Insight 0 Our ability to harness energy would figure high up on the list of factors helping us dominate the planet as a species.
While fossil fuels have overseen global adoption, they have major drawbacks — one being their finite availability, the other being the pollution it causes to air and water. Similar to its chemical counterpart, the availability of atoms like uranium and thorium that are feasible for nuclear fission is very hard to come by.
To add to that, the by-products are radioactive and thus precaution measures should be taken before installing nuclear power plants.
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Additionally, humanity has witnessed some disturbing nuclear reactor disasters that have poisoned large areas, rendering them uninhabitable. Where does all our nuclear waste go? Is there a way to overcome these drawbacks? The universe is full of naturally occurring nuclear reactors. But these reactors operate in a different way. Consider our closest star, the Sun. By combining light elements that are abundant in nature into heavier elements, we can release more energy through Nuclear Fusion than Nuclear Fission.
Solar vs Nuclear — what energy future are we headed for? The hydrogen present in sea water can be used as the source for the reaction to take place.
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Not only the availability of hydrogen but the absence of radioactive elements and adverse environmental effects, this is the closest we can get towards clean energy! But all this is easier said than done. Most of our attempts end up consuming more energy than the reaction produces. The latest breakthrough is the Wendelstein 7-X W7-X. The W7-X is a metre-wide nuclear fusion machine — it is a type of a stellarator, a device used to confine plasma which can heat up to a million-degree Celsius.
Prior to building the W7-X, many doughnut-shaped fusion reactors were built. But they could maintain the plasma for a maximum of 6 minutes and 30 seconds at a time.
The breakeven energy point could not be achieved at such a short span of time. The W7-X, on the other hand, is predicted to contain plasma for about half an hour. For the initial run, the machine was filled with helium, heated to 1 million degrees Celsius and the plasma was maintained for one-tenth of a second. It should, however, be noted that the purpose of the W7-X is not to produce energy but rather be a concept for future stellarators.
Is there a way to overcome these drawbacks?
As of now, the aim of the scientists is to contain the plasma for more than 0. Is it going to change the world? Clean and safe energy: Engines fuelled by fusion could allow us to explore the known universe at a faster rate thanks to the high energy released by fusion.