What Is Fusion Power?

What is fusion power? And is it the answer to our energy problems?

The energy crisis is starting to bite. The price of fuel is sky-rocketing around the globe - leaving the average motorist reeling. The cost of home heating fuels is also on the rise. Such price rises are particularly devastating to developing nations. Badly needed modernization programs have had to be slowed or even stopped. If only there was an inexhaustible, cheap form of energy that we could all have access to. Then things would be so much better.

The search for an alternative source of energy has led many scientists to investigate the possibility of utilising fusion power. You may have heard of fusion power. But, do you know just what it is? And how viable is it really?

Nuclear fusion, such as takes place within the Sun, occurs when nuclei of two atoms come together, producing energy in the process. The problem with nuclear fusion, however, is to build a device that could keep a "ňúplasma' of fusable nuclei in a small enough area at sufficiently high temperatures (about 180,000,000 degrees Fahrenheit) for fusion to occur. Scientists believe, though, that the energy produced from the fusion of deuterium atoms could be the answer. One out of every three water molecules in the whole world contains an atom of deuterium. One pint of water contains enough potential energy to supply electricity for your home for one month! However, duplicating the fusion process that is constantly occurring inside the Sun is not that easy. Again it comes down to heat. How can a batch of hydrogen be heated to millions of degrees and held together until it reacts? There is no known substance that would not melt and vaporize at just a few thousand degrees.

There is a possibility that this seemingly insurmountable problem can be overcome. It is by the use of magnetic thermal insulation. In this process, the hydrogen is heated by electric discharge to such a high temperature that it is completely converted into particles called ions. It then consists only of positive nuclei and negative electrons. This is the state of matter called a plasma. If a plasma is surrounded by a strong magnetic field, the charged particles or ions cannot move away in straight lines, but are forced into corkscrew paths. If the magnetic field is shaped properly, these spiral paths will be reflected from the two ends of the container, which now becomes a magnetic bottle. Fusion can now occur if three conditions are met:

(1) The plasma must be heated to the ignition temperature - for deuterium this is 46,000,000 degrees Celsius.

(2) The plasma must be compressed to crowd the particles together at a very high density.

(3) These conditions must be maintained for long enough for a minimum number of collisions to occur.

Getting the above three factors right has proved frustratingly disappointing. It has proved nearly impossible to keep the plasma within the magnetic field long enough for the other factors to come into play. It has also been seen that radioactive reactions are a negative side effect of the process. Many years and millions of dollars have been invested in overcoming these barriers. Will science finally overcome the barriers to unleash the awesome potential power that lies within our oceans and waterways? We will have to wait to see. But one thing is for sure - a world in which we are able to harness the power of hydrogen fusion will be a very different - and better - world.

© High Speed Ventures 2011