Controlled Thermonuclear Fusion

The thermonuclear reaction is the fusion of two light atomic nuclei into a single heavier nucleus by a collision of the two interacting particles with high temperatures as a consequence of which a large amount of energy is released. Thermonuclear fusion refers to nuclear fusion reactions that take place at extremely high temperatures (for example reactions in the sun). The energy produced here is extremely high but such reactions cannot be controlled. If we are able to achieve conditions where such a reaction can take place while controlling its rate, then we can achieve what is called the controlled thermonuclear fusion.

In an uncontrolled state, these types of reactions give rise to destructive forces. The hydrogen bomb is an example of an uncontrolled fusion reaction. Another differentiating factor between controlled and uncontrolled fusion reactions is that, since conditions are unpredictable in an uncontrolled reaction, they can’t be tapped for any use.

Another issue to consider in a controlled thermonuclear reaction is about containing it.
The temperature of the hot plasma is so high that it cannot be in contact with any material. Therefore, it has to be checked, but in such a way that there is no contact.

What is Confinement?

Confinement of the hot plasma is the major problem in achieving thermonuclear fusion. The hot plasma used in the process shouldn’t be in contact with the solid material and therefore, needs to be placed in the vacuum. When the pressure increases, the plasma tends to expand and this needs to be confined. The following is the list of such confinements:

  • Magnetic confinement is used as particles are charged.
  • Inertial confinement is the rapid pulse dispensed to achieve the required conditions.
  • Gravitational confinement is found only in stars.
  • Electrostatic confinement is used for confining the ions using an electrostatic field

Since there aren’t any possibilities for chain reactions to occur, it’s easier to control and stop them than fission reactions. This is why people are trying to tap into this source rather than using fission reactions. Along with the fact that it can produce virtually an abundant source of fuel with very little and easily available fuel, it also has almost no nuclear waste!

Unfortunately, there is no possibility of harnessing this energy in the near future, until perhaps about 20 – 25 years from now and no economical feasibility until then as well. There is a common thought that in case this is not a foreseeable future, the number of resources spent on research could have been diverted for other renewable sources of energy.

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