Energy is the accurate metric of human progress. It is widely believed that the more technologically advanced a civilization is, the higher it has the potential and systems to harness the energy. With the growing population and technology, we must move on to energy sources that are less harmful and that have more potential than the previous references.
Unfortunately, the first thing that comes into people’s minds when they hear the word ‘nuclear’ is that of a mushroom cloud. While completely ignoring the fact, Iron’s Man arc reactor is also based on the same concept of cold fusion, a type of nuclear reaction.
While such a device is not feasible(although we’re still hoping for a Tony Stark to come and build this with a bunch of scraps), there’s considerable progress towards Nuclear fusion. This is the energy that powers the stars(also called the Holy grail of energy)! Akin to bottling a star and using its energy for our needs.
The other form of nuclear energy, fission, is already being used in many countries. It is also an economical and viable option than fossil-based energy sources. The problems with safety are easily addressed by the fact that this has the lowest mortality rate globally among all the other sources. France serves as a perfect example, with 75% of its total energy coming from Nuclear. It also has the lowest CO2 Emissions/GDP in the world.
While there is strong public opposition against nuclear energy due to the incidents that have caused a bad image, fusion energy is different from fission. They are safer than nuclear fission since the reaction stops completely when the initial conditions are not met, unlike fission. Nuclear fission releases heat energy by splitting atoms. Fusion takes place when two low-mass isotopes, typically isotope of hydrogen, unite under conditions of extreme pressure and temperature. These conditions are very tough to achieve; The sun and stars can obtain this because of the intense pressure at their cores.
Right now, it costs more energy to reach the conditions than what we get back from fusion. But it’s still worth it! Fusion produces four times more energy than fission and around 4 million times than coal. At the moment, the two groups are very optimistic. General Fusion, a private organization backed by Amazon and Microsoft, aims to deliver a commercial Fusion reactor by 2030. This is among the top private organizations that may achieve this goal.
The second is ITER, The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor. The project aims to create the largest and most powerful fusion reactor. The idea though is not commercialization but achieving the break-even point, which is generating as much energy which was put into it. They aim to do this using sheer scale and brute force.
However, since this is a combined effort, funding from countries changes frequently as the term ends, which is detrimental to the project. How soon will fusion power be commercial and available everywhere? No one knows. As goes a famous saying: “Fusion energy will always be 30 years into the future”.
But there have been massive developments to the technology in the previous decade. It is all a matter of political will, which is primarily influenced by public opinion. It is essential to look at nuclear energy as not something that will end civilization, instead, which can lead us to a better future.
About The Author: Vignesh is an engineering student who’s curious about everything above and below the sun. An engineer by the day and electronic musician by night.