Nuclear Energy

A milestone in fusion energy

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Basics- Fusion energy and applications

Mains level : Read the attached article

fusion

Context

  • For more than nine decades scientists have tried to replicate the process that produces energy for the sun and the stars fusion. On Tuesday, researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California, USA, announced a milestone in this endeavor.

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fusion

What is the research?

  • Merged two nuclei to produce a heavier nucleus: They merged two nuclei to produce a heavier nucleus. Their reactor produced about 1.5 times more energy than what was used in the process. In all the earlier attempts to harness the power of fusion, the reactors used up more energy than what was produced.
  • It will take at least two decades to be pioneered: But scientists say that it will be at least two decades before the process pioneered in the California laboratory can be scaled up.
  • Still a great leap where the world is in search of green technologies: Even then, in a world desperately searching for technologies that can power the developmental needs of nations without adding to the GHG load, the breakthrough at NIF has generated excitement.

What is Fusion?

  • Fusion works by pressing hydrogen atoms into each other with such force that they combine into helium, releasing enormous amounts of energy and heat.
  • This process occurs in our Sun and other stars.
  • Creating conditions for fusion on Earth involves generating and sustaining a plasma.
  • Plasmas are gases that are so hot that electrons are freed from atomic nuclei.

fusion

What is Fusion Energy?

  • The process releases energy because the total mass of the resulting single nucleus is less than the mass of the two original nuclei.
  • The leftover mass becomes energy.

Why is it perceived as energy of the future?

  • Carbon free: Fusion Reactions could one day produce nearly limitless, carbon-free energy, displacing fossil fuels and other traditional energy sources.
  • Efficient: Net energy gain has been an elusive goal because fusion happens at such high temperatures and pressures that it is incredibly difficult to control.
  • Clean: Unlike other nuclear reactions, it doesn’t create radioactive waste.

fusion

Why it is considered as significant research, though it will take at least two decades to be commercialized?

  • Countries are shifting towards renewable energies: Several countries are shifting to renewable energies to meet their international climate-related commitments. Yet, power generation currently is responsible for 25-30 per cent of global GHG emissions.
  • Unstable nature of renewables: The inherently unstable nature of renewables means that countries find it very difficult to jettison fossil-fuel energy sources.
  • Nuclear energy is relatively cleaner: Conventionally-produced nuclear energy that uses fission technology is relatively cleaner. But accidents at Chernobyl in 1986 and Fukushima in 2011 have raised serious questions over the safety of fission-powered plants. According to the IEA’s best-case scenario, the world’s nuclear energy generation capacity is likely to double by 2050 compared to 2020.

Conclusion

  • The global body has repeatedly flagged concerns about the efficacy of the nuclear reactors by and large in the US and Europe given that about two-thirds of them have been in operation for more than 30 years. It has also maintained that the realisation of the best-case scenario would require significant investments in innovative nuclear technologies.

Mains question

Q. Recently researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in USA tried to replicate the process that produces energy for the sun and the stars fusion, discuss the significance of this research.

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