There is a substantial electrostatic energy barrier between two naked nuclei a distance apart. At large distances, their positively charged protons repel each other like matched magnetic poles. However, if we bring the two nuclei close enough together we can overcome this. Then we can force them to combine. This is what we now know of nuclear fusion in high-level summary form. What we do not yet have is a way to tame the released energy, so we can use it to power our world.
Known Methods of Achieving Nuclear Fusion
We know that we can create a nuclear fusion reaction by heating matter to plasma state. This leads to particle collisions caused by extreme thermal kinetic energy.
A thermonuclear explosion is the only method among what we now know of nuclear fusion able to achieve this.
However, the energy it produces is an uncontrollable blast. Here are the main alternatives scientists are exploring with varying degrees of success:
- Internal confinement fusion involving heating and compressing pellets containing deuterium and tritium
- Inertial electrostatic confinement whereby an electric field heats ions to conditions where fusion occurs
- Beam-to-beam or beam-to-target fusion using particle accelerators to cause light-ion fusion reactions
- Energy hyper-intensive muon catalyzed fusion, at ordinary temperatures using unstable subatomic particles.
Coordinating What We Now Know of Nuclear Fusion
The advanced nations of the world are pursuing their hope of powering their national grid using nuclear fusion. Runaway reactions cannot occur in fusion reactors, because conditions must be precise for fusion to occur unlike nuclear fission.
However knowledge sharing is incomplete because the rewards of success are so great. National security is another consideration. Hence, we can only sit on the sidelines and try to interpret what is happening. However, what we now know of nuclear fusion does not always provide the answers that we seek.
Preview Image: National Ignition Facility Target Assembly
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