Nuclear Energy

US scientists announce breakthrough in Fusion Energy


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Fusion Energy

Mains level: Clean energy developments


US announced a “major scientific breakthrough” in the decades-long quest to harness fusion, the energy that powers the sun and stars.

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.

How is it carried out?


  • Three conditions must be fulfilled to achieve fusion in a laboratory:
  1. Very high temperature (on the order of 150,000,000° Celsius);
  2. Sufficient plasma particle density (to increase the likelihood that collisions do occur); and
  3. Sufficient confinement time (to hold the plasma, which has a propensity to expand, within a defined volume).
  • At extreme temperatures, electrons are separated from nuclei and a gas becomes a plasma—often referred to as the fourth state of matter.
  • Fusion plasmas provide the environment in which light elements can fuse and yield energy.

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.

What did the US achieve?

  • The US experiment uses a process called inertial confinement fusion.
  • It involved bombarding a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma with the world’s biggest laser.

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 still far from reality. Why?

  • Significant though the achievement is, it does little to bring the goal of producing electricity from fusion reactions any closer to reality.
  • By all estimates, use of the fusion process for generating electricity at a commercial scale is still two to three decades away.
  • The technology used in the US experiment might take even longer to get deployed.

India’s progress: ITER project

  • International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is one of the most ambitious energy projects in the world today.
  • The idea for an international joint experiment in fusion was first launched in 1985.
  • In southern France, 35 nations* are collaborating to build the world’s largest tokamak, a magnetic fusion device that has been designed to prove the feasibility of fusion.
  • ITER is funded and run by seven member parties: China, the European Union, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States.


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