The word ‘nuclear’ strikes fear amongst many, with disasters such as Chernobyl, disfigured children and terrifying nuclear bombs at the forefront of everyone’s mind. However, this perception needs to be adapted, as nuclear fusion could now be the answer to renewable energy.
Nuclear fusion reaction research is on the rise, and for the past 50 years, scientists have created and explored ideas to generate colossal amounts of low-carbon renewable energy. A minor detail perhaps? Nuclear fusion reactions are the force powering the Sun.
In a nuclear deuterium- tritium (DT) fusion reaction, incredibly high amounts of kinetic energy are produced, and the temperature reaches in excess of 100 million degrees Kelvin. If the reaction was to malfunction, the plasma would melt its way through the earth without much bother at all.
Currently, the most developed apparatus to reach the temperatures and densities suitable for initiating reactions is the Tokamak, invented in the 1950s by Soviet physicists Igor Yevgenyevich Tamm and Andrei Sakharov. The nuclear reactions take place inside a doughnut-shaped containment vessel. Because particles within are charged, plasma is held in place by powerful magnetic forces to prevent it from immediately liquefying the vessel walls. As the reaction proceeds, the kinetic energy increases, and is transferred to the surrounding liquid metal, which reduces the temperature to a safer 600-700?K. The liquid metal transfers the energy to water which converts to steam to power the turbines generating the electricity.
The starting materials are abundant on earth, and an enormous amount of energy can be produced from them. 10g of deuterium (extracted from 500 litres of water) and 15g of tritium (from 30g of lithium) produces enough electricity for the average person’s lifetime.
The downside? If this was indeed a viable option, it would not be complete before 2050.