Does Humanity’s Hope for Finding a Clean, Renewable, Energy Future, Lie in Nuclear Fusion?

Does Humanity’s Hope for Finding a Clean, Renewable, Energy Future, Lie in Nuclear Fusion?

Colton Baker, Prospect Staff Writer

Fossil fuels have been destroying the Earth since they were first used in the early 1800s. Efforts have been made to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint by finding new ways to create renewable energy. Nuclear fusion is a possible energy source that could reduce reliance on current fossil fuels.  

Fusion produces energy by combining two atoms to create another atom of another element with less mass. This process produces heat and energy. Until recently, the process used more energy to combine the atoms than the resulting energy.

The US has invested billions of dollars in trials regarding nuclear fission.. Recently, a trial was carried out in a 3.5 billion dollar facility called the National Ignition Facility in California. The facility uses lasers to start the nuclear fusion process. During testing, lasers are shot at small amounts of hydrogen fuel, heating it up and causing it to fuse. This releases a huge amount of energy and has an output of a neutron and helium. 

The United States uses the facility hoping to make nuclear fusion a reality. In the past few months, there has been a breakthrough in the field to construct a way to make the energy source. Prior experiments to create a nuclear fusion reaction have required more energy than it produces. However, the recent U.S. trial has shown advancements in the research field and resulted in an output of energy greater than the input. Having just enough power to boil water in 15-20 kettles, the input energy was 2.05 MJ of energy and the reaction created 3.15 MJ of energy according to deputy administrator of defense at the US National Nuclear Security Administration, Dr Marvin Adams. 

Even though it seems as if nuclear energy is beginning to be viable, the cost of the operation is costly. The energy it took to assemble the lasers in the reaction was 300 MJ of energy, therefore it is still a loss of energy. Another problem is that only a small amount of the energy from the laser is transferred into the fuel. The entire system of nuclear fusion needs to be considered before calling it plausible. The amount of money spent on the facility was 3.5 billion dollars as stated earlier in the article which would not make this form of energy cost effective. 

Humanity has reached a great stepping stone in constructing a renewable energy infrastructure, but there are still major problems to solve before being able to mass produce the energy source. Is humanity only a few years or decades away from having efficient clean energy?