Nuclear fusion

In nuclear chemistry, nuclear fusion is a reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei are combined to form one or more different atomic nuclei and subatomic particles (neutrons or protons). The difference in mass between the reactants and products is manifested as either the release or absorption of energy. This difference in mass arises due to the difference in atomic "binding energy" between the atomic nuclei before and after the reaction. Fusion is the process that powers active or "main sequence" stars, or other high magnitude stars.

A fusion process that produces a nucleus lighter than iron-56 or nickel-62 will generally yield a net energy release. These elements have the smallest mass per nucleon and the largest binding energy per nucleon, respectively. Fusion of light elements toward these releases energy (an exothermic process), while a fusion producing nuclei heavier than these elements will result in energy retained by the resulting nucleons, and the resulting reaction is endothermic. The opposite is true for the reverse process, nuclear fission. This means that the lighter elements, such as hydrogen and helium, are in general more fusible; while the heavier elements, such as uranium, thorium and plutonium, are more fissionable. The extreme astrophysical event of a supernova can produce enough energy to fuse nuclei into elements heavier than iron.

In 1920, Arthur Eddington suggested hydrogen-helium fusion could be the primary source of stellar energy. Quantum tunneling was discovered by Friedrich Hund in 1929, and shortly afterwards Robert Atkinson and Fritz Houtermans used the measured masses of light elements to show that large amounts of energy could be released by fusing small nuclei. Building on the early experiments in nuclear transmutation by Ernest Rutherford, laboratory fusion of hydrogen isotopes was accomplished by Mark Oliphant in 1932. In the remainder of that decade, the theory of the main cycle of nuclear fusion in stars were worked out by Hans Bethe. Research into fusion for military purposes began in the early 1940s as part of the Manhattan Project. Fusion was accomplished in 1951 with the Greenhouse Item nuclear test. Nuclear fusion on a large scale in an explosion was first carried out on 1 November 1952, in the Ivy Mike hydrogen bomb test.

Research into developing controlled fusion inside fusion reactors has been ongoing since the 1940s, but the technology is still in its development phase.

The Sun by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory - 20100819
The Sun is a main-sequence star, and thus generates its energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. In its core, the Sun fuses 620 million metric tons of hydrogen each second.
Binding energy curve - common isotopes
The nuclear binding energy curve. The formation of nuclei with masses up to Iron-56 releases energy, as illustrated above.

Process

Deuterium-tritium fusion
Fusion of deuterium with tritium creating helium-4, freeing a neutron, and releasing 17.59 MeV as kinetic energy of the products while a corresponding amount of mass disappears, in agreement with kinetic E = Δmc2, where Δm is the decrease in the total rest mass of particles.[1]

The release of energy with the fusion of light elements is due to the interplay of two opposing forces: the nuclear force, which combines together protons and neutrons, and the Coulomb force, which causes protons to repel each other. Protons are positively charged and repel each other by the Coulomb force, but they can nonetheless stick together, demonstrating the existence of another, short-range, force referred to as nuclear attraction.[2] Light nuclei (or nuclei smaller than iron and nickel) are sufficiently small and proton-poor allowing the nuclear force to overcome repulsion. This is because the nucleus is sufficiently small that all nucleons feel the short-range attractive force at least as strongly as they feel the infinite-range Coulomb repulsion. Building up nuclei from lighter nuclei by fusion releases the extra energy from the net attraction of particles. For larger nuclei, however, no energy is released, since the nuclear force is short-range and cannot continue to act across longer nuclear length scales. Thus, energy is not released with the fusion of such nuclei; instead, energy is required as input for such processes.

Fusion powers stars and produces virtually all elements in a process called nucleosynthesis. The Sun is a main-sequence star, and, as such, generates its energy by nuclear fusion of hydrogen nuclei into helium. In its core, the Sun fuses 620 million metric tons of hydrogen and makes 606 million metric tons of helium each second. The fusion of lighter elements in stars releases energy and the mass that always accompanies it. For example, in the fusion of two hydrogen nuclei to form helium, 0.7% of the mass is carried away in the form of kinetic energy of an alpha particle or other forms of energy, such as electromagnetic radiation.[3]

It takes considerable energy to force nuclei to fuse, even those of the lightest element, hydrogen. When accelerated to high enough speeds, nuclei can overcome this electrostatic repulsion and brought close enough such that the attractive nuclear force is greater than the repulsive Coulomb force. The strong force grows rapidly once the nuclei are close enough, and the fusing nucleons can essentially "fall" into each other and the result is fusion and net energy produced. The fusion of lighter nuclei, which creates a heavier nucleus and often a free neutron or proton, generally releases more energy than it takes to force the nuclei together; this is an exothermic process that can produce self-sustaining reactions.

Energy released in most nuclear reactions is much larger than in chemical reactions, because the binding energy that holds a nucleus together is greater than the energy that holds electrons to a nucleus. For example, the ionization energy gained by adding an electron to a hydrogen nucleus is 13.6 eV—less than one-millionth of the 17.6 MeV released in the deuteriumtritium (D–T) reaction shown in the adjacent diagram. Fusion reactions have an energy density many times greater than nuclear fission; the reactions produce far greater energy per unit of mass even though individual fission reactions are generally much more energetic than individual fusion ones, which are themselves millions of times more energetic than chemical reactions. Only direct conversion of mass into energy, such as that caused by the annihilatory collision of matter and antimatter, is more energetic per unit of mass than nuclear fusion. (The complete conversion of one gram of matter would release 9×1013 joules of energy.)

Research into using fusion for the production of electricity has been pursued for over 60 years. Successful accomplishment of controlled fusion has been stymied by scientific and technological difficulties; nonetheless, important progress has been made. At present, controlled fusion reactions have been unable to produce break-even (self-sustaining) controlled fusion.[4] The two most advanced approaches for it are magnetic confinement (toroid designs) and inertial confinement (laser designs).

Workable designs for a toroidal reactor that theoretically will deliver ten times more fusion energy than the amount needed to heat plasma to the required temperatures are in development (see ITER). The ITER facility is expected to finish its construction phase in 2025. It will start commissioning the reactor that same year and initiate plasma experiments in 2025, but is not expected to begin full deuterium-tritium fusion until 2035.[5]

The US National Ignition Facility, which uses laser-driven inertial confinement fusion, was designed with a goal of break-even fusion; the first large-scale laser target experiments were performed in June 2009 and ignition experiments began in early 2011.[6][7]

Nuclear fusion in stars

FusionintheSun
The proton-proton chain reaction, branch I, dominates in stars the size of the Sun or smaller.
CNO Cycle
The CNO cycle dominates in stars heavier than the Sun.

An important fusion process is the stellar nucleosynthesis that powers stars and the Sun. In the 20th century, it was recognized that the energy released from nuclear fusion reactions accounted for the longevity of stellar heat and light. The fusion of nuclei in a star, starting from its initial hydrogen and helium abundance, provides that energy and synthesizes new nuclei as a byproduct of the fusion process. Different reaction chains are involved, depending on the mass of the star (and therefore the pressure and temperature in its core).

Around 1920, Arthur Eddington anticipated the discovery and mechanism of nuclear fusion processes in stars, in his paper The Internal Constitution of the Stars.[8][9] At that time, the source of stellar energy was a complete mystery; Eddington correctly speculated that the source was fusion of hydrogen into helium, liberating enormous energy according to Einstein's equation E = mc2. This was a particularly remarkable development since at that time fusion and thermonuclear energy, and even that stars are largely composed of hydrogen (see metallicity), had not yet been discovered. Eddington's paper, based on knowledge at the time, reasoned that:

  1. The leading theory of stellar energy, the contraction hypothesis, should cause stars' rotation to visibly speed up due to conservation of angular momentum. But observations of Cepheid variable stars showed this was not happening.
  2. The only other known plausible source of energy was conversion of matter to energy; Einstein had shown some years earlier that a small amount of matter was equivalent to a large amount of energy.
  3. Francis Aston had also recently shown that the mass of a helium atom was about 0.8% less than the mass of the four hydrogen atoms which would, combined, form a helium atom, suggesting that if such a combination could happen, it would release considerable energy as a byproduct.
  4. If a star contained just 5% of fusible hydrogen, it would suffice to explain how stars got their energy. (We now know that most 'ordinary' stars contain far more than 5% hydrogen)
  5. Further elements might also be fused, and other scientists had speculated that stars were the "crucible" in which light elements combined to create heavy elements, but without more accurate measurements of their atomic masses nothing more could be said at the time.

All of these speculations were proven correct in the following decades.

The primary source of solar energy, and similar size stars, is the fusion of hydrogen to form helium (the proton-proton chain reaction), which occurs at a solar-core temperature of 14 million kelvin. The net result is the fusion of four protons into one alpha particle, with the release of two positrons and two neutrinos (which changes two of the protons into neutrons), and energy. In heavier stars, the CNO cycle and other processes are more important. As a star uses up a substantial fraction of its hydrogen, it begins to synthesize heavier elements. The heaviest elements are synthesized by fusion that occurs as a more massive star undergoes a violent supernova at the end of its life, a process known as supernova nucleosynthesis.

Requirements

A substantial energy barrier of electrostatic forces must be overcome before fusion can occur. At large distances, two naked nuclei repel one another because of the repulsive electrostatic force between their positively charged protons. If two nuclei can be brought close enough together, however, the electrostatic repulsion can be overcome by the quantum effect in which nuclei can tunnel through coulomb forces.

When a nucleon such as a proton or neutron is added to a nucleus, the nuclear force attracts it to all the other nucleons of the nucleus (if the atom is small enough), but primarily to its immediate neighbours due to the short range of the force. The nucleons in the interior of a nucleus have more neighboring nucleons than those on the surface. Since smaller nuclei have a larger surface area-to-volume ratio, the binding energy per nucleon due to the nuclear force generally increases with the size of the nucleus but approaches a limiting value corresponding to that of a nucleus with a diameter of about four nucleons. It is important to keep in mind that nucleons are quantum objects. So, for example, since two neutrons in a nucleus are identical to each other, the goal of distinguishing one from the other, such as which one is in the interior and which is on the surface, is in fact meaningless, and the inclusion of quantum mechanics is therefore necessary for proper calculations.

The electrostatic force, on the other hand, is an inverse-square force, so a proton added to a nucleus will feel an electrostatic repulsion from all the other protons in the nucleus. The electrostatic energy per nucleon due to the electrostatic force thus increases without limit as nuclei atomic number grows.

Nuclear fusion forces diagram
The electrostatic force between the positively charged nuclei is repulsive, but when the separation is small enough, the quantum effect will tunnel through the wall. Therefore, the prerequisite for fusion is that the two nuclei be brought close enough together for a long enough time for quantum tunnelling to act.

The net result of the opposing electrostatic and strong nuclear forces is that the binding energy per nucleon generally increases with increasing size, up to the elements iron and nickel, and then decreases for heavier nuclei. Eventually, the binding energy becomes negative and very heavy nuclei (all with more than 208 nucleons, corresponding to a diameter of about 6 nucleons) are not stable. The four most tightly bound nuclei, in decreasing order of binding energy per nucleon, are 62
Ni
, 58
Fe
, 56
Fe
, and 60
Ni
.[10] Even though the nickel isotope, 62
Ni
, is more stable, the iron isotope 56
Fe
is an order of magnitude more common. This is due to the fact that there is no easy way for stars to create 62
Ni
through the alpha process.

An exception to this general trend is the helium-4 nucleus, whose binding energy is higher than that of lithium, the next heaviest element. This is because protons and neutrons are fermions, which according to the Pauli exclusion principle cannot exist in the same nucleus in exactly the same state. Each proton or neutron's energy state in a nucleus can accommodate both a spin up particle and a spin down particle. Helium-4 has an anomalously large binding energy because its nucleus consists of two protons and two neutrons, so all four of its nucleons can be in the ground state. Any additional nucleons would have to go into higher energy states. Indeed, the helium-4 nucleus is so tightly bound that it is commonly treated as a single quantum mechanical particle in nuclear physics, namely, the alpha particle.

The situation is similar if two nuclei are brought together. As they approach each other, all the protons in one nucleus repel all the protons in the other. Not until the two nuclei actually come close enough for long enough so the strong nuclear force can take over (by way of tunneling) is the repulsive electrostatic force overcome. Consequently, even when the final energy state is lower, there is a large energy barrier that must first be overcome. It is called the Coulomb barrier.

The Coulomb barrier is smallest for isotopes of hydrogen, as their nuclei contain only a single positive charge. A diproton is not stable, so neutrons must also be involved, ideally in such a way that a helium nucleus, with its extremely tight binding, is one of the products.

Using deuterium-tritium fuel, the resulting energy barrier is about 0.1 MeV. In comparison, the energy needed to remove an electron from hydrogen is 13.6 eV, about 7500 times less energy. The (intermediate) result of the fusion is an unstable 5He nucleus, which immediately ejects a neutron with 14.1 MeV. The recoil energy of the remaining 4He nucleus is 3.5 MeV, so the total energy liberated is 17.6 MeV. This is many times more than what was needed to overcome the energy barrier.

Fusion rxnrate
The fusion reaction rate increases rapidly with temperature until it maximizes and then gradually drops off. The DT rate peaks at a lower temperature (about 70 keV, or 800 million kelvin) and at a higher value than other reactions commonly considered for fusion energy.

The reaction cross section σ is a measure of the probability of a fusion reaction as a function of the relative velocity of the two reactant nuclei. If the reactants have a distribution of velocities, e.g. a thermal distribution, then it is useful to perform an average over the distributions of the product of cross section and velocity. This average is called the 'reactivity', denoted <σv>. The reaction rate (fusions per volume per time) is <σv> times the product of the reactant number densities:

If a species of nuclei is reacting with a nucleus like itself, such as the DD reaction, then the product must be replaced by .

increases from virtually zero at room temperatures up to meaningful magnitudes at temperatures of 10100 keV. At these temperatures, well above typical ionization energies (13.6 eV in the hydrogen case), the fusion reactants exist in a plasma state.

The significance of as a function of temperature in a device with a particular energy confinement time is found by considering the Lawson criterion. This is an extremely challenging barrier to overcome on Earth, which explains why fusion research has taken many years to reach the current advanced technical state.[11]

Methods for achieving fusion

Thermonuclear fusion

If matter is sufficiently heated (hence being plasma), fusion reactions may occur due to collisions with extreme thermal kinetic energies of the particles. Thermonuclear weapons produce what amounts to an uncontrolled release of fusion energy. Controlled thermonuclear fusion energy has yet to be achieved.

Inertial confinement fusion

Inertial confinement fusion (ICF) is a method aimed at releasing fusion energy by heating and compressing a fuel target, typically a pellet containing deuterium and tritium.

Inertial electrostatic confinement

Inertial electrostatic confinement is a set of devices that use an electric field to heat ions to fusion conditions. The most well known is the fusor. Starting in 1999, a number of amateurs have been able to do amateur fusion using these homemade devices.[12][13][14][15] Other IEC devices include: the Polywell, MIX POPS[16] and Marble concepts.[17]

Beam-beam or beam-target fusion

If the energy to initiate the reaction comes from accelerating one of the nuclei, the process is called beam-target fusion; if both nuclei are accelerated, it is beam-beam fusion.

Accelerator-based light-ion fusion is a technique using particle accelerators to achieve particle kinetic energies sufficient to induce light-ion fusion reactions. Accelerating light ions is relatively easy, and can be done in an efficient manner—requiring only a vacuum tube, a pair of electrodes, and a high-voltage transformer; fusion can be observed with as little as 10 kV between the electrodes. The key problem with accelerator-based fusion (and with cold targets in general) is that fusion cross sections are many orders of magnitude lower than Coulomb interaction cross sections. Therefore, the vast majority of ions expend their energy emitting bremsstrahlung radiation and the ionization of atoms of the target. Devices referred to as sealed-tube neutron generators are particularly relevant to this discussion. These small devices are miniature particle accelerators filled with deuterium and tritium gas in an arrangement that allows ions of those nuclei to be accelerated against hydride targets, also containing deuterium and tritium, where fusion takes place, releasing a flux of neutrons. Hundreds of neutron generators are produced annually for use in the petroleum industry where they are used in measurement equipment for locating and mapping oil reserves. To overcome the problem of bremsstrahlung radiation in Beam-target fusion, a combinatorial approach has been suggested by Tri-Alpha and Helion energy companies, this method is based on interpenetration of two oppositely directed plasmoids[1]. Theoretical works represent that by creating and warming two accelerated head-on colliding plasmoids up to some kilo electron volts thermal energy which is low in comparison with that of required for thermonuclear fusion, net fusion gain is possible even with anetronic fuels such as P-11B. In order to attain the necessary conditions of break-even by this method the accelerated plasmoids must have enough colliding velocities of the order of some thousands kilometers per second (10^6 m/s) depending on the kind of fusion fuel[2]. In addition, the plasmoids density must be between the inertial and magnetic fusion criteria.

[1] J. Slough, G. Votroubek, and C. Pihl, "Creation of a high-temperature plasma through merging and compression of supersonic field reversed configuration plasmoids" Nucl. Fusion 51,053008 (2011). [2] A. Asle Zaeem et al "Aneutronic Fusion in Collision of Oppositely Directed Plasmoids" Plasma Physics Reports, Vol. 44, No. 3, pp. 378–386 (2018).

Muon-catalyzed fusion

Muon-catalyzed fusion is a fusion process that occurs at ordinary temperatures. It was studied in detail by Steven Jones in the early 1980s. Net energy production from this reaction has been unsuccessful because of the high energy required to create muons, their short 2.2 µs half-life, and the high chance that a muon will bind to the new alpha particle and thus stop catalyzing fusion.[18]

Other principles

TCV vue gen
The Tokamak à configuration variable, research fusion reactor, at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland).

Some other confinement principles have been investigated.

  • Project PACER, carried out at Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) in the mid-1970s, explored the possibility of a fusion power system that would involve exploding small hydrogen bombs (fusion bombs) inside an underground cavity. As an energy source, the system is the only fusion power system that could be demonstrated to work using existing technology. However it would also require a large, continuous supply of nuclear bombs, making the economics of such a system rather questionable.

Important reactions

Astrophysical reaction chains

At the temperatures and densities in stellar cores the rates of fusion reactions are notoriously slow. For example, at solar core temperature (T ≈ 15 MK) and density (160 g/cm3), the energy release rate is only 276 μW/cm3—about a quarter of the volumetric rate at which a resting human body generates heat.[26] Thus, reproduction of stellar core conditions in a lab for nuclear fusion power production is completely impractical. Because nuclear reaction rates depend on density as well as temperature and most fusion schemes operate at relatively low densities, those methods are strongly dependent on higher temperatures. The fusion rate as a function of temperature (exp(−E/kT)), leads to the need to achieve temperatures in terrestrial reactors 10–100 times higher temperatures than in stellar interiors: T ≈ 0.1–1.0×109 K.

Criteria and candidates for terrestrial reactions

In artificial fusion, the primary fuel is not constrained to be protons and higher temperatures can be used, so reactions with larger cross-sections are chosen. Another concern is the production of neutrons, which activate the reactor structure radiologically, but also have the advantages of allowing volumetric extraction of the fusion energy and tritium breeding. Reactions that release no neutrons are referred to as aneutronic.

To be a useful energy source, a fusion reaction must satisfy several criteria. It must:

Be exothermic
This limits the reactants to the low Z (number of protons) side of the curve of binding energy. It also makes helium 4
He
the most common product because of its extraordinarily tight binding, although 3
He
and 3
H
also show up.
Involve low atomic number (Z) nuclei
This is because the electrostatic repulsion that must be overcome before the nuclei are close enough to fuse is directly related to the number of protons it contains - its atomic number.
Have two reactants
At anything less than stellar densities, three body collisions are too improbable. In inertial confinement, both stellar densities and temperatures are exceeded to compensate for the shortcomings of the third parameter of the Lawson criterion, ICF's very short confinement time.
Have two or more products
This allows simultaneous conservation of energy and momentum without relying on the electromagnetic force.
Conserve both protons and neutrons
The cross sections for the weak interaction are too small.

Few reactions meet these criteria. The following are those with the largest cross sections:[27]

(1)  2
1
D
 
3
1
T
 
→  4
2
He
 
3.5 MeV  n0  14.1 MeV  )
(2i)  2
1
D
 
2
1
D
 
→  3
1
T
 
1.01 MeV  p+  3.02 MeV            50%
(2ii)        →  3
2
He
 
0.82 MeV  n0  2.45 MeV            50%
(3)  2
1
D
 
3
2
He
 
→  4
2
He
 
3.6 MeV  p+  14.7 MeV  )
(4)  3
1
T
 
3
1
T
 
→  4
2
He
 
      n0            11.3 MeV
(5)  3
2
He
 
3
2
He
 
→  4
2
He
 
      p+            12.9 MeV
(6i)  3
2
He
 
3
1
T
 
→  4
2
He
 
      p+  n0        12.1 MeV    57%
(6ii)        →  4
2
He
 
4.8 MeV  2
1
D
 
9.5 MeV            43%
(7i)  2
1
D
 
6
3
Li
 
→  4
2
He
 
22.4 MeV
(7ii)        →  3
2
He
 
4
2
He
 
  n0            2.56 MeV
(7iii)        →  7
3
Li
 
p+                  5.0 MeV
(7iv)        →  7
4
Be
 
n0                  3.4 MeV
(8)  p+  6
3
Li
 
→  4
2
He
 
1.7 MeV  3
2
He
 
2.3 MeV  )
(9)  3
2
He
 
6
3
Li
 
→  4
2
He
 
p+                  16.9 MeV
(10)  p+  11
5
B
 
→  4
2
He
 
                    8.7 MeV

For reactions with two products, the energy is divided between them in inverse proportion to their masses, as shown. In most reactions with three products, the distribution of energy varies. For reactions that can result in more than one set of products, the branching ratios are given.

Some reaction candidates can be eliminated at once. The D-6Li reaction has no advantage compared to p+-11
5
B
because it is roughly as difficult to burn but produces substantially more neutrons through 2
1
D
-2
1
D
side reactions. There is also a p+-7
3
Li
reaction, but the cross section is far too low, except possibly when Ti > 1 MeV, but at such high temperatures an endothermic, direct neutron-producing reaction also becomes very significant. Finally there is also a p+-9
4
Be
reaction, which is not only difficult to burn, but 9
4
Be
can be easily induced to split into two alpha particles and a neutron.

In addition to the fusion reactions, the following reactions with neutrons are important in order to "breed" tritium in "dry" fusion bombs and some proposed fusion reactors:

n0  6
3
Li
 
→  3
1
T
 
4
2
He
+ 4.784 MeV
n0  7
3
Li
 
→  3
1
T
 
4
2
He
+ n0 – 2.467 MeV

The latter of the two equations was unknown when the U.S. conducted the Castle Bravo fusion bomb test in 1954. Being just the second fusion bomb ever tested (and the first to use lithium), the designers of the Castle Bravo "Shrimp" had understood the usefulness of 6Li in tritium production, but had failed to recognize that 7Li fission would greatly increase the yield of the bomb. While 7Li has a small neutron cross-section for low neutron energies, it has a higher cross section above 5 MeV.[28] The 15 Mt yield was 150% greater than the predicted 6 Mt and caused unexpected exposure to fallout.

To evaluate the usefulness of these reactions, in addition to the reactants, the products, and the energy released, one needs to know something about the nuclear cross section. Any given fusion device has a maximum plasma pressure it can sustain, and an economical device would always operate near this maximum. Given this pressure, the largest fusion output is obtained when the temperature is chosen so that <σv>/T2 is a maximum. This is also the temperature at which the value of the triple product nTτ required for ignition is a minimum, since that required value is inversely proportional to <σv>/T2 (see Lawson criterion). (A plasma is "ignited" if the fusion reactions produce enough power to maintain the temperature without external heating.) This optimum temperature and the value of <σv>/T2 at that temperature is given for a few of these reactions in the following table.

fuel T [keV] <σv>/T2 [m3/s/keV2]
2
1
D
-3
1
T
13.6 1.24×10−24
2
1
D
-2
1
D
15 1.28×10−26
2
1
D
-3
2
He
58 2.24×10−26
p+-6
3
Li
66 1.46×10−27
p+-11
5
B
123 3.01×10−27

Note that many of the reactions form chains. For instance, a reactor fueled with 3
1
T
and 3
2
He
creates some 2
1
D
, which is then possible to use in the 2
1
D
-3
2
He
reaction if the energies are "right". An elegant idea is to combine the reactions (8) and (9). The 3
2
He
from reaction (8) can react with 6
3
Li
in reaction (9) before completely thermalizing. This produces an energetic proton, which in turn undergoes reaction (8) before thermalizing. Detailed analysis shows that this idea would not work well, but it is a good example of a case where the usual assumption of a Maxwellian plasma is not appropriate.

Neutronicity, confinement requirement, and power density

Any of the reactions above can in principle be the basis of fusion power production. In addition to the temperature and cross section discussed above, we must consider the total energy of the fusion products Efus, the energy of the charged fusion products Ech, and the atomic number Z of the non-hydrogenic reactant.

Specification of the 2
1
D
-2
1
D
reaction entails some difficulties, though. To begin with, one must average over the two branches (2i) and (2ii). More difficult is to decide how to treat the 3
1
T
and 3
2
He
products. 3
1
T
burns so well in a deuterium plasma that it is almost impossible to extract from the plasma. The 2
1
D
-3
2
He
reaction is optimized at a much higher temperature, so the burnup at the optimum 2
1
D
-2
1
D
temperature may be low. Therefore, it seems reasonable to assume the 3
1
T
but not the 3
2
He
gets burned up and adds its energy to the net reaction, which means the total reaction would be the sum of (2i), (2ii), and (1):

5 2
1
D
4
2
He
+ 2 n0 + 3
2
He
+ p+, Efus = 4.03+17.6+3.27 = 24.9 MeV, Ech = 4.03+3.5+0.82 = 8.35 MeV.

For calculating the power of a reactor (in which the reaction rate is determined by the D-D step), we count the 2
1
D
-2
1
D
fusion energy per D-D reaction as Efus = (4.03 MeV + 17.6 MeV)×50% + (3.27 MeV)×50% = 12.5 MeV and the energy in charged particles as Ech = (4.03 MeV + 3.5 MeV)×50% + (0.82 MeV)×50% = 4.2 MeV. (Note: if the tritium ion reacts with a deuteron while it still has a large kinetic energy, then the kinetic energy of the helium-4 produced may be quite different from 3.5 MeV,[29] so this calculation of energy in charged particles is only an approximation of the average.) The amount of energy per deuteron consumed is 2/5 of this, or 5.0 MeV (a specific energy of about 225 million MJ per kilogram of deuterium).

Another unique aspect of the 2
1
D
-2
1
D
reaction is that there is only one reactant, which must be taken into account when calculating the reaction rate.

With this choice, we tabulate parameters for four of the most important reactions

fuel Z Efus [MeV] Ech [MeV] neutronicity
2
1
D
-3
1
T
1 17.6 3.5 0.80
2
1
D
-2
1
D
1 12.5 4.2 0.66
2
1
D
-3
2
He
2 18.3 18.3 ≈0.05
p+-11
5
B
5 8.7 8.7 ≈0.001

The last column is the neutronicity of the reaction, the fraction of the fusion energy released as neutrons. This is an important indicator of the magnitude of the problems associated with neutrons like radiation damage, biological shielding, remote handling, and safety. For the first two reactions it is calculated as (Efus-Ech)/Efus. For the last two reactions, where this calculation would give zero, the values quoted are rough estimates based on side reactions that produce neutrons in a plasma in thermal equilibrium.

Of course, the reactants should also be mixed in the optimal proportions. This is the case when each reactant ion plus its associated electrons accounts for half the pressure. Assuming that the total pressure is fixed, this means that particle density of the non-hydrogenic ion is smaller than that of the hydrogenic ion by a factor 2/(Z+1). Therefore, the rate for these reactions is reduced by the same factor, on top of any differences in the values of <σv>/T2. On the other hand, because the 2
1
D
-2
1
D
reaction has only one reactant, its rate is twice as high as when the fuel is divided between two different hydrogenic species, thus creating a more efficient reaction.

Thus there is a "penalty" of (2/(Z+1)) for non-hydrogenic fuels arising from the fact that they require more electrons, which take up pressure without participating in the fusion reaction. (It is usually a good assumption that the electron temperature will be nearly equal to the ion temperature. Some authors, however discuss the possibility that the electrons could be maintained substantially colder than the ions. In such a case, known as a "hot ion mode", the "penalty" would not apply.) There is at the same time a "bonus" of a factor 2 for 2
1
D
-2
1
D
because each ion can react with any of the other ions, not just a fraction of them.

We can now compare these reactions in the following table.

fuel <σv>/T2 penalty/bonus inverse reactivity Lawson criterion power density (W/m3/kPa2) inverse ratio of power density
2
1
D
-3
1
T
1.24×10−24 1 1 1 34 1
2
1
D
-2
1
D
1.28×10−26 2 48 30 0.5 68
2
1
D
-3
2
He
2.24×10−26 2/3 83 16 0.43 80
p+-6
3
Li
1.46×10−27 1/2 1700 0.005 6800
p+-11
5
B
3.01×10−27 1/3 1240 500 0.014 2500

The maximum value of <σv>/T2 is taken from a previous table. The "penalty/bonus" factor is that related to a non-hydrogenic reactant or a single-species reaction. The values in the column "inverse reactivity" are found by dividing 1.24×1024 by the product of the second and third columns. It indicates the factor by which the other reactions occur more slowly than the 2
1
D
-3
1
T
reaction under comparable conditions. The column "Lawson criterion" weights these results with Ech and gives an indication of how much more difficult it is to achieve ignition with these reactions, relative to the difficulty for the 2
1
D
-3
1
T
reaction. The next-to-last column is labeled "power density" and weights the practical reactivity by Efus. The final column indicates how much lower the fusion power density of the other reactions is compared to the 2
1
D
-3
1
T
reaction and can be considered a measure of the economic potential.

Bremsstrahlung losses in quasineutral, isotropic plasmas

The ions undergoing fusion in many systems will essentially never occur alone but will be mixed with electrons that in aggregate neutralize the ions' bulk electrical charge and form a plasma. The electrons will generally have a temperature comparable to or greater than that of the ions, so they will collide with the ions and emit x-ray radiation of 10–30 keV energy, a process known as Bremsstrahlung.

The huge size of the Sun and stars means that the x-rays produced in this process will not escape and will deposit their energy back into the plasma. They are said to be opaque to x-rays. But any terrestrial fusion reactor will be optically thin for x-rays of this energy range. X-rays are difficult to reflect but they are effectively absorbed (and converted into heat) in less than mm thickness of stainless steel (which is part of a reactor's shield). This means the bremsstrahlung process is carrying energy out of the plasma, cooling it.

The ratio of fusion power produced to x-ray radiation lost to walls is an important figure of merit. This ratio is generally maximized at a much higher temperature than that which maximizes the power density (see the previous subsection). The following table shows estimates of the optimum temperature and the power ratio at that temperature for several reactions:

fuel Ti (keV) Pfusion/PBremsstrahlung
2
1
D
-3
1
T
50 140
2
1
D
-2
1
D
500 2.9
2
1
D
-3
2
He
100 5.3
3
2
He
-3
2
He
1000 0.72
p+-6
3
Li
800 0.21
p+-11
5
B
300 0.57

The actual ratios of fusion to Bremsstrahlung power will likely be significantly lower for several reasons. For one, the calculation assumes that the energy of the fusion products is transmitted completely to the fuel ions, which then lose energy to the electrons by collisions, which in turn lose energy by Bremsstrahlung. However, because the fusion products move much faster than the fuel ions, they will give up a significant fraction of their energy directly to the electrons. Secondly, the ions in the plasma are assumed to be purely fuel ions. In practice, there will be a significant proportion of impurity ions, which will then lower the ratio. In particular, the fusion products themselves must remain in the plasma until they have given up their energy, and will remain some time after that in any proposed confinement scheme. Finally, all channels of energy loss other than Bremsstrahlung have been neglected. The last two factors are related. On theoretical and experimental grounds, particle and energy confinement seem to be closely related. In a confinement scheme that does a good job of retaining energy, fusion products will build up. If the fusion products are efficiently ejected, then energy confinement will be poor, too.

The temperatures maximizing the fusion power compared to the Bremsstrahlung are in every case higher than the temperature that maximizes the power density and minimizes the required value of the fusion triple product. This will not change the optimum operating point for 2
1
D
-3
1
T
very much because the Bremsstrahlung fraction is low, but it will push the other fuels into regimes where the power density relative to 2
1
D
-3
1
T
is even lower and the required confinement even more difficult to achieve. For 2
1
D
-2
1
D
and 2
1
D
-3
2
He
, Bremsstrahlung losses will be a serious, possibly prohibitive problem. For 3
2
He
-3
2
He
, p+-6
3
Li
and p+-11
5
B
the Bremsstrahlung losses appear to make a fusion reactor using these fuels with a quasineutral, isotropic plasma impossible. Some ways out of this dilemma are considered—and rejected—in fundamental limitations on plasma fusion systems not in thermodynamic equilibrium.[30][31] This limitation does not apply to non-neutral and anisotropic plasmas; however, these have their own challenges to contend with.

Mathematical description of cross section

Fusion under classical physics

In a classical picture, nuclei can be understood as hard spheres that repel each other through the Coulomb force but fuse once the two spheres come close enough for contact. Estimating the radius of an atomic nuclei as about one femtometer, the energy needed for fusion of two hydrogen is:

This would imply that for the core of the sun, which has a Boltzmann distribution with a temperature of around 1.4 keV, the probability hydrogen would reach the threshold is , that is, fusion would never occur. However, fusion in the sun does occur due to quantum mechanics.

Parameterization of cross section

The probability that fusion occurs is greatly increased compared to the classical picture, thanks to the smearing of the effective radius as the DeBroglie wavelength as well as quantum tunnelling through the potential barrier. To determine the rate of fusion reactions, the value of most interest is the cross section, which describes the probability that particle will fuse by giving a characteristic area of interaction. An estimation of the fusion cross sectional area is often broken into three pieces:

Where is the geometric cross section, T is the barrier transparency and R is the reaction characteristics of the reaction.

is of the order of the square of the de-Broglie wavelength where is the reduced mass of the system and is the center of mass energy of the system.

T can be approximated by the Gamow transparency, which has the form: where is the Gamow factor and comes from estimating the quantum tunneling probability through the potential barrier.

R contains all the nuclear physics of the specific reaction and takes very different values depending on the nature of the interaction. However, for most reactions, the variation of is small compared to the variation from the Gamow factor and so is approximated by a function called the Astrophysical S-factor, , which is weakly varying in energy. Putting these dependencies together, one approximation for the fusion cross section as a function of energy takes the form:

More detailed forms of the cross section can be derived through nuclear physics based models and R matrix theory.

Formulas of fusion cross sections

The Naval Research Lab's plasma physics formulary[32] gives the total cross section in barns as a function of the energy (in keV) of the incident particle towards a target ion at rest fit by the formula:

with the following coefficient values:

NRL Formulary Cross Section Coefficients
DT(1) DD(2i) DD(2ii) DHe3(3) TT(4) THe3(6)
A1 45.95 46.097 47.88 89.27 38.39 123.1
A2 50200 372 482 25900 448 11250
A3 1.368e-2 4.36e-4 3.08e-4 3.98e-3 1.02e-3 0
A4 1.076 1.22 1.177 1.297 2.09 0
A5 409 0 0 647 0 0

Bosch-Hale[33] also reports a R-matrix calculated cross sections fitting observation data with Padé approximants. With energy in units of keV and cross sections in units of millibarn, the astrophysical factor has the form:

, with the coefficient values:

Bosch-Hale Astrophysical Cross Section Coefficients
DT(1) DD(2ii) DHe3(3) THe4
31.3970 68.7508 31.3970 34.3827
A1 5.5576e4 5.7501e6 5.3701e4 6.927e4
A2 2.1054e2 2.5226e3 3.3027e2 7.454e8
A3 -3.2638e-2 4.5566e1 -1.2706e-1 2.050e6
A4 1.4987e-6 0 2.9327e-5 5.2002e4
A5 1.8181e-10 0 -2.5151e-9 0
B1 0 -3.1995e-3 0 6.38e1
B2 0 -8.5530e-6 0 -9.95e-1
B3 0 5.9014e-8 0 6.981e-5
B4 0 0 0 1.728e-4
Applicable Energy Range [keV] 0.5-5000 0.3-900 0.5-4900 0.5-550
2.0 2.2 2.5 1.9

See also

References

  1. ^ Shultis, J.K. & Faw, R.E. (2002). Fundamentals of nuclear science and engineering. CRC Press. p. 151. ISBN 978-0-8247-0834-4.
  2. ^ Physics Flexbook Archived 28 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Ck12.org. Retrieved on 2012-12-19.
  3. ^ Bethe, Hans A. (April 1950). "The Hydrogen Bomb". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 6 (4): 99–104, 125–.
  4. ^ "Progress in Fusion". ITER. Retrieved 15 February 2010.
  5. ^ "ITER – the way to new energy". ITER. 2014. Archived from the original on 22 September 2012.
  6. ^ Moses, E. I. (2009). "The National Ignition Facility: Ushering in a new age for high energy density science". Physics of Plasmas. 16 (4): 041006. Bibcode:2009PhPl...16d1006M. doi:10.1063/1.3116505.
  7. ^ Kramer, David (March 2011). "DOE looks again at inertial fusion as potential clean-energy source". Physics Today. 64 (3): 26–28. Bibcode:2011PhT....64c..26K. doi:10.1063/1.3563814.
  8. ^ Eddington, A. S. (October 1920). "The Internal Constitution of the Stars". The Scientific Monthly. 11 (4): 297-303. JSTOR 6491.
  9. ^ Eddington, A. S. (1916). "On the radiative equilibrium of the stars". Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. 77: 16–35. Bibcode:1916MNRAS..77...16E. doi:10.1093/mnras/77.1.16.
  10. ^ The Most Tightly Bound Nuclei. Hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu. Retrieved on 2011-08-17.
  11. ^ What Is The Lawson Criteria, Or How to Make Fusion Power Viable
  12. ^ "Fusor Forums • Index page". Fusor.net. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  13. ^ "Build a Nuclear Fusion Reactor? No Problem". Clhsonline.net. 23 March 2012. Archived from the original on 30 October 2014. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  14. ^ "Extreme DIY: Building a homemade nuclear reactor in NYC". BBC News. Retrieved 30 October 2014.
  15. ^ Schechner, Sam (18 August 2008). "Nuclear Ambitions: Amateur Scientists Get a Reaction From Fusion – WSJ". Online.wsj.com. Retrieved 24 August 2014.
  16. ^ Park J, Nebel RA, Stange S, Murali SK (2005). "Experimental Observation of a Periodically Oscillating Plasma Sphere in a Gridded Inertial Electrostatic Confinement Device". Phys Rev Lett. 95 (1): 015003. Bibcode:2005PhRvL..95a5003P. doi:10.1103/PhysRevLett.95.015003. PMID 16090625.
  17. ^ "The Multiple Ambipolar Recirculating Beam Line Experiment" Poster presentation, 2011 US-Japan IEC conference, Dr. Alex Klein
  18. ^ Jones, S.E. (1986). "Muon-Catalysed Fusion Revisited". Nature. 321 (6066): 127–133. Bibcode:1986Natur.321..127J. doi:10.1038/321127a0.
  19. ^ Supplementary methods for "Observation of nuclear fusion driven by a pyroelectric crystal". Main article Naranjo, B.; Gimzewski, J.K.; Putterman, S. (2005). "Observation of nuclear fusion driven by a pyroelectric crystal". Nature. 434 (7037): 1115–1117. Bibcode:2005Natur.434.1115N. doi:10.1038/nature03575. PMID 15858570.
  20. ^ UCLA Crystal Fusion. Rodan.physics.ucla.edu. Retrieved on 2011-08-17. Archived 8 June 2015 at the Wayback Machine
  21. ^ Schewe, Phil & Stein, Ben (2005). "Pyrofusion: A Room-Temperature, Palm-Sized Nuclear Fusion Device". Physics News Update. 729 (1). Archived from the original on 12 November 2013.
  22. ^ Coming in out of the cold: nuclear fusion, for real. Christiansciencemonitor.com (2005-06-06). Retrieved on 2011-08-17.
  23. ^ Nuclear fusion on the desktop ... really!. MSNBC (2005-04-27). Retrieved on 2011-08-17.
  24. ^ Gerstner, E. (2009). "Nuclear energy: The hybrid returns". Nature. 460 (7251): 25–8. doi:10.1038/460025a. PMID 19571861.
  25. ^ Maugh II, Thomas. "Physicist is found guilty of misconduct". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 17 April 2019.
  26. ^ FusEdWeb | Fusion Education. Fusedweb.pppl.gov (1998-11-09). Retrieved on 2011-08-17.
  27. ^ M. Kikuchi, K. Lackner & M. Q. Tran (2012). Fusion Physics. International Atomic Energy Agency. p. 22. ISBN 9789201304100.
  28. ^ Subsection 4.7.4c. Kayelaby.npl.co.uk. Retrieved on 2012-12-19.
  29. ^ A momentum and energy balance shows that if the tritium has an energy of ET (and using relative masses of 1, 3, and 4 for the neutron, tritium, and helium) then the energy of the helium can be anything from [(12ET)1/2−(5×17.6MeV+2×ET)1/2]2/25 to [(12ET)1/2+(5×17.6MeV+2×ET)1/2]2/25. For ET=1.01 MeV this gives a range from 1.44 MeV to 6.73 MeV.
  30. ^ Rider, Todd Harrison (1995). "Fundamental Limitations on Plasma Fusion Systems not in Thermodynamic Equilibrium". Dissertation Abstracts International. 56-07 (Section B): 3820. Bibcode:1995PhDT........45R.
  31. ^ Rostoker, Norman; Binderbauer, Michl and Qerushi, Artan. Fundamental limitations on plasma fusion systems not in thermodynamic equilibrium. fusion.ps.uci.edu
  32. ^ Huba, J. (2003). "NRL PLASMA FORMULARY" (PDF). MIT Catalog. Retrieved 11 November 2018.
  33. ^ Bosch, H. S (1993). "Improved formulas for fusion cross-sections and thermal reactivities". IOP Science. Retrieved 22 November 2018.

Further reading

External links

Organizations
Bubble fusion

Bubble fusion is the non-technical name for a nuclear fusion reaction hypothesized to occur inside extraordinarily large collapsing gas bubbles created in a liquid during acoustic cavitation. The more technical name is sonofusion.The term was coined in 2002 with the release of a report by Rusi Taleyarkhan and collaborators that claimed to have observed evidence of sonofusion. The claim was quickly surrounded by controversy, including allegations ranging from experimental error to academic fraud. Subsequent publications claiming independent verification of sonofusion were also highly controversial.

Eventually, an investigation by Purdue University found that Taleyarkhan had engaged in falsification of independent verification, and had included a student as an author on a paper when he had not participated in the research. He was subsequently stripped of his professorship. One of his funders, the Office of Naval Research reviewed the report by Purdue and barred him from federal funding for 28 months.

Cold fusion

Cold fusion is a hypothesized type of nuclear reaction that would occur at, or near, room temperature. It would contrast starkly with the "hot" fusion that is known to take place naturally within stars and artificially in hydrogen bombs and prototype fusion reactors under immense pressure and at temperatures of millions of degrees, and distinguished from muon-catalyzed fusion. There is currently no accepted theoretical model that would allow cold fusion to occur.

In 1989 Martin Fleischmann (then one of the world's leading electrochemists) and Stanley Pons reported that their apparatus had produced anomalous heat ("excess heat") of a magnitude they asserted would defy explanation except in terms of nuclear processes. They further reported measuring small amounts of nuclear reaction byproducts, including neutrons and tritium. The small tabletop experiment involved electrolysis of heavy water on the surface of a palladium (Pd) electrode. The reported results received wide media attention and raised hopes of a cheap and abundant source of energy.Many scientists tried to replicate the experiment with the few details available. Hopes faded due to the large number of negative replications, the withdrawal of many reported positive replications, the discovery of flaws and sources of experimental error in the original experiment, and finally the discovery that Fleischmann and Pons had not actually detected nuclear reaction byproducts. By late 1989, most scientists considered cold fusion claims dead, and cold fusion subsequently gained a reputation as pathological science. In 1989 the United States Department of Energy (DOE) concluded that the reported results of excess heat did not present convincing evidence of a useful source of energy and decided against allocating funding specifically for cold fusion. A second DOE review in 2004, which looked at new research, reached similar conclusions and did not result in DOE funding of cold fusion.A small community of researchers continues to investigate cold fusion, now often preferring the designation low-energy nuclear reactions (LENR) or condensed matter nuclear science (CMNS). Since articles about cold fusion are rarely published in peer-reviewed mainstream scientific journals anymore, they do not attract the level of scrutiny expected for mainstream scientific publications.

Fusion power

Fusion power is a proposed form of power generation that would generate electricity by using heat from nuclear fusion reactions. In a fusion process, two lighter atomic nuclei combine to form a heavier nucleus, while releasing energy. Devices designed to harness this energy are known as fusion reactors.

Fusion processes require fuel and a confined environment with sufficient temperature, pressure and confinement interval, to create a plasma in which fusion can occur. In stars, the most common fuel is hydrogen, and gravity creates the conditions needed for fusion energy production.

Fusion reactors generally use hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium and tritium, which react more easily, and create a confined plasma of millions of degrees using inertial (laser) or magnetic methods (tokamak and similar), although many other concepts have been attempted. The major challenge in realising fusion power are to engineer a system that can confine the plasma long enough at high enough temperature and density for a long term reaction to occur. A second issue that affects common reactions, is managing neutrons that are released during the reaction, which over time degrade many common materials used within the reaction chamber.

As a source of power, nuclear fusion is expected to have several theoretical advantages over fission. These include reduced radioactivity in operation and little high-level nuclear waste, ample fuel supplies, and increased safety. However, achieving the necessary temperature/pressure/duration combination has proven to be difficult to produce in a practical and economical manner. Research into fusion reactors began in the 1940s, but to date, no design has produced more fusion power output than the electrical power input, defeating the purpose.Fusion researchers have investigated various confinement concepts. The early emphasis was on three main systems: z-pinch, stellarator and magnetic mirror. The current leading designs are the tokamak and inertial confinement (ICF) by laser. Both designs are under research at very large scales, most notably the ITER tokamak in France, and the National Ignition Facility laser in the United States. Researchers are also studying other designs that may offer cheaper approaches. Among these alternatives there is increasing interest in magnetized target fusion and inertial electrostatic confinement, stellerator and proton-boron.

ISTTOK

The ISTTOK Tokamak ("Instituto Superior Técnico TOKamak") is a research fusion reactor (tokamak) of the Instituto Superior Técnico. It has a circular cross-section due to a poloidal graphite limiter and an iron core transformer. Its particularity is that it is one of the few tokamaks operating in AC (alternating plasma current) regime, as well in DC regime. In 2013, the AC operation allowed the standard discharges to extend from 35 ms to more than 1s.

ITER

ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) is an international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject, which will be the world's largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment. It is an experimental tokamak nuclear fusion reactor that is being built next to the Cadarache facility in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance, in Provence, southern France.ITER was proposed in 1987 and designed as the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, according to the "ITER Technical Basis," published by the International Atomic Energy Agency, in 2002. By 2005, the ITER organization abandoned the original meaning of the acronym iter, and instead adopted a new meaning, the Latin word for "the way."The ITER thermonuclear fusion reactor has been designed to produce a fusion plasma equivalent to 500 megawatts (MW) of thermal output power for around twenty minutes while 50 megawatts of thermal power are injected into the tokamak, resulting in a ten-fold gain of plasma heating power.

Thereby the machine aims to demonstrate the principle of producing more thermal power from the fusion process than is used to heat the plasma, something that has not yet been achieved in any fusion reactor.

The total electricity consumed by the reactor and facilities will range from 110 MW up to 620 MW peak for 30-second periods during plasma operation.

Thermal-to-electric conversion is not included in the design because ITER will not produce sufficient power for net electrical production. The emitted heat from the fusion reaction will be vented to the atmosphere.The project is funded and run by seven member entities—the European Union, India, Japan, China, Russia, South Korea, and the United States. The EU, as host party for the ITER complex, is contributing about 45 percent of the cost, with the other six parties contributing approximately 9 percent each.

In 2016 the ITER organization signed a technical cooperation agreement with the national nuclear fusion agency of Australia, enabling this country access to research results of ITER in exchange for construction of selected parts of the ITER machine.Construction of the ITER Tokamak complex started in 2013 and the building costs are now over US$14 billion as of June 2015. The facility is expected to finish its construction phase in 2025 and will start commissioning the reactor that same year. Initial plasma experiments are scheduled to begin in 2025, with full deuterium–tritium fusion experiments starting in 2035. If ITER becomes operational, it will become the largest magnetic confinement plasma physics experiment in use with a plasma volume of 840 cubic meters, surpassing the Joint European Torus by almost a factor of 10.

The goal of ITER is to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy for peaceful use.

It is the latest and largest of more than 100 fusion reactors built since the 1950s.

ITER's planned successor, DEMO, is expected to be the first fusion reactor to produce electricity in an experimental environment.

DEMO's anticipated success is expected to lead to full-scale electricity-producing fusion power stations and future commercial reactors.

Lithium burning

Lithium burning is a nucleosynthetic process in which lithium is depleted in a star. Lithium is generally present in brown dwarfs and not in low-mass stars. Stars, which by definition must achieve the high temperature (2.5 × 106 K) necessary for fusing hydrogen, rapidly deplete their lithium.

Muon-catalyzed fusion

Muon-catalyzed fusion (μCF) is a process allowing nuclear fusion to take place at temperatures significantly lower than the temperatures required for thermonuclear fusion, even at room temperature or lower. It is one of the few known ways of catalyzing nuclear fusion reactions.

Muons are unstable subatomic particles. They are similar to electrons, but are about 207 times more massive. If a muon replaces one of the electrons in a hydrogen molecule, the nuclei are consequently drawn 196 times closer than in a normal molecule, due to the reduced mass being 196 times the mass of an electron. When the nuclei are this close together, the probability of nuclear fusion is greatly increased, to the point where a significant number of fusion events can happen at room temperature.

Current techniques for creating large numbers of muons require far more energy than would be produced by the resulting catalyzed nuclear fusion reactions. Moreover, each muon has about a 1% chance of "sticking" to the alpha particle produced by the nuclear fusion of a deuteron with a triton, removing the "stuck" muon from the catalytic cycle, meaning that each muon can only catalyze at most a few hundred deuterium tritium nuclear fusion reactions. These two factors prevent muon-catalyzed fusion from becoming a practical power source, limiting it to a laboratory curiosity. To create useful room-temperature muon-catalyzed fusion, reactors would need a cheaper, more efficient muon source and/or a way for each individual muon to catalyze many more fusion reactions.

Nuclear binding energy

Nuclear binding energy is the minimum energy that would be required to disassemble the nucleus of an atom into its component parts. These component parts are neutrons and protons, which are collectively called nucleons. The binding is always a positive number, as we need to spend energy in moving these nucleons, attracted to each other by the strong nuclear force, away from each other. The mass of an atomic nucleus is less than the sum of the individual masses of the free constituent protons and neutrons, according to Einstein's equation E=mc2. This 'missing mass' is known as the mass defect, and represents the energy that was released when the nucleus was formed.

The term "nuclear binding energy" may also refer to the energy balance in processes in which the nucleus splits into fragments composed of more than one nucleon. If new binding energy is available when light nuclei fuse (nuclear fusion), or when heavy nuclei split (nuclear fission), either process can result in release of this binding energy. This energy may be made available as nuclear energy and can be used to produce electricity, as in nuclear power, or in a nuclear weapon. When a large nucleus splits into pieces, excess energy is emitted as photon (gamma rays) and as the kinetic energy of a number of different ejected particles (nuclear fission products).

These nuclear binding energies and forces are on the order of a million times greater than the electron binding energies of light atoms like hydrogen.The mass defect of a nucleus represents the amount of mass equivalent to the

binding energy of the nucleus (E=mc2), which is the difference between the mass of a nucleus and the sum of the individual masses of the nucleons of which it is composed.

Nuclear fusion–fission hybrid

Hybrid nuclear fusion–fission (hybrid nuclear power) is a proposed means of generating power by use of a combination of nuclear fusion and fission processes. The basic idea is to use high-energy fast neutrons from a fusion reactor to trigger fission in otherwise nonfissile fuels like U-238 or Th-232. Each neutron can trigger several fission events, multiplying the energy released by each fusion reaction hundreds of times. This would not only make fusion designs more economical in power terms, but also be able to burn fuels that were not suitable for use in conventional fission plants, even their nuclear waste.

The concept dates to the 1950s, and was strongly advocated by Hans Bethe during the 1970s. At that time the first powerful fusion experiments were being built, but it would still be many years before they could be economically competitive. Hybrids were proposed as a way of greatly accelerating their market introduction, producing energy even before the fusion systems reached break-even. However, detailed studies of the economics of the systems suggested they could not compete with existing fission reactors.

The idea was abandoned and lay dormant until the 2000s, when the continued delays in reaching break-even led to a brief revival around 2009, notably as the basis of the LIFE program. This program was cancelled when the underlying technology, from the National Ignition Facility, failed to reach its design performance goals. Apollo Fusion, a company founded by Google executive Mike Cassidy in 2017, was also reported to be focused on using the subcritical nuclear fusion-fission hybrid method.In general terms, the hybrid is similar in concept to the fast breeder reactor, which uses a compact high-energy fission core in place of the hybrid's fusion core. Another similar concept is the accelerator-driven subcritical reactor, which uses a particle accelerator to provide the neutrons instead of nuclear reactions.

Pegasus Toroidal Experiment

The Pegasus Toroidal Experiment is a plasma confinement experiment relevant to fusion power production, run by the Department of Engineering Physics of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. It is a spherical tokamak, a very low-aspect-ratio version of the tokamak configuration, i.e. the minor radius of the torus is comparable to the major radius.

Pure fusion weapon

A pure fusion weapon is a hypothetical hydrogen bomb design that does not need a fission "primary" explosive to ignite the fusion of deuterium and tritium, two heavy isotopes of hydrogen (see thermonuclear weapon for more information about fission-fusion weapons). Such a weapon would require no fissile material and would therefore be much easier to develop in secret than existing weapons. The necessity of separating weapons grade uranium (U-235) or breeding plutonium (Pu-239) requires a substantial and difficult-to-conceal industrial investment, and blocking the sale and transfer of the needed machinery has been the primary mechanism to control nuclear proliferation to date.

Pyroelectric fusion

Pyroelectric fusion refers to the technique of using pyroelectric crystals to generate high strength electrostatic fields to accelerate deuterium ions (tritium might also be used someday) into a metal hydride target also containing deuterium (or tritium) with sufficient kinetic energy to cause these ions to undergo nuclear fusion. It was reported in April 2005 by a team at UCLA. The scientists used a pyroelectric crystal heated from −34 to 7 °C (−29 to 45 °F), combined with a tungsten needle to produce an electric field of about 25 gigavolts per meter to ionize and accelerate deuterium nuclei into an erbium deuteride target. Though the energy of the deuterium ions generated by the crystal has not been directly measured, the authors used 100 keV (a temperature of about 109 K) as an estimate in their modeling. At these energy levels, two deuterium nuclei can fuse together to produce a helium-3 nucleus, a 2.45 MeV neutron and bremsstrahlung. Although it makes a useful neutron generator, the apparatus is not intended for power generation since it requires far more energy than it produces.

Silicon-burning process

In astrophysics, silicon burning is a very brief sequence of nuclear fusion reactions that occur in massive stars with a minimum of about 8-11 solar masses. Silicon burning is the final stage of fusion for massive stars that have run out of the fuels that power them for their long lives in the main sequence on the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram. It follows the previous stages of hydrogen, helium, carbon, neon and oxygen burning processes.

Silicon burning begins when gravitational contraction raises the star's core temperature to 2.7–3.5 billion Kelvin (GK). The exact temperature depends on mass. When a star has completed the silicon-burning phase, no further fusion is possible. The star catastrophically collapses and may explode in what is known as a Type II supernova.

Solar neutrino

Electron neutrinos are produced in the Sun as a product of nuclear fusion. Solar neutrinos constitute by far the largest flux of neutrinos from natural sources observed on Earth, as compared with e.g. atmospheric neutrinos or the diffuse supernova neutrino background.

Thermonuclear fusion

Thermonuclear fusion is a way to achieve nuclear fusion by using extremely high temperatures. There are two forms of thermonuclear fusion: uncontrolled, in which the resulting energy is released in an uncontrolled manner, as it is in thermonuclear weapons ("hydrogen bombs") and in most stars; and controlled, where the fusion reactions take place in an environment allowing some or all of the energy released to be harnessed for constructive purposes. This article focuses on the latter.

Timeline of nuclear fusion

This timeline of nuclear fusion is an incomplete chronological summary of significant events in the study and use of nuclear fusion.

Tokamak à configuration variable

The Tokamak à configuration variable (TCV, literally "variable configuration tokamak") is a Swiss research fusion reactor of the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne. Its distinguishing feature over other tokamaks is that its torus section is three times higher than wide. This allows studying several shapes of plasmas, which is particularly relevant since the shape of the plasma has links to the performance of the reactor. The TCV was set up in November 1992.

Triple-alpha process

The triple-alpha process is a set of nuclear fusion reactions by which three helium-4 nuclei (alpha particles) are transformed into carbon.

Tritium

Tritium ( or ) or hydrogen-3 is a rare and radioactive isotope of hydrogen, with symbol T or 3H. The nucleus of tritium (sometimes called a triton) contains one proton and two neutrons, whereas the nucleus of the common isotope hydrogen-1 ("protium") contains just one proton, and that of hydrogen-2 ("deuterium") contains one proton and one neutron.

Naturally occurring tritium is extremely rare on Earth. The atmosphere has only trace amounts, formed by the interaction of its gases with cosmic rays. It can be produced by irradiating lithium metal or lithium-bearing ceramic pebbles in a nuclear reactor.

Tritium is used as a radioactive tracer, in radioluminescent light sources for watches and instruments, and, along with deuterium, as a fuel for nuclear fusion reactions with applications in energy generation and weapons.

The name of this isotope is derived from Greek τρίτος (trítos), meaning "third".

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