US scientists take quantum leap on the road to create nuclear fusion energy for generating power

Source: The post is based on the following articles

“Understanding the fusion energy breakthrough announced by US scientists” published in the Indian Express on 14th November 2022.

“US scientists take quantum leap on the road to create nuclear fusion energy for generating power” published in the Economic Times on 13th November 2022.

What is the News?

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

What is nuclear fusion?

In fusion, nuclei of two lighter elements are made to fuse together to form the nucleus of a heavier atom. Fusion is a more powerful way of harnessing the immense energy trapped in the nucleus of an atom.

For example, the fusion of two nuclei of a heavier isotope of hydrogen, called tritium, produces at least four times as much energy as the fission of a uranium atom which is the normal process of generating electricity in a nuclear reactor.

Nuclear fusion is considered as holy grail of energy production. It is called such because the fusion of pairs of light atoms produces immense energy with very small amounts of radioactive waste, unlike nuclear fission.

Nuclear fusion is considered the most dependable source of energy in future.

What are the challenges associated with nuclear fusion reactions?

a) Fusion reactions happen only at very high temperatures, 10 times the temperature that exists at the core of the Sun. Thus creating such an extreme environment in a laboratory requires huge amounts of energy, b) So far, the energy released in such experimental fusion reactions has been lower than what is consumed to create the enabling high temperatures. Only some of these reactions have produced ‘near break-even’ energies.

About the recent experiment on nuclear fusion

Scientists forced a minuscule amount of hydrogen into a peppercorn-sized capsule. They used a powerful beam laser that could generate 100 million degree celsius of heat.

The laser beam was hotter than the Sun’s centre and helped to compress the hydrogen fuel to more than 100 billion times that of Earth’s atmosphere.

Under the pressure of these forces, the capsule started imploding on itself and leading to the fusion of hydrogen atoms and the release of energy.

Significance: Scientists have been able to generate higher energy in a fusion experiment than the energy applied for causing the fusion reaction. Scientist community hailed the event as the holy grail of fusion can be achieved.

About International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)

It is an international collaborative project located in southern France.

Aim: Creating energy by replicating the fusion processes of the Sun.

It uses very strong magnetic fields instead of high-energy laser beams. At present, the ITER reactor is in the machine assembly phase. Over 10 million parts are manufactured and tested in the seven member countries.

India joined the ITER project in 2005. As a member country, India is building several components of the ITER reactor and also carrying out a number of experiments and R&D activities.

Significance: ITER, when operational, would become the biggest machine anywhere in the world, more complex than the Large Hadron Collider at CERN, or the LIGO project to detect gravitational waves.

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