One Step Closer to a Minia­ture Sun

Fu­sion Power

HWM (Singapore) - - Impact Energy - BY ALVIN SOON

Dreams of nu­clear fu­sion power have per­sisted for more than half a cen­tury, but mak­ing it a re­al­ity has proved elu­sive. Nu­clear fu­sion is the process which pow­ers the stars; un­like nu­clear fis­sion which splits an atom apart into smaller atoms, nu­clear fu­sion fuses atoms to­gether to un­leash large amounts of en­ergy. Fu­sion power can pro­vide sup­ply the world’s en­ergy needs for mil­lions of years; one litre of wa­ter con­tains enough deu­terium, when fused with tri­tium, to pro­duce the same amount of en­ergy as 500 litres of petrol.

Fu­sion power is also safer than nu­clear fis­sion power; the nat­u­ral prod­uct of a fu­sion re­ac­tion is a small amount of he­lium, and the half-life of the ra­dioiso­topes pro­duced is less than those from fis­sion. It’s also eas­ier to rapidly shut down a fu­sion plant, and there is no risk of a run­away re­ac­tion.

Un­for­tu­nately, there are still sig­nif­i­cant bar­ri­ers be­tween the re­al­iza­tions of fu­sion as a power source. In Septem­ber 2013 how­ever, the Na­tional Ig­ni­tion Fa­cil­ity (NIF) in Cal­i­for­nia achieved a sig­nif­i­cant mile­stone; they were able to gen­er­ate more en­ergy from a fu­sion re­ac­tion than the amount of en­ergy ab­sorbed by the fuel – the first time it has been achieved any­where in the world, bring­ing us one step closer to har­ness­ing the ti­tanic power of the sun.

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