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Current Research in Nuclear Fusion Power and Its Place in Future Electricity Production.

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Current Research in Nuclear Fusion Power and Its Place in Future Electricity Production Introduction Nuclear fusion is a process where two lighter atomic nuclei fuse, forming a heavier nucleus and releasing energy. The type of nuclear fusion currently being researched most vigorously in the context of forming a future source of power is the fusion of two isotopes of hydrogen - deuterium and tritium, forming helium and a neutron and releasing large amounts of energy. = Neutron = Proton Deuterium Nucleus Neutron (+14.1 MeV) Tritium Nucleus Helium Nucleus (+3.5 MeV) Figure 1 This can be described by the equation H + H ==> He + n, yielding 17.6 MeV per fusion. Another fusion reaction which is possible is the fusion of two deuterium nuclei, though this yields less energy and is not generally being pursued as a source of power in future reactors. It is described by the equation H + H ==> He + n, yielding 3.3 MeV per fusion. A central concept in understanding the origin of this extra energy is the equivalence of mass and energy. The strong nuclear force binds together protons and neutrons in the nucleus, it is very strong over short distances hence it overcomes the electromagnetic repulsion of protons in the nucleus. The energy that is required to hold to hold the nucleus together can be thought of as adding to its mass. Hence the mass of a deuterium nucleus is higher than the mass of its individual components when isolated - one proton and one neutron, and hence energy must be put in for them to bind together by the strong nuclear force. Hence also energy is released when they are taken apart. ...read more.


For the moment I will focus largely on JET and the methods it uses, as it has made many advances during its twenty year lifetime. Indeed as JET is currently the largest tokamak reactor ever built, ITER will be two to three times as large when it is completed, it is closest to ITER and it is hoped that smaller scale experiments will continue to be run there alongside ITER - which should become operational around 2020. Other projects worldwide, which have now largely ceased, include TFTR in America, JT-60 in Japan as well as smaller projects around the world in Brazil, Australia, India and many other countries. The two other ways of containing the plasma and thus making fusion possible are gravitational and inertial. Gravitational containment takes place in stars and is not currently possible on earth nor is it likely ever to be due to the large gravitational fields that would need to be created. Inertial containment uses intense lasers to compress a solid pellet of deuterium and tritium to around a thousand times normal solid density and heating it at the same time, thus forcing fusion by the extreme compression and heat. However this method is inherently unstable and difficult to predict and control, and many predict that only around a 10% efficiency would be achievable, thus little research has been conducted in this area. JET has been operational since 1983 and is the largest tokamak reactor ever built. Below to the left is a cutaway drawing of the JET reactor showing the magnets and the chamber. To the right is a picture of the inside of the chamber, taken in 2001. Figure 3 Figure 4 The apparatus is approximately 12 metres high and 15 metres in diameter. ...read more.


Given that fusion has been sustained for several seconds already, and given the precise and promising theory behind it, it seems only a matter of time and money before fusion is providing our electricity. It is not as simple as solving the problems of nuclear fusion to implement it, there are many economic and political factors to account for. Many countries rely on the export of oil and coal and the world economy would alter significantly with the introduction of fusion. Indeed one could argue that funding for fusion research, whilst significant, is not as high as one would have thought given the benefits it would bring because of these changes fusion would bring to the world order, possibly destabilising economies and governments. However one would hope that regardless of such worries fusion would allow the world to have cheap, clean and limitless power within 50 years. Indeed, the world would seem to be a better place without the stranglehold oil exports and imports have over the world economy and global politics. I feel I have produced a good and concise report which explains nuclear fusion, how it is achieved and how it is hoped electricity will be produced from it. I have summarised the current level of research and what is hoped from the future. I have analysed other sources of electricity, and the merits of fusion in comparison. I believe I have satisfied the requirements of the coursework, and have crossed different areas of physics in my report from particle physics, electromagnets and the general topic of electromagnetic machines such as generators, and have discussed energy changes and the equivalence of mass and energy. ...read more.

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