Nuclear Fusion: Harnessing the Power of the Sun

8 November 2010
<p>When two light atomic nuclei collide under intense pressure and heat, they may fuse together into a heavier nucleus, releasing energy. Similar fusion reactions generate the enormous energy produced by the Sun and other stars.</p>&copy; Sun / Soho<p>While the ultimate goal of nuclear fusion research is to develop fusion power plants to generate electricity, research on fusion is still in an early stage. The main fuels involved would be deuterium and tritium, both heavy isotopes of hydrogen.</p>&copy; Plasma Focus Device DF 1000 MJ / Warsaw, Poland<p>Deuterium constitutes 0.0153% of natural hydrogen and can be extracted inexpensively from seawater.</p><p>Tritium can be made from lithium, which is also abundant. The amount of deuterium present in one litre of water can produce as much energy as the combustion of 300 litres of gasoline, so there is enough deuterium in the oceans to accomplish the human energy needs for millions of years.</p>#169; Interior of a Tokamak Discharge Chamber / FZ-Juelich<p>The potential advantages of nuclear fusion energy include:</p>
			<ul><li>An enormous supply of inexpensive fuel (deuterium and tritium);</li> <li>A long term, sustainable, economic and safe energy source for electricity generation;</li> <li>Minimal long lived radioactive products;</li> <li>Possible recycling of some reactor materials and unburned fuel; and</li> <li>No greenhouse gas effect.</li></ul>&copy; Internal view of the TORE SUPRA (the first large tokamak to operate with a superconducting toroidal magnet) vacuum chamber / IAEA<p>The deuterium–tritium fuel must be heated to about 100 million degrees centigrade in order to achieve fusion ignition. At these temperatures, the fuel becomes a fully ionized gas–plasma.</p>&copy; High current transport experiment for ion drivers studies / LBNL<p>The aim of ITER is to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy by constructing a functional fusion power plant.</p>&copy;ITER Double Pancake modules / ITER Newsletter<p>Worldwide progress in both types of fusion research (inertial and magnetic confinement) has been steady, with each decade bringing marked improvements in the plasma parameters attained.</p>&copy; ITER Model Coil / ITER Newsletter<p>The task of building fusion power plants is a great challenge involving the expertise of plasma physicists in many Member States.</p><p>More than 1000 scientific experts meet to discuss nuclear fusion as a source of energy. The gathering opened 11 October 2010 in Daejeon, the Republic of Korea.</p>&copy; Construction of ITER model parts in Korea / ITER Newsletter<p>The IAEA has been actively involved in the ITER project from its inception, providing its auspices and practical support, including publication of technical documents and the ITER Newsletter.</p>&copy; D. Calma / IAEA
Last update: 16 October 2014