Humanity is very close to achieving a nearly endless and clean energy source. It is called nuclear fusion. It is different than the nuclear fission reaction that is used in today’s nuclear reactors. Nuclear fission is based on splitting large atoms such as uranium or plutonium, and even though it releases a great amount of energy, it also generates radioactive waste.
But nuclear fusion is the way stars generate their energies, and it is based on fusing light atoms such as hydrogen to generate larger ones such as helium. This generates a huge amount of energy, and no radioactive waste.
The energy generated by this process is a lot more than the fission energy, but the problem is that you need to basically generate a small star in your reactor. This reaction requires extremely large amounts of pressure, which is also equivalent to extremely high temperatures. You need to generate millions of degrees celsius, and there is no known material in the universe that can contain such a reactor. It would melt its own container long before you even approach these temperatures.
Nuclear fusion reaction is achieved in the hydrogen bomb, which releases a lot more energy than the typical atomic bombs. But the reason it was possible there was because we didn’t need to contain this reaction in a controllable manner to harness its energy and put it to good use. The purpose was to generate an extremely large destructive power, and the hydrogen bomb was able to achieve that.
Luckily, there are ways to achieve these large temperatures in the lab environment without having to use any material. The trick is to use magnetic fields to hold ionized hydrogen plasma together, without having to touch any container walls. Many experimental reactors have been built by nations with advanced scientific capabilities in many locations over the years, and the work to achieve controllable fusion has been going on for a long time.
But there was significant progress in this area in the last few decades, and especially in the last decade. We have been hearing good news after good news from fusion researchers lately.
The latest one was actually released today from Germany, which prompted me to write this article.
The experimental fusion reactor in Germany finally achieved the desired temperatures in a controlled environment long enough for fusion to occur. This is a breakthrough, and even though the actual fusion reaction hasn’t been achieved yet, this is a great accomplishment that promises a successful fusion reaction in a controlled environment in the near future.
The beauty of this type of nuclear reactor is that its fuel is hydrogen, which can be obtained from water. And it generates enormous amounts of energy with no radioactive waste. And the other good news is that, thanks to the amount of water we have in the oceans, this technology promises to fulfill the energy needs of humanity for thousands of years.
It sounds too good to be true, but that is the beauty of it. Building and maintaining these experimental fusion reactors cost billions of dollars every year, but in the end, it is worth it.
We may be looking at a future with no fossil fuels, no radioactive waste, and clean and unlimited energy.
But initially, these reactors will be so large and expensive that they will only be used to provide electricity for cities and towns. The next challenge at that point will be trying to create smaller versions of these reactors that can power your cars, etc. Whether this is possible or not, this is still a very exciting development.