Recently, scientists from the US announced a breakthrough in nuclear fusion. Now Polish scientists answer your questions simply. What is nuclear fusion and what does it have in common with the Sun? Is it safe? Why is it so difficult? When will the first power plant be built? Check it out for yourself.
A week ago, scientists from the US National Ignition Facility (NIF) announced the results of a groundbreaking nuclear fusion experiment. Researchers reported with great seriousness that they had achieved nuclear fusion using lasers
with a positive energy balance.
Although in the scientific community this is a breakthrough of several decades, most of us heard this news… scratched our heads. Nuclear fusion appears in popular culture as an element of science fiction, even though real research on taming this process is conducted by hundreds of the best physicists from around the world.
Merger issues can be very complex to understand, which is why we asked leading Polish specialists for help. Prof. introduces us to this difficult topic in the simplest possible way. Jerzy Wiktor Niewodniański from the Faculty of Energy and Fuels, Department of Nuclear Energy, AGH University of Science and Technology in Krakow. An expert commentary on the latest experiment in the USA is provided by Dr. Eng. Marcin Rosiński, Head of the Department of Laser Plasma Physics and Applications at the Institute of Plasma Physics and Laser Microfusion (IFPiLM) in Warsaw.
Part one – hydrogen fusion in a nutshell
What is nuclear fusion? “Just Look at the Sky”
If you became interested in nuclear fusion only after the announcement on December 13, it is worth knowing a few terms and answering basic questions. The first one is the simplest possible. What is nuclear fusion?
– Nuclear fusion occurs naturally, just look at the sky in the morning. The sun shines because a nuclear fusion reaction takes place in it. Under the influence of gravity, atomic nuclei combine into heavier elements, and the energy released is the light and heat that everyone knows every day. These are the sun’s rays – explains Prof. Jerzy Niewodziński.
This is why fusion experiments are sometimes called attempts to “create an artificial Sun” or “harness the energy of stars.” How is this process achieved in experiments? Although the process has been known for almost 70 years, it is still not an easy task.
– To put it very simply, the merger process is as follows. Hydrogen fuel must be enclosed in an extremely tight container, heated to enormous temperatures to create a plasma, and then thickened and compressed to fuse the atomic nuclei. It is necessary to overcome the natural repulsion of hydrogen nuclei resulting from their positive electric charges. The required density in laser microfusion technology is achieved thanks to the inertia of these nuclei – explains the AGH professor.
This all sounds exciting, but a second, practical question arises – why does humanity want to do this?