Nuclear fusion offers unlimited clean energy

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

The Sun uses nuclear fusion to stay burning bright.

Scientists have been searching for a way to create unlimited, pollution-free energy by fusing together two atoms (the tiniest particles of a substance). In the past, researchers from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have gotten close to achieving nuclear fusion, which is a chemical reaction that produces more energy than it consumes. Their latest set of experiments have finally done just that, but there’s still more work to do before they make a true nuclear reaction that can power the globe.

Basically, fusion occurs when small particles of atoms combine into a larger atom and release energy in the process. While some energy is needed to get the process started, nuclear fusion produces more than it started with, so the excess energy can keep the process going on and on. This self-energizing process is known as “ignition”.

Though the researchers were able to produce extra energy in the nuclear reaction, they actually ended up using 100 times more power for the overall experiment to power the facilities and laser involved in the lab trial. It will be a long while before scientists can power cities or create weapons using nuclear fusion in a way that’s energy-efficient and affordable.

Featured image courtesy of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Image of sunset courtesy of Ricardo Mendonça Ferreira on Flickr.