Control Nuclear Fusion and Generate Electricity ?


Nuclear power is known to us but this nuclear power is divided into many different constituents but today we will only be talking about nuclear fusion and fission. To think upon it nuclear power is the most dangerous in this world and it has to be controlled, just what we are going to read about ahead.

In, fusion two atoms of hydrogen combine and fuse into a single atom of helium. Fusion reaction is not possible on earth because it needs a high amount of energy to occur and fuse to hydrogen atoms and to control the amount of energy given and received from nuclear fusion we have different ways but then are yet not ready to be used for commercial purpose or generate electricity.

Many factors and problems are there to have a fusion reaction on earth to use it as a reliable energy source.

Let's understand why it is not possible to have a nuclear fusion reaction on earth and what could be the possible ways to control nuclear fusion if mankind will ever able to have nuclear fusion on earth.

Control nuclear fusion to generate electricity:

So before understanding how nuclear fusion is possible on earth to generate electricity we first need to understand what is fusion and what are the different ways nuclear fusion can be used or controlled.

What is fusion ?

Fusion is a nuclear process in which two hydrogen atoms fuse together to form a single atom of helium. The energy released during this process is high.

Fun fact: Energy in sun is produced from fusion.

Isotopes of hydrogen such as tritium and deuterium are used to fuse under high temperature and high pressure. In this reaction, a huge amount of energy is released which can later be used to run our turbines in order to produce electricity.

It's been estimated that 1KG of fuel per day can generate 1GW of energy which is enough to power up to around 750,000 homes which is equivalent to the energy produced by around 431 wind turbine.

So nuclear fusion can really solve the electricity problem, but then why we are not able to control nuclear fusion and use it as an electric source ?

Is it possible to make a fusion reaction occur on earth ?

Yes, it's possible to have a fusion reaction occur on earth but this needs some special condition such as very high temperature and pressure. Before, I told you that it's not possible and now you must be wondering why am I being a hypocrite ?

First let's change the question a little bit to understand this: "Whether it's possible to use nuclear reaction on earth to produce electricity? Now answer to this question is "NO" because until now we have done some experiment on fusion reaction but none of the experiments was long enough to produce electricity.

So yes it's possible to have a fusion reaction on earth but it's for a very short period of time (1/10th of a second) which is not enough to generate electricity.

Reasons we can't control fusion to generate electricity:

If will ever be able to generate electricity from fusion, that day will be a remarkable day but before that, we need to face some challenges. So before going further in this topic let me introduce you with some challenges scientist face when dealing with fusion reaction.

Challenges faced:

1. Need high energy: To execute a fusion reaction, we need high amount of energy. As you know fusion reaction is a phenomenon in which two atoms get fused to form another single atom. For example, two atoms of hydrogen are fused to form one single atom of helium. A huge amount of energy is released during this process.

2. Need high temperature: Fusion needs to be done at a very high temperature so that element can become plasma. This high temperature is achieved through high amount of energy needed to execute the fusion. Maintaining plasma form in this reaction is also a topic of concern.

Ways to maintain plasma:
  • Gravity
  • Inertia
  • Magnetic field

3. Suitable component: During fusion reaction, the energy liberated is so high and there is high amount of temperature needed to execute fusion reaction. So vessel and material which are used should be able to bear with such amount of heat. 

4. Magnetic field: To manage plasma a strong magnetic field is necessary. Producing such an amount of magnetic field is a challenge in itself. Internal flow of ions in plasma creates a magnetic field for the sun which is strong enough for fusion.

5. Columbus repulsion: In fusion two nuclei are made to get fused. During this process, there is a repulsion between them known as Columbus repulsion. To overcome this problem a large amount of heat is required.

How much have we progressed in having a fusion reaction on earth ?

Since the discovery of fusion, scientist are trying to have a fusion reaction on earth. Many different attempts and experiment are conducted and here is the table showing our progress in a fusion reaction.


Here is the list of some different experiment in an attempt towards nuclear fusion:

1. Tokamak fusion test reactor (TFTR): Tokamak fusion test reactor aka TFTR was an experimental tokamak (a shape of a toroid) built-in PPPL.

This experiment was conducted for 15 years from 1982-1997. The main objective of this reactor was to generate more energy from fusion reaction then it's been supplied to warm it up.

Sadly in 15 years, it was never able to achieve its objective still it was a great help in our knowledge of energy density and time learning.

If you willing to know more about TFTR experiment here is the Wikipedia link to know more about TFTR.

2. Joint European Torus (JET): It's the world largest operational confined magnetical plasma physics experiment centre. It's located in Culham Centre of Fusion Energy (CCFE) in the UK. Main objective of JET is opening a new way to grow knowledge on nuclear physics.



3. T-15 Reactor: It is a reactor located in Kurchatov Institute (Russia). It was based on a soviet invented tokamak design. It was in use from 1988-1995.

If you want to know more about T-15 reactor and its operation here is the Wikipedia link for T-15 reactor.

4. International thermonuclear experimental reactor (ITER): ITER is an international megaproject based on plasma research. ITER reactor is designed to produce fusion plasma of equivalent to 500MW (Megawatt) energy when 50MW thermal power is injected in it. This is the latest biggest project now which is helping us to progress in the fusion field and using fusion energy as an energy source.



Here is the link to Wikipedia article related to  ITER if you want to know more about it.

When will we be capable of controlling a fusion reaction commercially ?

According to a scientist, we are still a decade away to use fusion as an energy source. Fossil fuels and other energy source are going to get exhausted in 50-100 years so it's important for humans to find out another reliable source of energy.  As you have seen many of big experiments are there to find out a way to use fusion as an energy source.

It's important for us now but now many of you must bee wondering, how they perform fusion in the experiments mention above? and if they are capable enough to conduct fusion then why don't they use it as an energy source?

While I was researching on this topic, the same question hit my mind. Then I found out that yes! fusion is possible on earth. As you know high amount of energy is required to fuse two atoms.

Two main reasons for not using the current fusion reactor as energy sources are:

1. Fusion energy is released during this process but it's less than the amount of energy needed to fuse them. Basically it's a loss-loss situation and scientist are experimenting to get more energy from fusion then it's needed to heat the reactor.

ITER project says that it produces 500MW electricity when 50MW energy is provided to heat it. This much amount of energy is enough to run more than 1000 average American houses.

2. The second reason due to which it's not possible to use it as a source of energy is because we are now only capable to run fusion reaction for some seconds (1/10th of a second) and to use it as energy source we need it to be continuous.

How much time will it take to use fusion as an electricity source ? 

Well, scientists are working hard on this and still, it's going to take a decade for this to be successful. recently it's been announced that the latest AI technology can help us in achieving our goal regarding fusion as an energy source.

While researching on this topic I came across an article regarding AI and nuclear energy source, which says that AI can help us. Here is the link to that article if you want it to read it. AI and nuclear source.

Possible ways to control fusion reaction on earth:

Fusion is controlled for using it as energy and reliable source of energy as of now. Now you know that fusion reaction is possible but only for a certain period of time which is around 1/10th of a second.

This is only possible because of certain thing essential to overcome problems faced by performing fusion on earth.

Possible ways are: 

1. Using toroidal magnetic field.
2. Using a mixture of tritium and deuterium (they are the isotopes of a hydrogen atom).
3. Keeping the component cool.

P.s:- Unlike fission, fusion has its advantages it's not a chain reaction that it's needed to be controlled. The amount of heat required to perform fusion is needed to be controlled. Ways mentioned above are the ways to control heat production during and by the fusion. 

Using toroidal magnetic field (tokamak):

Now we know that for fusion reactor we are using deuterium-tritium reaction (isotopes of hydrogen) plasma. Tokamak uses a high toroidal shaped magnetic field to confine the hot plasma.

Tokamak uses a high toroidal magnetic field to confine a hot plasma and it's a leading choice for the latest experiment in thermonuclear fusion reactors.

A tokamak creates a toroidal magnetic field. If you don't know much about toroids I have an article on my site where I had mentioned about toroids. It has taken me a whole 2hrs of research to collect basic info on toroids. Here is the link to the article where toroid is mentioned.

Using a mixture of isotopes of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium):

In, fusion two atoms of hydrogen gets fused to form a single atom of helium. Fusion processes isotopes of hydrogen are used.

Deuterium and tritium are used to perform a fusion reaction on earth because they are fused more easily compared to other isotopes. The energy released by other isotopes fusion such as deuterium - deuterium fusion reaction is not less compared to the energy released by the deuterium-tritium reaction.






Advantages and disadvantages of fusion reaction:

So why are we so much focused on using fusion energy? What are its advantages to a human? why just we don't rely on energy sources we are using now, example coal mines?

Well answer to this is simple. Coal mines and other energy resources we are using right now will go extinct in 50-100 years. We are using nuclear fission but they have their own disadvantages. Energy source which we are using right now is not reliable and gases from burning coal releases a huge amount of greenhouse gas which affects our environment.

So here are some of the pros and cons of Fusion:



Conclusion:

According to what I have researched, you can say that performing nuclear fusion is possible on earth but it needs a high amount of heat so that two nuclei can get fused. Using fusion as and the energy source is still under development because performing fusion needs more energy then we receive.

On top of that, one other reason we can't use it as a reliable energy source is that we can perform nuclear fusion but for a small interval of time and to use it as an energy source we need to develop a technology to perform which is continuous.

There's is no doubt in that its best energy source compare to nuclear fission or coal mines but if you ask me it's going to take one more decade to develop it fully. Scientists are using all that they could and now they are even going to use AI technology in nuclear fusion.

So some of the known ways we execute and control nuclear fusion are by creating a strong toroidal shape magnetic field with the help of a tokamak design. And using a mixture of deuterium and tritium plasma (deuterium and tritium are isotopes of hydrogen) in a fusion reaction.

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