Fusion power: will it be tainted by the history of nuclear fission?

One thing that I wanted to talk about before this is all over is fusion power. Fusion reactions definitely fall under the umbrella of ‘nuclear’, and I think the example of fusion is a good way of looking at the whole nuclear debate from a different angle. (there will be a bit of science in this post)

Fundamentally, nuclear fusion is the opposite reaction to what you are doing during nuclear fission. Fission, as I explained in this post, involves splitting apart one very heavy atom, and releasing energy. Fusion, as the name implies, does the opposite. In most fusion reactions, you take two hydrogen atoms and force them together under extremely high pressure and temperatures. Under this pressure, they come together, and form one single helium atom. The thing is, one helium atom weighs less than two hydrogen atoms. This difference in weight is converted directly into energy, that can be channeled in the form of heat to produce electricity.

The differences between fusion and fission, is that fusion is much harder to do, but it is also safer and produces far more energy, with no radioactive waste.

So far, the technology required to make fusion commercially viable has not come about, although there are some promising developments coming along at the moment. If it were to be made viable, it would potentially be able to provide as much energy as we need, with a fraction of the wast, and no radioactive issues to deal with. But I wonder whether there will be issues with fusion that stem from the current opinions around fission.

It is still hard to communicate the science of nuclear power, and this technology has been in the public eye for 70 odd years. It seems like there could be potential for the same sort of negative feeling of fission nuclear power being applied to fusion, which would hinder its (already very slow) development further.

Unfortunately, we haven’t crossed that bridge yet, but it will be interesting to see whether it is more acceptable in the public eye.

Say something controversial.

Matt

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