Home TechnologyHow Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
TechnologyBy Joe Burgett -

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Damien Jemison/LLNL]

The NIF Was Actually Close To Ignition In 2021

It might be weird to believe now, but the NIF did not get a lot of press for what they did a year ago. Back in August 2021, they were incredibly close to reaching “ignition.” They formed a high-powered laser device that achieved a record reaction (at the time) that actually crossed the critical threshold on the path to ignition. Of course, as we know by now, they were unsuccessful ultimately. The team tried to replicate this experiment but kept falling short every time. After months of trying, the scientists decided to throw out any attempt at recreating the initial experiment. Instead, they’d start over entirely. Due to what this led to, that decision quite literally could not have been a better idea by the team.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Joe Burgett/MidJourney AI]

How Did They Actually Achieve Ignition?

The team used a set of 192 lasers to deliver 2.05 megajoules of energy. This was set to hit a pea-sized gold cylinder containing a frozen pellet of hydrogen isotopes: deuterium and tritium. The pulse of energy this created caused the capsule to collapse, resulting in temperatures that have only ever been seen in stars and thermonuclear weapons. The hydrogen then fused into helium, which released more energy and created a cascade of fusion reactions. This reaction released around 3.15 megajoules of energy. That is around 54% more than the energy that went into the reaction itself. This clearly beats out their previous record by double, when they hit 1.3 megajoules.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Joe Burgett/MidJourney AI]

We’ll Have Near Limitless Energy

It is important to note that the energy level produced by nuclear fusion is immense, but the amount it gives off will be determined by how it’s used. See, we cannot just say “nuclear fusion” and that solves everything. Right now, that small-scale model produced by the Nuclear Ignition Facility could not do very much. This means we’ll need tech that can use nuclear fusion at a much larger scale. This is why we referenced the fact that we’re several years away from nuclear fusion truly doing much for us. It simply needs to advance beyond what we have currently. However, when we have it, nuclear fusion can provide virtually limitless energy.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
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Less To No Reliance On Fossil Fuels

Right now, we’re still using up a lot of coal to power our homes in America. Some countries have moved closer to using mostly renewable resources and even the United States has done this a bit. While nuclear energy facilities are present around the country along with hydroelectric plants, other sources have been used far less here. Solar and Wind energy are still not at a high enough level to be viable options to fully power homes or major cities. Yet these renewable resources will not be used nearly as much once nuclear fusion energy starts to be used. On top of that, fossil fuels will be a thing of the past in terms of energy. Mostly because nuclear fusion will give us a far cheaper and more efficient system, that is also 100% clean.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
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It is Actually Better Than Nuclear Energy

Some believe that Nuclear Fusion and Nuclear Energy are the same thing or cousins. While they are sort of related, they are not exactly connected in this territory as much as people might think. While nuclear energy is clean, it technically has a small dark side. It creates radioactive waste that can last for a long time. Nuclear fusion reactors, on the other hand, do not produce any high-activity or long-lived nuclear waste. The activation of components in the reactor is so low that all of the materials can be recycled and reused well within 100 years. This will depend on the materials used in the “first wall” that’s facing the plasma, however.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
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The Cost

The power output of the kind of nuclear fusion reactor we would likely end up using is going to be similar to that of a fission reactor. This reaches between 1 to 1.7 gigawatts. The cost per kilowatt of electricity cannot be known at this point. However, the team at ITER claims this would require operational experience which would only be available once a team has operated it for quite some time. Just like with all new technology, the cost will be expensive at first and then gradually become less expensive. For nuclear fusion tech, it is quite likely that many governments will use it to power cities and major facilities. Therefore, we can potentially expect governments to use their own fusion reactor tech. Yet for those that need a privatized version of this energy, the cost will most certainly be high at first.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
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The Type Of Power We’re Dealing With

The capability of nuclear fusion is extreme. When you think about the energy output it is capable of, and factor out how science can easily keep just adding more and more energy to make it more powerful, you’re looking at something that can easily power a city. Yet it would not just power a city for a few weeks or even a year before more energy would be needed. Actually, it can power a city for at least one thousand years or longer. It is also capable of providing energy for an entire country (depending on its size) for just as long. That is really why many countries have been working on finding the secret to nuclear fusion for so long. It literally changes life as we know it.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Martin Lisner/Shutterstock.com]

How Safe Is It?

Clearly, when you’re discussing how powerful something is, you also have to consider how safe it is too. The International Atomic Energy Agency has made it pretty clear that nuclear fusion is relatively safe. They claim that due to the fact that fusion reactions can come to a halt in seconds, the process itself is safe. They also claim that fusion is self-limiting. Essentially, if you cannot control the reaction, the machine actually switches itself off. On top of this, unlike nuclear energy, fusion does not produce high radioactivity or the long-lived nuclear waste that nuclear energy produces. Making it even better for the environment than the already relatively clean nuclear energy option.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
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More Goods Can Be Produced

It seems pretty clear that when you have a lot of energy to utilize, you’ll have endless opportunities to make things. Currently, there are limitations on power usage depending on the country you’re in as well as the expense behind it. Having nuclear fusion around will end this problem, as the energy it produces will be high and if there is an expense, it would likely only ever be a one-time fee. Yet there are some who will say that, depending on who comes up with the specifics to make nuclear fusion into something bigger than it is currently, one could end up paying just as much as they do now for energy.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via SitePoint]

Experiments Not Possible Before Will Now Be Possible

You might not realize it, but there are MANY experiments that scientists would love to conduct but it is simply impossible given our current energy grid. This might be due to the lack of energy possible or that scientists would use up so much that it would require shutting down several cities. It might also be that if they try to use the energy they need, they could blow through energy grids. It is impossible to know exactly what would happen without knowing the experiment. Yet if it needs a lot of energy, you can bet that scientists know that and cannot do anything about it. With nuclear fusion helping to provide near-limitless energy, the sky is the limit!

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Foro Nuclear]

We Should Discuss Radioisotopes

Both nuclear fusion and nuclear energy have something in common: radioisotopes. There are many that we’ve worked with over the years. In the case of the U.S. National Ignition Facility and their recent experiment, they were able to use Deuterium and Tritium to make their reaction happen. Deuterium is heavy hydrogen and consists of one proton and one neutron. It is also relatively harmless to humans due to the fact we contain some of it in our bodies. Tritium is a rare radioactive isotope of hydrogen, containing one proton and two neutrons. Though not too harmful to humans, it can be if one is exposed to extreme levels. The fact that both of these chemicals are relatively harmless to humans is great, which is what makes them useful. Tritium is the most useful due to being a Radionuclide.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
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Hospitals and Radionuclides/Radioisotopes

There are several Radionuclides, including things like Radon, Uranium, Iodine, Radium, and Plutonium. Tritium is part of this family too. Along with the others, is used in the medical community quite often. They are used for several things. These are used to diagnose, stage, and monitor diseases. A small amount of radionuclide can be injected into a vein or swallowed. Different versions will travel through the blood to different organs too. You might see this stuff used for X-Rays and CT Scans, but radionuclides are mostly used to treat cancer. Of course, cancer cells absorb radionuclides more than normal cells. Therefore, they receive higher doses of radioactivity. That will often destroy those cancer cells to hopefully remove cancer permanently from a person’s body.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via ViacomCBS]

Technological Advancements

As referenced, it is tough to do experiments that require a lot of energy when you do not have it to use. Once that happens, technological advancements could come about in a major way. For example, a specific vehicle could run on nuclear fusion entirely. It’s hard to know without testing, but if that could occur then one would never need to pay for gas or oil and never need to charge it. On top of this, that car could likely reach extreme levels of speed. It is possible this would go to the military before consumers ever see it. Technological advancements often need a good budget, and the U.S. Military has a huge budget to dedicate to stuff like this. Primarily, energy needs and supplies are the bulk of the cost. With nuclear fusion, more of us could work on big stuff like this at any time.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Joe Burgett/MidJourney AI]

Advanced Weapons

You might have been unaware that the U.S. Department of Energy, which houses the National Ignition Facility, primarily used this facility for weapons development. They have been responsible for creating some impressive stuff over time. There are some weapons as well as vehicles/planes that are top secret due to their quality, so we actually cannot tell you any specifics. However, we can tell you that the U.S. Armed Forces often gets stuff done in a big way primarily due to proper weapons research and development. Nuclear fusion will not only aid them in developing stuff, but countries will likely use fusion within their weapons eventually. In fact, there are some things fusion could help us make that were once only ever possible in science fiction material.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Vaalaa/Shutterstock.com]

Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear energy and Nuclear Fusion both are useful in creating major reactions. Thus, it only tracks that they’ll be useful for bombs and nuclear weapons overall. Of course, there is an issue with all of this. Once everyone knows about nuclear fusion and what it can do, nations will be able to develop their own weapons that they were once unable to do. This could speed up the production of nuclear weaponry, but some believe that fusion will actually cause nukes to essentially become obsolete. Everyone will be aware that nations have and can use a nuke, but no one will want to employ them due to the potential armageddon of it all. It is unclear whether or not the Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) would account for nuclear fusion technology. Likely, it would not. So this will be a tricky international scenario to navigate.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Stockr/Shutterstock.com]

Impact On Agriculture

Nuclear fusion can certainly impact agriculture in several positive ways. For example, we can actually use radioisotopes from fusion to control the insect population as an alternative to chemical pesticides. To do this, male insects are rendered infertile. That would allow farmers to drastically reduce and eliminate major pests from their crops. We know nuclear energy can help preserve food and fusion can do the same. Of course, when food is irradiated, harmful organisms are then destroyed without having to cook or alter the nutritional properties of the food. On top of this, one can make chemical additives and refrigerate when needed. This is often done to save energy. Yet with nuclear fusion, needing to save on energy will be a thing of the past.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via TIME]

Improvement In National Economies

Once we’re able to do something significant with nuclear fusion, people will benefit heavily. Relatively poor nations will now have access to an energy source they could have only dreamed of previously. That energy can allow us to do a lot of useful, important things. Poorer nations will be able to make and produce a lot of products, which will help their people. Yet this will also be useful to their economy because they’ll be able to get involved in the international trade territory in a much bigger way. That is incredibly useful to an economy, of course.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Stratos Brilakis/Shutterstock.com]

Ability To Create High Levels Of Heat

While this can also be said about creating higher levels of cold too, nuclear fusion can create an abundance of heat. It is possible that some do not understand the usefulness of this, so let us explain. We use high heat levels to make a lot of things, such as glass, various weapons, pots and pans, and countless other products. Yet there are some levels of heat that are incredibly hard to reach, if at all. This is mostly due to the energy it takes to reach those levels. With nuclear fusion, we can reach incredible energy levels and sustain them to create massive heat. What will we do with this extra heat? Ultimately, outside of the major scientific experiments, you could do something like provide heat for an entire nation or something.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Andrey_Popov/Shutterstock.com]

Homelessness Will Not Be As Common

Homelessness is a big problem worldwide. In America alone, at least 300,000 men, women, and children are staying in a homeless shelters right now. Yet as of 2020, a little over 580,000 people were homeless nationwide. Just because shelters exist does not mean people are able to get into them. Men make up the bulk of the homeless in America as well, with more than 350,000 of the overall homeless population being male. Yet the country with the highest homeless rate is Nigeria, with at least 11.4% of its population without a home. How can nuclear fusion help? It seems that any time there is an energy crisis, homelessness is also on the rise. By fixing one of these, you can slowly fix the other. In this case, we have nuclear fusion helping energy needs…so homelessness could also improve over time too.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Joe Burgett/MidJourney AI]

The Ability To Come Up With Cold Fusion

The very fact that we’ve now been able to uncover the secret to creating nuclear fusion, then it’s not too crazy to potentially find out how to create cold fusion. Some might not be aware of what it is. Essentially, cold fusion is only hypothetical at this point. Yet it’s a form of nuclear fusion that occurs at a relatively low temperature and pressure, either at or near room temperature. It differs from “hot” fusion that takes place within the stars or hydrogen bombs as well as fusion reactors that use high pressure and temp at millions of degrees. As of now, there is no theoretical model that allows cold fusion to work. Yet for quite some time, we did not feel nuclear fusion could work out at all too. Therefore, cold fusion might not be as unlikely or impossible as we once thought.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via Space.com]

Interstellar Space Exploration

While a lot of this is still at the theoretical stage, nuclear fusion has the ability to change space travel forever. One way of doing this will be in the propulsion area, likely through something like an antimatter-fusion hybrid drive. This will allow for deep space travel that could even allow us to reach higher rates of speed. We know that Matter-Antimatter reactions are 1,000 times more powerful than any nuclear fission produced in nuclear power plants. They are also 300 times more powerful than nuclear fusion energy. They could take us further will less fuel, but nuclear fusion works on pure energy. Therefore, having a hybrid engine will allow for the power we need and a consistent energy source too. Many also believe nuclear fusion will be utilized heavily in the theoretical hyperdrive engine too.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
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Deep Space Opportunities

It would be weird if we told you that space travel could run just on solar energy or something like that. While we are working with things that can use this, space travel needs a more reliable energy source. Nuclear fusion gives that to us. And if properly made for a ship, it could power any and everything on the ship for hundreds to thousands of Earth years. In fact, the energy should last longer than the ship itself. It is quite likely the engines will run off a separate power source while the rest of the ship works off of another. Things like controlling gravity on a ship or anything else we’d want to do will require a ton of energy. Therefore, having nuclear fusion and using it in a power source like this, will be critical for humans.

How Nuclear Fusion Is Bringing In a New Era of Energy
[Image via National Geographic Society]

It’ll Potentially Save Us From Extinction

While we already mentioned the likelihood of nuclear treaties, there is much more that nuclear fusion can do. It can help us with space exploration that could save our species and make us an interstellar one for the first time. Yet beyond this, we’re going to be helping our planet by fixing the environment we destroyed. By stopping the use of fossil fuels, we can start to fix a glaring weakness. However, nuclear fusion might also be useful in helping us clean up the environment much faster than it would clean itself. Nuclear fusion offers us the ability to advance as a society, assists in the medical field, and will give us a proven energy source. Humanity will benefit from all of this so much that it’ll surely be how we avoid potential extinction as a species.

 

Where Do We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

United Nations

European Union

U.S. Department of Energy

U.S. National Ignition Facility (NIF)

International Energy Forum

International Atomic Energy Agency

National Institutes of Health

National Aeronautics & Space Administration (NASA)

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)

UK Atomic Energy Authority

Harvard University

Massachusetts Insititute of Technology (MIT)

University of Oregon

Stanford University

University of California – Berkeley

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