Nuclear Fusion Energy Research Inches Closer To Elusive Break-Even Point
From Huffington Post
By Jesse Emspak
Fusion energy has proven an elusive goal — a running joke is that humanity is 20 years away from a practical power plant, and has been for 60 years.
That could be changing, said John Edwards, associate director for inertial confinement fusion and high-energy-density science of the National Ignition Facility.
In a recent piece published in the journal Physics of Plasmas, Edwards said NIF scientists are getting closer to reactions that produce more energy than they need to get going, and added that the obstacles to realizing nuclear fusion involve engineering problems rather than basic physics.
Fusion energy harnesses the same power source that makes the sun shine. It involves pushing together atomic nuclei— the protons and neutrons of atoms — to form heavier elements and release energy. In stars like the sun, fusion occurs due to the immense weight of hydrogen gas that crushes together the protons at the sun’s center to make helium. Fusion differs from fission reactions, used in current nuclear power plants, where an atom spontaneously breaks up — the process of radioactive decay — and releases energy.
Unlike the radioactive byproducts of fission, fusion power plants promise a lot of energy with no radioactive waste; in many fusion reactions, the product is helium.
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