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FuturismFUSION ENERGYPOWERING THE FUTUREFusion energy is what powers the Sun and all the stars in the universe. Reproducing it on Earth, even on a small scale, would mean a clean, cheap, inexhaustible source of power. Here's a look at the promise and challenges of fusion energy, together with some



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Futurism FUSION ENERGY POWERING THE FUTURE Fusion energy is what powers the Sun and all the stars in the universe. Reproducing it on Earth, even on a small scale, would mean a clean, cheap, inexhaustible source of power. Here's a look at the promise and challenges of fusion energy, together with some of the projects hoping to make the dream a reality. FISSION VS FUSION FISSION A neutron is accelerated and strikes the target nucleus, usually Uranium-235. This splits the target nucleus and breaks it down into smaller isotopes, releasing an enormous amount of energy. Atomic bombs operate on this principle, and all of the world's 440 nuclear power plants are based on fission. FUSION Isotopes of hydrogen, typically tritium and deuterium, unite under conditions of extreme pressure and temperature to produce a neutron and a helium isotope. This liberates huge quantities of energy, much greater than that produced from fission. Hydrogen bombs—3,000 times more powerful than atomic bombs—rely on WHY FUSION ENERGY? HOW IT’S GENERATED 'Ч* ^ HEAT Fusion fuel must be heated to 100,000,000‘C (180,000,000F). COMPRESS It must be dense enough and confined long enough for nuclei to fuse. IGNITE "Ignition" happens when enough fusion reactions take place to create self-sustaining process. ENJOY Once ignition is achieved, the net energy yield is four times that of nuclear fission. BRINGING IT TO LIFE Scientists have devised three approaches to harness fusion energy. MAGNETIC CONFINEMENT This method involves confining and controlling plasma with magnetic fields. The most effective magnetic confinement system is a toroidal, doughnut-shaped configuration, in which the magnetic field is curved around to form a closed loop. The most promising of these designs is the tokamak. INERTIAL CONFINEMENT Laser beams are focused onto a pellet of deuterium-tritium fuel, heating its outer layers and creating an implosion that compresses the inner layers. The fuel core is squeezed to fantastic densities, triggering fusion. This method, also known as "fast ignition," is deemed more practical and is part of a newer line of research. HYBRID FUSION Fusion can be combined with fission to create a hybrid nuclear reactor, where the blanket surrounding the core is composed of fissile materials. The fusion reaction acts as a neutron source, with each neutron triggering a fission reaction in the surrounding blanket. This method can significantly multiply the energy yield of the fusion reaction. THE CHALLENGES WITH FUSION cmо CREATING THE CONDITIONS The Sun’s extreme heat and gravitational pressure compress hydrogen nuclei into heavier elements, releasing energy. Man-made reactors can't achieve these pressures—but they can compensate by generating temperatures 10 times hotter CONTROLLING THE REACTION The United States has already produced fusion energy in an uncontrolled manner—via hydrogen bombs. Producing a controlled fusion reaction is many times more challenging. Fusion researchers are working hard to find a way to confine the plasma using magnetic fields, but it is much easier said than done. CONTAINING THE REACTION Major advances in engineering are needed to develop materials capable of withstanding the assault of fusion byproducts. Fast-flying neutrons pummeling the reactor chamber wall can weaken structural integrity and fill it with radioactive dust. ONGOING PROJECTS The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor is a joint research project of the US, the EU, Japan, Russia, China, South Korea, and India. Now under construction in France, it will use a tokamak magnetic confinement system to produce 500 MW of fusion power. GENERAL FUSION General Fusion is a private nuclear fusion development company that was founded in 2002 in British Columbia, Canada. Their proposed plant will consist of a 4-meter diameter reactor, and will use a "magnetized target fusion" technique that will raise the density of the plasma and increase the temperature until a pulse is generated. TRI ALPHA ENERGY Tri Alpha Energy was founded in 1988, and is based in Orange County, California. The company is developing a reactor with a "field-reversed configuration" design which uses magnetic confinement and heat to induce continuous fusion. This reactor design is much simpler than a tokamak, but far less developed.
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