The dream of nuclear fusion as a source of energy remains elusive


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As a civilization, we use approximately 173,340 terrawatt hours of energy to power our civilization.

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This energy is generated from a variety of sources, including biomass like wood, coal, oil, gas, nuclear, hydropower, wind and other renewable energy sources.

The amount of biomass we burn for energy has remained constant for several hundred years, but all other sources have increased dramatically over the past 120 years.

Coal fueled the industrial revolution and continues to be a major source of energy today. In the first quarter of the 20th century, gas and oil became major players in the energy game and are still increasing today. Until you get to nuclear power and a host of renewables, such as wind and solar, all major energy sources generate greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide. carbon, which trap heat from the sun in the atmosphere and raise the average temperature. This translates into climate change that generates droughts, massive storms and flooding on a planetary scale.

This problem is compounded by the economic disparity where Third World countries look longingly at First World countries and say, “I want what you have. They are willing to do what we have done to get our lifestyle. Unfortunately, the means by which we achieved our economic progress depended on our use of fossil fuels which gave us the current problem.

While there have been great strides in creating new forms of renewable energy, none is a major player on the global energy scene. The only viable option appears to be a vast expansion of our nuclear generation programs. Sadly, Three Mile Island and Chernobyl have given nuclear power a bad name, despite having one of the most enviable safety records of any generation technology.

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Although nuclear power is a safe and proven technology, the potential for danger is extreme. Modern fission reactors depend on the splitting of atoms to release their stored energy. Unfortunately, the waste from this process is radioactive and remains so on a geological time scale.

Plutonium has a half-life of 24,100 years, which means that it will be dangerous for more than 100,000 years. Uranium, a more typical fuel for reactors of this type, has a half-life of over four billion years. This means that it will still be dangerous when the sun dies. The problem is, where to put something that will remain dangerous, in terms of civilizations, forever?

In four billion years, mountain ranges have risen and eroded. It is too expensive to send radioactive waste into space and throw it in the sun. You can’t bury it safely. You can’t drop it in the ocean.

So what do you do with it?

It is a dangerous problem with no current solution.

Fortunately, there is safe nuclear technology that generates almost no radioactive waste and has enough fuel to keep it going for as long as needed. It is essentially a free power forever.

This technology is nuclear fusion. Fusion reactors crush hydrogen atoms to form a new element, helium, a useful chemical, and release massive amounts of energy. It is the power that powers the sun and it is perfectly safe.

There is a problem, it does not work.

While scientists have been successful in igniting fusion reactors, it is only recently that they have produced more energy than they put in.

Many countries are rushing to perfect the engineering of these devices. But we have been 10 years away from completing the merger in the past 50 years.

Fusion energy is the key to sustainable and unlimited energy production that is non-polluting and has no impact on the climate.

Hopefully the next 10 years of development will make the charm.

Tim Philp has loved science since he was of reading age. Having worked in technical fields all his life, he shares his love of science with readers every week. He can be reached by email at:


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