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Nuclear Fusion - Tokamak Nuclear Reactor

Nuclear Fusion-Tokamak Nuclear Reactor

This image gives us a view of a Tokamak nuclear-fusion reactor.  Note its size by comparing the reactor with the person standing at the bottom of the image.

Many countries, cooperating together, are hopeful that this type of system - which employs nuclear fusion - will provide a way to produce energy that does not come from carbon-based fuels (like coal, oil and natural gas). 

Nuclear fusion is the process which heats the Sun (and all other stars).  It happens when small atomic nuclei collide together, then fuse to form heavier nuclei (thereby releasing heat energy).  This is different from nuclear fission where heavy nuclei split into smaller nuclei (causing a release of heat energy).

Scientists believe that nuclear fusion holds a great deal of promise for energy production.  The problem is that extremely high temperatures are required to make it happen (just like the extremely high temperatures on the Sun and stars). 

Extremely hot temperatures produce extremely hot gases.  Think about what happens when astronauts return from a trip to space.  During reentry they encounter extremely hot gases called plasma.  Fusion also involves the production of plasma.  How are those hot gases managed in a reactor?

That’s where a Tokamak reactor is helpful.  It has a system of holding those hot gases in place with magnets, forming a circle of hot gases which looks like a doughnut.  That circle is called a toroidal field.

First developed in the Soviet Union, by scientists including Andrei Sacharov, the Tokamak seems to hold the most promise for producing energy created by nuclear fusion.  Because it is such an expensive process, though, countries have to work together.

ITER is the international organization working on the latest Tokamak technology.  The ITER website gives us an interactive look at a Tokamak reactor whereby we can virtually examine its various parts.

The image depicted above is a variation of the Tokamak which gives us a cut-away view.

Scientists are also hopeful that cold fusion might be possible.  If so, it would make electricity cheap and widely available throughout the world. 

To date, however, results of cold-fusion experiments have not been repeatable.  Without repeatable experiments, cold fusion is still a theory.  It might work someday, to help people throughout the world, but that day has not-yet arrived.

Meanwhile ... scientists continue to work on harnessing the energy produced by high-temperature fusion.  The Culham Centre for Fusion Energy - at Culham Science Centre in Abingdon, Oxfordshire - gives us some of the advantages of nuclear-fusion power:

  • "No carbon emissions. The only by-products of fusion reactions are small amounts of helium, which is an inert gas that will not add to atmospheric pollution."
  • "Abundant fuels. Deuterium can be extracted from water and tritium is produced from lithium, which is found in the earth's crust. Fuel supplies will therefore last for millions of years."
  • "Energy efficiency. One kilogram of fusion fuel can provide the same amount of energy as 10 million kilograms of fossil fuel."
  • "No long-lived radioactive waste. Only plant components become radioactive and these will be safe to recycle or dispose of conventionally within 100 years."
  • "Reliable power. Fusion power plants should provide a baseload supply of large amounts of electricity, at costs that are estimated to be broadly similar to other energy sources."

Click on the image of the Tokamak reactor for a better view.


Media Credits

Image online, courtesy ITER.

 

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"Nuclear Fusion - Tokamak Nuclear Reactor" AwesomeStories.com. Oct 07, 2013. Aug 17, 2019.
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