|MadSci Network: Physics|
Thermonuclear fusion or fusion for short is the power source for the sun and stars. By fusing readily available hydrogen atoms (derived from sources such as sea water) into helium, enormous amounts of energy can be released. Man's first thermonuclear fusion was set off in 1952 with the explosion of the first Hydrogen Bomb (H-bomb). To obtain the huge temperatures and pressures required to start a fusion reaction, an H-bomb requires that an atomic bomb first be set off to trigger the reaction.
Just as the atomic bomb development lead to controlled nuclear reactions for use in nuclear power plants, scientists dream of unleashing unlimited, clean power in a controlled thermonuclear fusion reactor. No container can contain the enormous temperatures required for a fusion reaction and so scientists have developed complex machines which attempt to confine the fusion reaction away from the chamber walls by using magnetic and microwave fields to enclose the plasma.
More recently giant lasers have been developed to focus huge amounts of light energy on small suspended pellets containing the hydrogen fuel. In this system energy would be generated in giant pulses, one pulse at a time to limit the reaction.
After more than 40 years and billions of dollars of research, break even fusion devices have not yet been demonstrated. Break even devices are those that will put out more usable energy than the energy required to start and sustain the fusion reaction.
An excellent discussion of fusion with animated art can be found at the following General Atomics Corp. URL along with links to many other fusion Web sites.
A virtual tour of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's giant NOVA laser fusion facility can found at the following URL:
Let's hope there is a future with controlled fusion.
Regards, your Mad Scientist
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