In theory if you can compress atomic nuclei – fusing them together you can get energy because as the nuclei get closer they release energy. That is the theory of nuclear fusion, the holy grail of energy creation. If you can get it to work, the theory goes, the energy released in the form of heat can be used to drive steam turbines thus generating cheap electricity in a manner that as far as we can ascertain, is cheap and relatively safer that generating heat by splitting atoms, which is the traditional nuclear energy way.
A new joint venture between the USA’s National Ignition Facility and theUK’s Rutherford Appleton Laboratory and AWE is seeking to see if they can find the holy grail of nuclear fusion. As I understand it, the process that they are seeking to undertake is to focus nearly 200 laser beams on a container which holds a pellet of extremely cold hydrogen isotopes. When the lasers strike the container, the walls of the container radiate x-rays heating the pellet and providing a highly compressed material which, if hot enough, can cause the hydrogen isotapes to fuse, creating helium and releasing hot neutron.
If the process can be made to big enough and quick enough you would create a self sustaining form of heat which could be used to generate very cheap electricity without, as far as I can tell now, not too much of an environmental hazard. There would be no smoke, no noxious by products and no scarce resource would be plundered and little land would be disturbed.
That has always been the dream of fusion and we must hope that the joint venture achieves their goal. If they do it would be world changing. Those with the patent on the technology would become incredibly wealthy; nations which depend on oil and gas exports for their economies would become far less powerful and far less successful. And, as far as I can see, we would be able to reverse the process of climate change, although if new power plants using fusion were to replace all fossil fuel power plants overnight, it would still take more than half a century for climate change to slow down to the rate that it occurred over the past few hundred thousand years before the Industrial Revolution.
I have my doubts about this; people have searched for the grail for millennia. They still search now.
Filed under: carbon emissions, climate change, global warming, heat, natural gas, nuclear, nuclear energy, oil Tagged: | AWE, cold hydrogen isotapes, effects of workable nuclear fusion, nuclear fusion, Rutherford- Appleton, USA’s National Ignition Facility