Nuclear fusion is widely believed to be the holy grail of energy security and sustainability. However, despite knowing this for decades, the scientific world had made little progress towards making it practical. The challenge: Nuclear fusion requires temperatures as high as the Sun’s (fusion is what powers the Sun as well) and no material known to man is supposed to withstand such temperatures to hold the fuel. Last year, American scientists made a breakthrough using magnetic fields to hold the fuel resulting in more energy produced than consumed. Late last month they reported to have repeated this successfully raising prospects of commercialisation.

“Fusion is achieved by heating two hydrogen isotopes — usually deuterium and tritium — to such extreme temperatures that the atomic nuclei fuse, releasing helium and vast amounts of energy in the form of neutrons.

Although many scientists believe fusion power stations are still decades away, the technology’s potential is hard to ignore. Fusion reactions emit no carbon, produce no long-lived radioactive waste and a small cup of hydrogen fuel could theoretically power a house for hundreds of years.

The most widely studied approach, known as magnetic confinement, uses huge magnets to hold the fuel in place while it is heated to temperatures hotter than the sun.

The NIF uses a different process, called inertial confinement, in which it fires the world’s largest laser at a tiny capsule of the fuel triggering an implosion.”
The article includes a graphic which helps us visualise the set up.

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