Nuclear Fusion

Posted by on Jun 29, 2014 in Thoughts and musings, Uncategorized

Nuclear Fusion is a chemical reaction where two or more light atomic nuclei collide to form a new, heavier atomic nucleus, releasing a massive amount of energy that is in the form of light and heat. Fusion can take place inside stars, where Hydrogen atoms are fused together to form helium. Our sun, which is comprised of nearly all Hydrogen and Helium, releases energy in this way. To calculate how much energy would be released, we can use Albert Einstien’s famous equation

E = mc2

E, is Energy (Joules)
M, is Mass (Kilograms)
c , is the speed of light (299,792,458 m/s) (Metres per Second)

From this equation, we can calculate how much energy can be released in this reaction. For example, if we successfully fuse 1 kilogram of atomic nuclei then it would produce:

1 x (299,792,458)² = 8.99×1016 m2/s2 Joules or simply, a massive amount of energy.

So, if Fusion produces lots of energy, then why don’t we utilise this method to produce green energy, to solve Earth’s energy problems?
This has been proposed by many people throughout recent years, many of which have tried to replicate what goes on inside the sun. But in order for it to happen, let’s consider a few details.
Fusion requires light atomic nuclei such they can fuse to form a denser nuclei. Subsequently we need to find a light, abundant element which could be used for this reaction and luckily we have a good place to start, Hydrogen. Hydrogen is the lightest element, and is extremely abundant in the form of water on Earth. (H2O) Additionally it is an extremely clean source of fuel which would produce heat and light that could be used for many different uses, such as agriculture. Moreover it produces denser, heavier elements such as Helium, which are rare on Earth, and so meaning it is more easily available.
However, we have to be able to start and control the reaction in order for it to be a reliable source of energy, which is where the problems arise. For Fusion to be used as an energy source, it needs to produce more energy than it takes to stage the nuclear reaction. This requires an incredible amount of thought and some incredible engineering feats in order to produce a reaction which releases more energy than it required starting while withstanding and sustaining the incredibly high temperature and pressure. (Comparable of conditions in the sun).The only successful approach thus far has been in the form of a hydrogen bomb but although close, was by no means containable, controllable or safe.

Without a doubt, Fusion will change our lives dramatically. It enables us to release extremely large quantities of energy relatively quickly and easily. But with all positives, comes a negative. If we use, and we most likely will, water, then we are using up the most important resource for Human life where in many areas of the world it is so sparse.
Many hurdles have to be passed before Fusion can be used as our major, clean source of energy but it is within the foreseeable future.

However, do not lose hope, as there are numerous other renewable sources of energy, such as wind/solar/hydro/geothermal. All these sources are gradually replacing the current Coal/Oil/Gas fired power stations that most of us are currently using.

Pazzy Boardman