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New experiments in energy generation

New experiments in energy generation

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,  California, USA

Fresh news from the world of science says that scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States have successfully completed an experiment that could mark a breakthrough in generating relatively safe and inexpensive energy. Using nuclear fusion technology, they have produced energy in an economic manner. Nuclear fusion consists in bringing together two smaller atoms, such as hydrogen, to form a larger atom simultaneously producing a greater flow of energy. Fusion is a phenomenon that happens in all stars including the Sun. However, it is not that easy because if we want to produce energy through fusion, we have to set up conditions similar to those of the Sun in laboratories or reactors. Not only is it expensive, but only a small fraction of the energy put into the fusion process is recovered. And that is what was made possible by the scientific team at the aforementioned research institute. They recovered more than fifty percent of the energy expended in the fusion process. This is a major leap forward in the field of nuclear fusion technology. The successful test conducted under the US Department of Atomic Energy is of great significance in the present scenario where global warming and climate change are threatening the existence of the earth and traditional energy sources are making this situation more scary.

Various studies show that the total energy consumption of the world has increased by nearly 200 percent in the last five decades. On the one hand, the energy sources we have been using for ages are drying up. Alternative energy sources are not at the point where we can fully trust and depend on them. Considered as the most important alternative energy sources, solar and wind energy are only possible under favorable weather conditions and are therefore not completely dependable. On the other hand, the major environmental crises created by conventionally used fossil fuels are becoming increasingly complex. The terrible reality of global warming is staring at us as a result of excessive use of such energy sources. Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions from these energy sources is the way forward as viewed as much by the scientific community as global political leadership to combat global warming. For a long time, there has been an attempt to find a solution to the energy crisis by using nuclear fuels instead of fossil fuels. As a part of this, nuclear reactors were built in various parts of the world including India. However, today we know how hazardous these reactors based on nuclear fission technology are. Examples abound in front of us including Chernobyl. Decommissioning the reactor does not end the danger it poses. Not only that, there are other dangers that nuclear waste creates in the sea and on land. These problems are absent when energy is produced through nuclear fusion technology.

Unlike in fission, the main fuel used is naturally available atoms such as hydrogen. And in this nuclear waste is negligible. It is in this context that experiments for fusion energy become relevant. The world of science has advanced considerably in this field in the last quarter of a century. Research institutes in Britain, Germany and China have already passed a similar test of success. It is also heard that the work of a fusion reactor (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor - ITER) based in Saint Paul, France will go on stream in two years under a consortium of countries including India.

In short, if fusion technology becomes a reality in its fullest sense, it has the potential to offer a permanent solution to Earth's energy crisis. However, the perfect form of fusion technology that the scientific world dreams of is not so easily achieved, and will take many more years to become a reality. An experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory was able to generate just three megajoules (a joule is the unit of energy) of energy in a few seconds of activity; and that too after putting in two megajoules there. A laboratory in Britain produced 59 megajoules of energy when it ran for five seconds. But even to run it for such a short time huge technical facilities are required. This means that we cannot find a solution to the energy crisis with the current systems and facilities alone. Even as it remains a great expectation. some problems remain. True, scientific and technological systems are ultimately a big help to the advancement of mankind, but their misuse can lead to far-reaching consequences. This risk applies to these experiments too. One of them is that the capability for current fusion technology can be used to make highly destructive nuclear weapons too. Therefore, beyond the efficiency and accuracy of the technology, the ethics of those who control it will also be a crucial facto to be considered.

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TAGS:Nuclear fusion new form of energy fossil fuels solar energy constraints atomic energy by fission risks Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory greenhouse gases 
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