The Progress And Setbacks In The Development Of Commercial Nuclear Fusion

2160 words - 9 pages

In modern, first-world countries it is difficult to imagine life without the benefits of electricity. Yet this luxury often puts a strain on the human race’s financial and environmental responsibilities. For the nearly 1.2 billion people worldwide (The World Bank) without electricity nuclear fusion represents one of the most efficient potential energy sources being developed this century. The chemical properties of the fuel being manipulated by fusion technology promise an energy return far greater than what is needed to initialize a reaction. Theoretically this could provide power so cheap to manufacture that reactors could be run almost endlessly and the product sold for pennies. Though critics often cite devastating instances of fusion reaction, such as the November 1st hydrogen bomb test, to support their claims the benefits of nuclear fusion for civil purposes greatly outweigh the deterrents.
Nuclear fusion is the product of nuclear and coulomb forces. Nuclear force joins protons and neutrons between two atoms and causes an attraction that can overcome opposing forces at a very close range. Coulomb force moves in the opposite direction and causes repulsion (Aasen). Although the interaction of these forces can be replicated with a variety of different elements the most common method uses two hydrogen isotopes, a deuterium and a tritium. The deuterium, which is represented by the symbol 2H, is a stable derivative of hydrogen and consists of a single proton and neutron, unlike hydrogen which has no neutrons. The tritium, 3H, is formed with one proton and two neutrons. When the two isotopes of hydrogen are forced together Helium-4 is created and one high energy electron is released (Aasen). This reaction, that generates heat as a byproduct of energy, is exactly the same as the ones that generates the heat and power of stars. The equation E=mc^2 reveals a release of 339 GigaJoules, 339 billion joules, for a single gram of fuel containing deuterium and tritium matter. The estimation of the amount of power that could be generated under perfect conditions clearly implies a solution to energy demand.
One of the largest issues facing the development of nuclear fusion is the difficulty of coming up with a nondestructive way to supply power for commercial purposes. Extreme conditions, including heat and pressure, are needed for fusion to occur (Langston). In order for atoms to fuse completely the nuclei of each isotope must join together. This requirement is an example of the previously discussed nuclear forces. However, the protons surrounding the nucleus display coulomb force and repel each other since they have like charges. The only way opposing coulomb force can be overcome is by using excessive amounts of heat. The temperature required to finalize the reaction is approximately 18,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit, nearly six times hotter than the sun. The amount of heat changes the hydrogen isotopes from a gas to a plasma with all its electrons moving...

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