The declining reserves of fossil fuels and their detrimental effects on the environment have thrust nuclear power based on fission reaction into the limelight as a promising option to energy-starved economies around the world. However, the 1986 Chernobyl and 2011 Fukushima accidents have heightened our fears about nuclear technology’s ability to provide a safe way of generating clean power. There is another kind of nuclear energy that has been powering the Sun and stars since their formation. It is nuclear fusion—a process in which two lighter nuclei, typically isotopes of hydrogen, combine together under conditions of extreme pressure and temperature to form a heavier nucleus. In this chapter, harnessing the energy produced in nuclear fusion reaction in a laboratory environment is discussed. Various research programs dedicated to building fusion reactors are also discussed. Emphasis is given on overcoming some of the technological challenges, such as surmounting the Coulomb barrier, confining the plasma, and achieving the “ignition” temperature for fusion.
Part of the book: Nuclear Fusion