Nuclear Fusion—Still the energy holy grail

Eloise Hamann April 7, 2018

In its core, the Sun fuses 620 million metric tons of hydrogen each second.

Nuclear fusion is a nuclear reaction in which two atomic nuclei fuse together to form a single nucleus of smaller total mass plus energy (made from the lost mass so to speak.)

Aha! Energy, that’s what we consume in huge amounts in our lives. We’ve depended on it ever since the cave man discovered fire. Now we use it for our appliances, our comfort, our transportation, our communication, to mow our lawns, and on and on.

We’ve obtained energy from many sources over the life of man including nuclear fission, which is the opposite of nuclear fusion as an atom splits into smaller parts plus a very large amount of energy, The reaction is called nuclear fission and is what takes place at nuclear power plants. The unfortunate aspect of the process is dealing with radioactivity which is deadly to life.

Nuclear fusion is on the other hand completely safe, and scientists have pursued ways to make it forever. To be more precise, they can create it using extreme heat, but heat takes energy and so far it takes more energy to produce it than is produced. This problem is familiar to farmers who often spend more money on producing crops than they sell them for, but I digress.

Every once in a while, someone thinks they’ve found a way and fusion makes the news. Having not heard anything for some time, I tacitly believed they’d given up. Some used to joke that fusion is always 30 years away.

I discovered by accident that scientists have not given up on reaching the break-even point, the point where energy out is the same as energy in. Japan is calling in supercomputers to do necessary calculations. Hooray for them. If anyone succeeds it could become a huge source of clean energy for our planet for years to come.

On the other hand, the energy from the sun comes from nuclear fusion. Maybe we should just fully harness it and put on our sunsuits and bask away.