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Breakthrough in nuclear fusion energy announced

  • Category
    Science & Technology
  • Published
    16th Dec, 2022

Context

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the U.S. have announced a major advance in the long-running quest to harness energy from nuclear fusion.

Details:

  • The researchers have for the first time produced more energy in a fusion reaction than was used to ignite it.
  • They are referring to it as something called net energy gain.
  • The researchers have used lasers to produce temperatures multiple times hotter than the center of the sun to create an extremely brief fusion reaction.

What is Nuclear Fusion?

  • Nuclear fusion is the process whereby nuclei join together into one nucleus. The fusion of two atomic nuclei into one nucleus is not possible under standard temperature and pressure.
    • It results in a subsequent release of huge amounts of energy.
    • It is the opposite reaction of fission, where heavy isotopes are split apart.
  • Harnessing fusion, the process that powers the Sun, could provide a limitless, clean energy source.
    • In the sun, the extreme pressure produced by its immense gravity creates the conditions for fusion to happen.
  • Fusion reactions take place in a state of matter called plasma. Plasma is a hot, charged gas made of positive ions and free-moving electrons that has unique properties distinct from solids, liquids, and gases.
    • At high temperatures, electrons are ripped from an atom’s nuclei and become a plasma or an ionized state of matter. Plasma is also known as the fourth state of matter.
    • The Plasma is then controlled by humongous magnets.

Significance of the development

Advantages of Nuclear Fusion

  • Abundant energy
  • Sustainability
  • No emission of CO?
  • No long-lived radioactive waste
  • Limited risk of proliferation
  • No risk of meltdown
  • In the future it may produce nearly limitless, carbon-free energy, displacing fossil fuels and other traditional energy sources.
  • Fusion energy systems may help to tackle climate change and energy security.
  • The net energy gain is of immense importance because fusion happens at such high temperatures and pressures that it is incredibly difficult to control.
    • The fuel does not want to stay hot -- it wants to leak out and get cold.
    • Containing it is an incredible challenge.

Related Initiatives:

  • International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) Assembly: It aims to build the world's largest tokamak to prove the feasibility of fusion as a large-scale and carbon-free source of energy. It is based in France.
  • China’s Artificial Sun: The Experimental Advanced Superconducting Tokamak (EAST) device designed by China replicates the nuclear fusion process carried out by the sun.
  • ITER-India is a special project under Institute for Plasma Research. It is governed by the Empowered Board, which is chaired by the Secretary of, the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).
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