Nuclear fusion may offer India a clean-energy pathway

Source: The post is based on the article “Nuclear fusion may offer India a clean-energy pathway” published in the Livemint on 20th November 2022.

Syllabus: GS – 3 – Science and Technology developments and their applications and effects in everyday life.

Relevance: About nuclear fission.

News: Scientists in the United States have for the first time achieved a net gain in energy from a nuclear fusion reaction.

About the recent achievement and Nuclear fusion
Read here: US scientists take quantum leap on the road to create nuclear fusion energy for generating power
About the history of nuclear fission and its development

This happens when heavy elements like uranium and plutonium split. The science and subsequent technology of nuclear fission began with the discovery of uranium in 1789 by Martin Klaproth.

William Rontgen discovered ionising radiation (x-rays) a century later and Pierre and Marrie Curie gave the name ‘radioactivity’ to the phenomenon of decay with energy release.

Ernest Rutherford demonstrated radioactivity and performed the first artificially induced nuclear reaction in 1917. Rutherford established the nuclear structure of the atom and radioactive decay as a nuclear process.

Lise Meitner and Otto Frisch first used the term ‘fission’ and experimentally calculated the energy released.

During World War II, the world developed fission bombs and then adapted fission for civilian nuclear technology. Since that time, much effort has gone into making nuclear reactors safe and reliable.

Read more: Nuclear Fusion Technology: Evolution, Challenges and Future Potential – Explained, pointwise
About the history of nuclear fusion

Hydrogen had been produced for many centuries, it was only identified as an element by Henry Cavendish in 1766. Helium was discovered a century later by Jules Janssen and Norman Lockyer.

In 1920, Arthur Eddington suggested that hydrogen-helium fusion could be the source of stellar energy. Similarly, fusion was achieved in the operation of the first hydrogen bomb in 1952.

The recent experiment proved a sustained and controlled fusion with a positive energy yield. Apart from this, this year itself, a) China’s EAST reactor established a record-breaking sustained reaction of 17 minutes, b) UK scientists at the Joint European Torus (JET) laboratory announced that they had generated a record breaking 59 megajoules of sustained fusion energy.

Note: Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence provides the theoretical framework for fusion as well as fission.

What is the significance of nuclear fusion?
Read more: Breakthrough in nuclear fusion, and why it is significant
How India is joining the nuclear fusion race?

a) India joined the US, UK, EU, Japan and Russia in a consortium to establish International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), b) India’s own attempt at an experimental fusion reactor continues with the SST-2 tokamak at the Institute of Plasma Research in Gujarat.

India should improve its nuclear fusion research as a) India is not endowed with the required resources either for hydrocarbon energy or nuclear fission-based energy. So, India’s interest and investment in nuclear fusion are essential, b) India declared to become net-zero in 2070. Focussing on nuclear fusion will provide a practical and preferred complement to renewables.

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