US’ Historic Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough
Researchers at the California-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have recently announced a historic nuclear fusion breakthrough, claiming it to be the “landmark achievement” in the quest for a source of unlimited, clean power and an end of the dependence on fossil fuels.
What is this nuclear fusion breakthrough?
- The US researchers used the world’s largest laser for the first time to create a nuclear fusion reaction.
- This is the first scientific experiment that achieved success in replicating the same energy that powers the Sun.
- It also achieved “net energy gain” by producing more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to derive it.
- For the experiment, researchers used 192 ultra-powerful lasers to deliver 2.05 megajoules of energy to a capsule that is smaller than a pea and having isotopes of hydrogen. They were able to produce 3.15 megajoules of fusion energy output.
- While they attained a net energy gain, 400 megajoules of energy was required from the electrical grid to power the laser.
- The historic nuclear fusion breakthrough is expected to play a major role in the future of clean power and advances in the national defence.
What are its limitations?
While there are several benefits in creating nuclear fusion using laser, the technology is still not viable to be used on an industrial scale, providing power to homes and businesses. There are significant scientific and technological hurdles.
What is nuclear fusion energy?
Nuclear fusion energy powers celestial bodies like the Sun and other stars. It is produced when two light hydrogen atoms come together and release a large amount of energy in the process. Nuclear fusion has the capacity to produce a clean, abundant and safe source of energy that eliminates the need for humanity’s dependence on coal, crude oil, natural gas and other hydrocarbons that are contributing to global warming. It is different from the nuclear fission, the energy that is used to make atom bombs. The nuclear fission reaction occurs when heavy atoms split apart. This process generates a lot nuclear wastes that emit radiation for a long time and become hazardous unless stored safely. Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, generate higher amount of energy while also eliminating any trace amounts of radioactive waste and removing the risk of nuclear disaster. It also does not emit greenhouse gases, providing a huge potential for clean energy needs. However, nuclear fusion reaction is very difficult to achieve as forcing and maintaining elements together in fusion requires extremely high temperatures and pressures.
Experiments are underway to make nuclear fusion a viable energy solution. One of them is the ITER, which is currently under construction in France. Instead of lasers, ITER uses a technique called magnetic confinement, which involves a swirling mass of fusing hydrogen plasma within a massive donut-shaped chamber.
Category: Science & Technology Current Affairs