The world is gradually shifting from depending on fossil fuels to utilizing renewable energy. Many efforts and investments are being made to meet our energy demands only from renewable sources. They are many types of renewable energy that we have already implemented into our lifestyles such as solar energy, wind energy, and many more. But to meet the present generation’s energy demands, we have to look beyond solar and wind power. Let’s look at a potential game-changer in the renewable energy sector, The Nuclear Fusion reactor.

What is Nuclear Fusion?

To understand how the reactor works, we first need to know what nuclear fusion is. In simple terms, a nuclear fusion reaction is a process by which two light atomic nuclei combine to form a single heavier one while releasing massive amounts of energy. A fusion reactor uses this energy to generate electricity. A truck-sized fusion reactor can generate enough electricity to power an entire city of 1 lakh inhabitants.

Nuclear Fusion Reaction

This fusion reaction is found in the stars like the Sun where hydrogen atoms are fused to make helium. This reaction releases lots of energy. It powers the heat and light of the star. Let’s have a brief look into the working of the reactor.

Working Model of Nuclear Fusion Reactors

As we know that in a nuclear fusion reaction, two atoms join together to form one. Hydrogen isotopes are used as fuel for this process to join together and release an enormous amount of energy. The fusion reactor is designed to handle these lightweight hydrogen isotopes such as Deuterium and Tritium.

JET Nuclear Fusion Reactor

We can’t use hydrogen-hydrogen reactions like Sun because we lack the requirements like gigantic mass and size reactors to contain large amounts of energy. So to produce and contain energy on our scale, two reactor designs are currently being pursued:- Magnetic Confinement Reactors and Inertial Confinement Reactors.

Magnetic Confinement Reactor

In a magnetic confinement fusion system, strong magnetic fields contain and control the movement of plasma generated during the fusion reaction. Due to this movement control, the particles in the plasma collide with each other and combine to form new elements. This method has been researched and pursued for a couple of decades. The results and feedback of this method made scientists optimistic about the feasibility of fusion energy production.

Inertial Confinement Reactor

The other type is Inertial Confinement Reactors follow a different approach. High-energy laser beams are shot at a fuel target that contains deuterium and tritium fuel to start the reaction. Due to this impact, shockwaves are created which produce heat and compress the fuel. This reaction induces fusion reactions. Initially, this method has shown a lot of promise for fusion energy. But as this method was pursued, a lot of hurdles were encountered such as reaching certain energy criteria to initiate the fusion reaction.

What About the Present Nuclear Reactors?

At present, the nuclear reactors that are being used to generate electricity utilize the nuclear fission process. In a nuclear fission reaction, a neutron bombards a larger atom, forcing it to excite and split into two smaller atoms. The energy released is used by the reactor to generate electricity and power smaller towns and villages. There are 439 nuclear fission reactors in around 30 countries that are operational in the world right now. The United States leads the list with 92 operational fission reactors.

The Core of a Nuclear Fission Reactor at the University Of Texas

Nuclear fission reactors’ main advantage is that it is the cleanest energy source. With more developments in the field, these reactors have the potential to meet the energy demands of the present and upcoming generations.

Future Scope Of Nuclear Fusion Energy

The recent developments in utilizing fusion reaction as an energy source have been optimistic and can become a reality within our lifetime. The most recent update was that a team of researchers from South Korea, Princeton University, and Columbia University generated a fusion reaction that produced temperatures of about 100 million Kelvin(). The reaction lasted for 20 seconds.

The main problem that scientists face is controlling the fusion reaction. The slightest of errors can lead to instabilities in the reaction which prevents the reaction from continuing. Another major issue is dealing with the enormous amount of heat that is generated by the reaction. The materials that are used to build the reactor cannot hold the plasma so it is levitated with the help of magnets.

There’s a lot of research and investment being made into nuclear fusion reactors to make them a reality. Once they become stable reactors, humanity will gain access to unlimited clean and green energy. With little to no impact on the environment, these reactors can revolutionize the way to meet the energy demands of the upcoming generations.

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