • This phenomenon happens in other stars, such as the Sun.
  • On Earth, fusion requires the production and maintenance of a plasma.
  • Plasmas are gases that are so heated that atomic nuclei’s electrons are released.

How is it carried out?

Fusion in a lab is possible if three conditions are met:

  • Three conditions must be met for collisions to occur: an extremely high temperature (on the order of 150,000,000° Celsius), a sufficient plasma particle density, and an adequate confinement period (to hold the plasma, which has a propensity to expand, within a defined volume).
  • A gas transforms into a plasma, which is frequently referred to as the fourth state of matter, when electrons are separated from nuclei at very high temperatures.
  • Fusion plasmas offer the conditions necessary for the fusion of light elements to produce energy.

Fusion Energy

  • Because the mass of the resulting single nucleus is smaller than the combined mass of the two initial nuclei, the process produces energy.
  • Remaining mass is converted to energy.
  • US achievements
  • The US experiment makes use of an inertial confinement fusion technique.
  • It involved firing the largest laser in the world at a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma.

Why is it recognised as energy of the future?

  • Carbon-free: Because fusion processes may generate virtually endless amounts of carbon-free energy, they have the potential to eventually replace fossil fuels and other traditional energy sources.
  • Efficient: Fusion has proven to be extremely difficult to control since it happens at such high temperatures and pressures. Net energy gain has thus far proven to be a difficult goal to achieve.
  • Clean: Unlike other nuclear processes, it doesn’t generate radioactive waste.

Fusion, still a very distant reality

  • Despite how noteworthy the accomplishment is, it does little to further the objective of using fusion processes to generate electricity.
  • According to all projections, it will still be two to three decades before the fusion process is used to generate electricity on a commercial scale.
  • Even more time may pass before the technology utilised in the US experiment is implemented.

India’s progress: ITER project

  • One of the most ambitious energy projects being undertaken in the world today is the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER).
  • In 1985, the concept for a global fusion experiment was originally proposed.
  • The largest tokamak in the world, a magnetic fusion device created to demonstrate the viability of fusion, is being constructed in southern France by 35 nations*.

China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the United States are the other six members who jointly fund and administer ITER.

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