The key idea involved is to use a type of electricity known as a ‘fissionable’ material (or simply ‘fissionable’ material). This has already been achieved by working in collaboration with the University of Colorado Boulder and it will be made by extracting a highly radioactive isotope called deuterium from radioactive elements such as iodine and potassium through the use of the nuclear reactor.
In the UK, a collaboration between Imperial College London and the Royal Society is working on creating fusion power via using a similar concept. Another fusion project is going ahead at Trinity College Dublin, which is looking at ways to harness the vast amounts of energy provided by nuclear fission. The US DOE hopes that a commercial fusion power station will be operational by the late 2020’s.
How do I help?
The most successful fusion power plants use a material known as the Tokamak which is a combination of metal and plastic, which provides a strong magnetic field and superconducting abilities during critical periods. The design of the reactor consists of many small cylindrical tanks of liquid metal being fed by a tube containing the deuterium and tritium isotopes which are produced by fission. These containers can be cooled by a liquid helium (which can be used to increase efficiency) or by using the electricity generated by the fusion reactor.
The process of generating power can be very simple. In the process called fusion, the neutrons from the fusion reactions in the core of the reactor are emitted into the surrounding air where they join together with protons to form deuterium and tritium. This reaction produces an enormous amount of energy from a source which is relatively abundant — hydrogen — and by using these isotopes energy is released at low temperatures — at about minus 273°C.
How much fusion energy can we achieve?
Some researchers have claimed that fusion can provide energy as high as 1000 watts per square metre. However, we are no closer to having any practical power stations. Fusion plants have an energy capacity of about 0.6 watts per square metre, which could be made even more efficient with better materials. Theoretical models have indicated that fusion could provide about as much energy as is contained in the Sun — but this is still a long way off.
Is fusion safe?
This is a very controversial topic, and the scientific community does not have any definite answer. To begin with, the energy produced by a fusion reaction is quite hot and we have to think of the reaction as
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