Nuclear Fusion = A Nuclear Future?

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Energy on Earth can come from many different sources, but at the moment it mainly come from fossil fuels. But one day these are going to run out! So what is going to replace it? Renewables? Nuclear? Right now, the story goes something like this:

Oil: 33.5%, Gas 26.8%, Gas 20.9%, Other renewables 10.6%, Nuclear 5.8%, Other 2.4%.

Nuclear Fission works by splitting atoms, which releases lots of energy. But the waste can be a pain in the ass to store and the whole thing is kinda scary (because it is essentially like trying to slowly explode an atomic bomb!). A different method of releasing energy works by joining atoms together. This is called nuclear fusion.

Current fusion reactors use deuterium, which is just a Hydrogen atom with an extra proton. There is enough deuterium in the world’s oceans to give us enough energy for ~850 million years at our current consumption rates! So far, fusion reactions have been created in superheated chambers (called tokamaks), or by using super-high-power lasers to begin reactions.

The only problem is… they don’t really work. Reactions can only be sustained for about a second (at best!) and usually more energy is used to begin the reaction than it generates! Then there are problems with radioactivity and reactor material decay… If all goes to plan, the first commercially viable reactor will be available in about 2035. But imagine the possibilities!

About Tristan O'Brien

My passions are in environmental science and conservation, but scientific interests extend into other fields. At The Other Side of Science I work behind-the-scenes, but write when I feels creative! Read his wise words @TristanAvella

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