What exactly is this breakthrough?
Fission and fusion are two different types of nuclear reactions that produce energy. Fission power plants have been around since the 1950s and India has several. But scientists have worked for years to develop a nuclear fusion-based reactor, touted as a clean, abundant and safe source of energy that could eventually allow humanity to break its dependence on the fossil fuels that are driving a global climate crisis. .
Fusion is the same nuclear process that powers the Sun and other stars. It essentially involves two atoms joining or “melting” together to form an atom of a heavier element. For example, inside the Sun two hydrogen atoms fuse to form a helium atom.
The latest discovery shows that it may eventually be possible to replicate this process in a commercial power plant.
How is fusion better than fission?
Both fission and fusion use the binding energy of protons and neutrons in the nuclei of atoms to release enormous amounts of energy. The main difference between them is that fission is the splitting of a heavy and unstable nucleus into two smaller nuclei while fusion involves the joining of two light nuclei.
A nuclear fission reactor uses uranium, which is not commonly found, as fuel. When a uranium atom becomes excited and unstable with exposure to neutron radiation, it splits into smaller atoms of elements such as barium and krypton and releases more neutron radiation, which, in turn, excites and breaks apart more uranium atoms , causing a chain reaction. The energy that is released is used to boil water to produce steam and run turbines to produce electricity.
The biggest problem with fission is that some of its byproducts remain radioactive for tens of thousands of years and must be disposed of in special facilities. In addition, reactor accidents can release radioactive material into the environment, as happened at Three Mile Island in 1979 and at Chernobyl in 1986.
However, nuclear fission now supplies about 10 percent of the world’s electricity from about 440 reactors, according to world-nuclear. org. Over 50 countries use nuclear energy in approximately 220 research reactors which are also used to produce medical and industrial isotopes. With 92 reactors, the United States is the world’s largest producer of nuclear energy, accounting for more than 30% of global nuclear electricity generation.
Fusion scores higher than fission because it can produce many times as much energy without producing highly radioactive
by-products. But until now, fusion reactions in the lab have been difficult to sustain due to the tremendous pressure and temperature required to fuse nuclei together.
A fusion reaction consumes enormous amounts of energy because it occurs at temperatures of 100 million degrees Celsius or higher. The only way to make it self-sustaining is to get more energy than it puts in, and do it continuously instead of for brief moments. Once fusion is commercialized, we would have virtually carbon-free electricity with no radioactive byproducts. It will help in the fight against climate change. Second, since nuclear fusion reactors require only universally abundant hydrogen, they could be installed anywhere, unlike fission reactors which require rare radioactive substances such as uranium.
Can’t it occur at normal temperatures?
Like the Sun and stars, the fusion experiment at LLNL used “hot” fusion, employing ultra-high temperatures. However, some scientists have theorized that “cold” fusion is possible at or near room temperature.
In 1989, electrochemicals Martin Fleischmann And Stanley Pons they reported that their apparatus had produced anomalous heat (excess heat) of a magnitude that was only possible through a nuclear process. They also reported measuring small amounts of nuclear reaction byproducts, including neutrons and tritium. Their little tabletop experiment involved the electrolysis of heavy water—water made up of heavier hydrogen atoms—on the surface of a palladium electrode. While their reported results raised hopes for a cheap and abundant source of energy, they could not be replicated.
It could be real in 10 years
Fusion technology has attracted billions in investment from backers, including Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates and Peter Thiel. It has also gained support from sovereign wealth funds, national development banks and venture capitalists in recent years. The merger attracted $2.8 billion in the past year, up from about $2 billion in the previous decade. The Fusion Industry Association said more than 93% of companies responding to its survey believe fusion energy will be feeding electricity into power grids by 2030.