Breakthrough in nuclear fusion, and why it is significant

News: Recently Scientists in the Joint European Torus (JET) facility, United Kingdom have said that they have achieved a new milestone in producing energy from nuclear fusion.

 Why it is significant?

 One, it is major breakthrough because all current nuclear reactors are based on the fission process. In fission process, the nucleus of a heavier atom is split into those of lighter elements in a controlled manner. It is accompanied with the release of large amounts of energy.

 Fusion is the opposite process, in which nuclei of relatively lighter atoms, typically those of hydrogen, are fused to make the nucleus of a heavier atom.

 Two,  the raw materials are easily available. A very small amount of raw material of deuterium and tritium nuclei can produce very large amounts of clean energy.

 Three, it generates huge amount of energy with no carbon emissions. Hence, it is considered as future of energy and it will help in solving the problem of climate change. It also produces much less radioactive waste compared to fission. Hence, it is considered much safer.

What are the challenges associated with fusion reaction?

 First, it is possible only at very high temperatures which is similar to the temperature that exists at the core of the Sun and the stars. Hence, recreating such extreme temperatures is not easy.

 Second, the materials that are used to make the reactor should be able to withstand such huge amounts of heat.

 Three, another major issue is that at such high temperatures, matter exists only in the plasma state, where atoms break up into positive and negative ions due to excessive heat. Plasma has a tendency to expand very fast and that’s why it is extremely difficult to work with it.

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 What is ITER?

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Source: This post is based on the article “Breakthrough in nuclear fusion, and why it is significant” published in Indian Express on 12th Feb 2022.

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