Nuclear Fusion

What is Nuclear Fusion?

Nuclear fusion is a reaction through which two or more light nuclei collide into each other to form a heavier nucleus. This reaction takes place with elements which have a low atomic number, such as Hydrogen. It is the opposite of nuclear fission reaction in which heavy elements diffuse and form lighter elements. Both nuclear fusion and fission produce a massive amount of energy.

Nuclear Fusion in the Universe

Every star in the universe, including the Sun, is alive due to nuclear fusion. It is through this process that they produce such a mind-boggling amount of heat and energy. The pressure at the core of any star is tremendously high and that is where the nuclear fusion reaction takes place.

Nuclear Fusion in the Universe
For example, the temperature at the core of the sun is around 15 million degrees Celsius. At this temperature. coupled with very high pressure, two isotopes of Hydrogen, Deuterium and Tritium, fuse to form Helium and releases the massive amount of energy in the form of heat. Around 600 million tons of hydrogen is converted into Helium every second in the Sun.

Difference between Nuclear Fission and Nuclear Fusion

These two are the major nuclear reactions that take place. The basic differences between Nuclear Fission and Nuclear Fusion are:

Nuclear Fission Nuclear Fusion
Breaks a heavy atom into two or more smaller ones. Brings two or more small atoms together to form one large atom.
Does not happen naturally. The universe is full of instances of nuclear fusion reactions. Every star uses it to produce energy.
Produces a great deal more energy than chemical reactions but still not as much as fusion. Produces many times more amount of energy than fission.
Does not require a lot of energy to split an atom into two. Requires a lot of heat and pressure for the process to happen.

Applications of Nuclear Fusion

We are still at an experimental stage as far as nuclear fusion reactions are concerned.

  • Clean: No combustion occurs in nuclear power (fission or fusion), so there is no air pollution.
  • Less nuclear waste: The fusion reactors will not produce high-level nuclear wastes like their fission counterparts, so disposal will be less of a problem. In addition, the wastes will not be of weapons-grade nuclear materials as is the case in fission reactors.

If utilized properly, nuclear fusion is the answer to the world’s power crisis problem. It is clean and produces a minimal amount of nuclear waste as compared to fission reactions. The fuel for fusion, Deuterium, and Tritium, are also readily available in nature. Scientists are hopeful that in the coming centuries, fusion will be a viable alternative power source.

Nuclear Fusion Example

Q1. Calculate the total energy released when tritium and deuterium fuse to give Helium 4.

Ans: The balanced nuclear reaction is given as:

\(H_{1}^{2}+H_{1}^{3}\rightarrow He_{2}^{4}+n_{0}^{1}\)

ΔE = -17.6 Me.V.atom-1

ΔE = -1.697 × 10kJ.mol-1.

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Important Quesitons on Nuclear Fusion

The environmental impacts of nuclear power results from the nuclear power cycle, its operation and the effects of nuclear accidents. The green house gas emmmissions an health risks are smaller than those associated with coal. Although, nuclear power plants do not emit carbondioxide, high amounts of carbondioxide are emitted during operation and activities that are related to building and running the plant.
Nuclear fission power plants generate unstable nuclei; some of these are radioactive for millions of years. Fusion on the other hand does not create any long-lived radioactive nuclear waste. A fusion reactor produces helium, which is an inert gas. It also produces and consumes tritium within the plant in a closed circuit. Tritium is radioactive (a beta emitter) but its half life is short. It is only used in low amounts so, unlike long-lived radioactive nuclei, it cannot produce any serious danger.
No, because fusion energy production is not based on chain reaction as nuclear fission. Plasma must be kept at very high temperatures with the support of external heating systems and confined by an external magnetic field. Every shift or change of the working configuration in the reactor causes the cooling of plasma or the loss of its containment; in such a case, the reactor would automatically come to a halt within a few seconds, since the process of energy production is arrested, with no effects taking place on the outside. For this reason fusion reactors are considered to be inherently safe.

Stay tuned with BYJU’S to learn more about nuclear fusion, energy and much more.

Frequently Asked Questions – FAQs

Can fusion be the cause of a nuclear accident?

No, fusion cannot be a cause of a nuclear accident because the energy produced during nuclear fusion is not based on the chain reaction.

What is the life span of a nuclear power station?

The usual life span of a nuclear power station is 40 years. But the modern pressurized water reactors come with a life span of 60 years.

How are nuclear accidents classified?

According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) there are two levels with sub-levels that categorize the accidents. The main two levels are upper level with 4-7 sub-levels and the lower level with 1-3 sub-levels.

Name the international organisation that oversees the operation of nuclear power stations.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is an international organisation that oversees the operation of nuclear power stations. This organisation provides the guidelines and the frameworks on how nuclear power stations need to be operated.

Can we say that nuclear energy is a highly productive source of power?

Yes, we can say that nuclear energy is a highly productive source of power as a massive amount of energy is produced by triggering one neutron. Also, nuclear power stations are unaffected by seasonal conditions.

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