Nuclear Fusion: Future Energy Sources

Energy is an important aspect of humanity. With energy, we cook food, plant crops, and turn on our cellphones. One form of energy, electrical energy, is one of the arteries of modern human civilization today.

However, the conversion of energy into electricity has consequences and challenges. Such as steam power plants that emit air pollution, nuclear power plants that produce nuclear waste, and solar power plants which its challenge is the absence of high capacity batteries to store electricity at night.

One of the answers from the scientists out there is nuclear fusion power plants. But what is nuclear fusion?

What is Nuclear Fusion?

tokamak facility
Tokamak Facility

In general, nuclear power plants in the world are nuclear fission reactors, which are reactors that break atomic nuclei into smaller atoms. Whereas a nuclear fusion reactor is the opposite, it combines small atoms into larger atoms.

nuclear fission and fusion
Nuclear Fission (left) and Nuclear Fusion (right)

Every split and fusion of atoms, there is always a release of energy in the process, usually in the form of heat. This energy then evaporates water to turn a turbine generator that produces electricity. The nuclear fusion reaction is the same reaction as in the sun’s core, in which hydrogen atoms combine to become helium, due to very high pressure and temperature.

Is Nuclear Fusion Reactor Worth It?

1. Efficiency

If we are able to design nuclear fusion reactors appropriately and optimally, the reactor will be very efficient. Even one glass of water used for nuclear fusion can produce energy equivalent to burning 100 liters of oil, without significant pollution.

2. Material

At the currently existing nuclear power plants, the material used is Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239, both of which are highly radioactive and expensive. Whereas in nuclear fusion, the materials used are hydrogen and/or helium, which we know is abundant in water. But the hydrogen used is only certain hydrogen isotopes called Deuterium and Tritium.

hidrogen's isotope
Helium-1 (left), Deuterium (center), Tritium (right)

Deuterium is abundant in seawater, while radioactive Tritium is very rare and expensive. Because Tritium is rare, Tritium can be replaced with Helium-3. Although Helium-3 is also rare, there is speculation that Helium-3 is abundant on the lunar surface due to exposure to solar radiation for millions of years without atmosphere.

3. Safety

Maybe building a reactor like this feels dangerous. However, nuclear fusion reactors are not like reactors in nuclear plants in general. If the safety net is damaged, then the plasma in a nuclear fusion reactor will not get hotter then explode like in a nuclear power plant, it will cool itself off and then stop reacting.

4. Pollution

Nuclear fusion reactors do emit radioactive waste. However, in one use, only a few grams are used so that the pollution is very easily dissolved naturally, especially by water. This is certainly in contrast to power plants that are currently available, they even use tons of material for the same results.


If Nuclear Fusion Power Plant is Very Promising, Why Doesn’t It Exist yet?

solar power plant
Solar power plant is proven to be an environmentally friendly energy source.

Nuclear fusion is indeed a source of energy that is so efficient, abundant, safe, and minimal pollution. However, the main challenge of making it available to the public is cost. At present, nuclear fusion is still in an experimental stage and far from the final result. Even if it works, the construction costs will likely be very expensive. Research and development costs are so expensive that make the progress very slow.

The main challenge of nuclear fusion technology is that this technology has not yet been certainly proven its feasibility for public and commercial use. This makes not many countries want to invest in developing this future energy source. Because if you think about it at a glance, it’s better if the money is used for further development of clean energy technologies that have been proven and exist, for example, like tidal power and solar cells. Because of the minimal cost of research, even this technology has even begun to be developed since 1946 until now, it’s still far from “developed”.

Conclusion

Nuclear fusion is one of the very promising energy sources for the future. Its naturally eco-friendly characteristics can certainly answer the problems of conventional power plants that are currently available. But sometimes costs are the barrier. Billions of dollars for the development of an ideal nuclear fusion could be better invested in proven and available eco-friendly energy sources.

Nuclear technology as this good may not be obtained in the near future. So, alternatives that have been proven better like conventional nuclear technology is the most appropriate substitutes. Despite that energy source is the best alternative, there are still many pros and cons that occur in the world community. You can read it in the following article.

Nuclear Energy: 3 Reasons Why It Should Be Stopped

Nuclear Energy: 3 Reasons Why It Must Be Kept Up

Sources and References:

  1. Fusion Power Explained – Future or Failure – Kurzgesagt

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