Whilst watching a film regarding Nuclear Fusion in my Physics lesson today, I was astounded by the experimental potential of the machines which would pave the way to the energy source of the future. When I came home to find Slashdot’s news feed report that one of the machines mentioned in the video had been completed and had made a successful test run, I certainly had to mention it here.
The National Ignition Facility (NIF) has built the world’s largest laser, consisting of two arrays of 96 lasers each, directed by mirrors and superimposed to create a large square beam from the 192 lasers involved. The laser, delivering more than 60 times the energy of any laser system previously built, will be directed to a small central target, in which temperatures greater than 100 million degrees and pressures 100 billion times the Earth’s atmosphere will be generated. These conditions, similar to those in the center of stars such as our Sun (a natural fusion reactor), are ideal for Nuclear Fusion to occur.
NIF have published a report regarding their progress, and appear ready to start investigating the possibilities of self sustaining Fusion as a commercial energy source. The Joint European Torus (JET) are also working on Fusion by way of manipulating plasma with superconducting magnets within a torus. Nuclear Fusion merely requires Deuterium as a fuel, which is plentiful in water since it’s a naturally occurring isotope of Hydrogen. At temperatures similar to those in the center of the Sun, atoms are stripped of their Electrons, and Protons are accelerated and brought together such that the fundamental Electromagnetic Force is overcome by the fundamental Nuclear Strong Force. This causes the protons to fuse, making the nuclei unstable and releasing Neutrons high in kinetic energy, which will one day be harnessed to produce commercial energy. A thorough explanation of the process is given in this video.
Very simply, Nuclear Fusion will bring the power of the stars to our Earth, providing an extraordinary solution to the global warming crisis due to its clean nature (the fuel is practically water, exhaust is nonexistent), and producing unprecedented amounts of energy for future technological development and experimentation.