Katherine Twomey, Junior
When people think about ways of generating energy, nuclear fusion likely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But now, after a recent breakthrough by U.S. scientists at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, nuclear fusion could eventually become a leading green energy source.
Nuclear fusion is a process where two or more atoms are combined, and when they fuse they give off a massive amount of energy as heat. In some ways, it is similar to nuclear fission, the reaction that powers most nuclear power plants. In that reaction, the nucleus of an atom is split, releasing energy that can then be used by humans. Unlike nuclear fission though, nuclear fusion does not produce long-lasting radioactive waste, making it a cleaner alternative. Researchers at the National Ignition Facility have finally created a nuclear fusion reaction that releases more energy than is put into it. They use a process called “thermonuclear inertial fusion.” This is done by firing pellets containing hydrogen fuel, creating a series of very rapid explosions, which are then contained by an array of about 200 lasers. Now that a method has been found that creates more energy than is put into it, nuclear fusion has the potential to become a human power source.
Nuclear fusion is also important because it would be a form of clean energy. Transitioning from other energy sources such as coal and fossil fuels, which are incredibly detrimental to the environment, could be a big step in reducing carbon emissions and slowing climate change. Nuclear fusion, which doesn’t involve mining, CO2 emissions, or radioactive waste, is a clean energy source.