Research, Technology

Fusion could be a breakthrough in modern energy

The current energy crisis has shown thatmankind is not ready to abandon nuclear energy, as it is much more efficient than renewable energy sources. However, it has a number of shortcomings that are well known to everyone. Therefore, since the middle of the last century, scientists have been working on the development of an alternative energy source - thermonuclear fusion. It is in every respect superior to the technology of obtaining energy by splitting the atomic nucleus, as it is more efficient, at the same time less dangerous and generally environmentally friendly. Electricity generation in this way is carried out without carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere. But what is the essence of this technology, how promising is it, and how close have scientists been able to come to its implementation?

Реактор, в котором ученые воспроизводят термоядерный синтез

Content

  • 1 Fusion
  • 2 What are the advantages of thermonuclear fusion
  • 3 Thermonuclear fusion in terrestrial conditions
  • 4 A breakthrough in fusion energy - what success has been achieved?

Thermonuclear fusion

Thermonuclear fusion was first discovered in 1920year. Already at the beginning of the 1950s, scientists began to work on mastering it and using it for generating electricity. However, numerous studies and experiments were not successful. At some point, scientists even decided that it was impossible to master nuclear fusion at all.

But, despite this inaccessibility, it is preciselyThanks to nuclear fusion, life exists on Earth. Moreover, we feel it on ourselves every day. Yes, the heat and light that emanate from the Sun arise precisely as a result of thermonuclear fusion. However, the reaction occurs in the core of a star in a natural way under certain conditions - extremely high temperature and pressure. Scientists, on the other hand, need to reproduce the same reaction, only in our earthly conditions, which is much more difficult.

Nuclear fusion takes place on the sun, which produces enormous energy.

What is the essence of thermonuclear fusion?Traditional nuclear power is based on the division of a heavy nucleus into two lighter ones. When an atomic nucleus splits, a large amount of energy is released. All nuclear power plants operate on the basis of this principle, including even small modular reactors, which we talked about not so long ago.

In thermonuclear fusion, everything happens withexactly the opposite - two light nuclei crash into each other at great speed and merge into one nucleus. At the same time, colossal energy is also generated, which can be converted into electricity.

What are the advantages of thermonuclear fusion

During thermonuclear fusion, it is released in fourtimes more energy than nuclear fission, and four million times more energy than burning coal or gas. But this is far from the only advantage of this technology. Conventional reactors require nuclear fuel - uranium rods - which are radioactive. During the reaction, plutonium is formed, which is also radioactive. This is perhaps one of the main disadvantages of nuclear energy.

Thermonuclear energy is more environmentally friendly and safer than nuclear

As for thermonuclear fusion, for itsDeuterium (heavy hydrogen), which does not emit radiation at all, as well as tritium, an isotope of hydrogen, is considered the optimal material for implementation. Tritium, although radioactive, is less dangerous due to its small and relatively short duration of radiation. Thus, thermonuclear fusion solves the problem of nuclear waste.

Deuterium is abundant in seawater, and tritium can be artificially created by scientists by irradiating lithium with neutrons. That is, fuel for thermonuclear fusion is not expensive and affordable.

In addition, thermonuclear energy is moresafer than nuclear, since thermonuclear fusion can be stopped at any time. Moreover, the reaction itself stops when conditions change, for example, the temperature rises or falls. This means that thermonuclear stations do not carry a potential danger.

Thermonuclear fusion involves combining two light nuclei into one

Thermonuclear fusion in terrestrial conditions

Plasma is needed to reproduce the reactionthat is, certain gases heated to a temperature of 150 million degrees Celsius. This is many times greater than the temperature of the solar core. For understanding, a plasma heated to such a temperature is almost 1 million times lighter than air, since all its protons and neutrons are separated. As we said above, the most suitable conditions for thermonuclear fusion occur when plasma is created from deuterium and tritium.

When these substances are heated to the optimumtemperature, atomic nuclei collide with each other at great speed, resulting in the release of heat, that is, the very energy that can be converted into electricity. However, this is where the serious snag of this technology lies. As paradoxical as it may sound, as the temperature increases, the speed at which particles collide decreases. That is, the plasma seems to turn off, and thermonuclear fusion ceases to occur. In fact, this effect provides security.

A by-product of fusion is helium, a safe inert gas.

A breakthrough in fusion energy - what success has been achieved?

The US Department of Energy on December 13 announcedthat scientists have managed to achieve a technological breakthrough in the field of thermonuclear energy. But what exactly is the breakthrough? For the first time, scientists have managed to obtain more energy from thermonuclear fusion than was spent on reproducing it.

However, before the creation of full-fledged thermonuclearreactors and generating electricity on an industrial scale is still a long way off. According to the scientists themselves, it's like burning wood or getting electricity from a coal-fired power plant. So far, they have only managed to “burn firewood”. To obtain a net increase in energy, scientists had to use one of the largest and most powerful lasers in the world. Simply put, so far it has been possible to obtain energy only in laboratory conditions.

To reproduce thermonuclear fusion, scientists used a powerful laser

To create an industrial thermonuclearthe reactor will require colossal resources. In addition, the problem of materials from which the reactor will be made has not yet been solved. They must be extremely strong, as a thermonuclear reaction will put a lot of stress on them.

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It should also be taken into account that during thermonuclearThe reaction releases a large amount of heat energy. Therefore, scientists still need to develop equipment that can efficiently convert this energy into electricity. Nevertheless, scientists are optimistic. In their opinion, a full-fledged experimental reactor will start operating by the end of this decade, and the first demonstration power plant will be created within 30 years.