We’re getting to a point where resources for energy production is rapidly diminishing. Most of our energy production releases a byproduct which harms the Earth and increases the risk of climate change. Though we have clean green energy generated by solar, wind or hydroelectric which helps lessen the effects of climate change, it isn’t clear enough as it requires time, money and a lot of land to produce a sizable amount of energy to support a country. A nuclear power plant can solve our energy problems through the scientific breakthrough of nuclear fission. This process can provide 1 megawatt of energy from only 1 gram of uranium, which is equivalent to burning 3 tons of coal. Despite the amount of energy it produces, the byproduct is a radioactive waste that will last for centuries on end before it is safe to dispose of. However, there is another possibility of a new energy source that can provide the same amount of energy as nuclear fission, and creates no harmful byproduct. It is considered a clean energy source as it doesn’t emit any harmful substance or any greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere. The new energy source is through Nuclear Fusion, which is completely different from nuclear fission. There is sometimes a misunderstanding between these two methods, as the word nuclear often implies harmful substances, but this is not the case for fusion.
Nuclear Fission is where larger atoms like uranium are forcibly split apart by using another atom. During this process, the splitting of the atom generates a lot of heat which powers the steam to generate electricity. Nuclear fusion, on the other hand, generates its power by harnessing the energy created when fusing two smaller elements into a bigger atom. An easier and similar example of fusion is the very thing that provides heat and is a light source to the entire solar system, the sun. Another difference lies in the availability of these materials. For fission, uranium needs to be mined from the depth of the core and then processed into a usable form to generate energy. Scientists predict we have enough uranium stockpiled for another 100 years, granted, which isn’t enough if we wanted to find a long-term solution. As for fusion, the resource of deuterium and tritium, which is a denser form of hydrogen, is virtually unlimited and can be found everywhere on earth and in space. The only byproduct of nuclear fusion is helium, which is an inert non-toxic gas. It doesn’t have the nuclear waste that fission produces. With that said, through fusion can provide four times more energy than nuclear fission and four million times than oil or gasses, it seems like we don’t see or have this type of technology implanted yet. It clearly is the better option as it provides cleaner energy.
On paper, it is a very easy thing to do, but actually doing it is harder, especially if we’re talking about nuclear fusion. The reason why it’s a new possible source is because we haven’t perfected this technique on a global commercial level yet and it isn’t ready to be used. As promising as it sounds, there are some hurdles scientist have to overcome. First, you will need a machine capable of withstanding temperature close to the sun’s core to convert hydrogen atoms into a plasma state. Then, only in this state, the atom will start to compress and fuse together to create the energy we need. The issue with this is that a lot of energy is needed to start the machine and get the machine to a specific temperature to start the process. At our current rate, we’re only breaking even. It means we are generating the same amount of energy we put in, which is a bad thing. In order for fusion power to be practically viable and available for commercial use, you need to extract more usable energy than it takes to run the whole entire power plant. Even if it’s making four times more than our traditional nuclear fission, it takes the same amount of energy it produces to get that four times more energy.
Though this is not ready yet, this method alone can have a significant change on how we use our energy and will help migrate the effects of climate change. There are promising leads on nuclear fusion development by ITER and Helion. They are currently constructing a new way to harness energy through fusion.