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Elementary Science Education

Nuclear Fusion Power — Hydrogen fusion

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      Bernard Nebel

      In the 1930s, scientists unraveled the source of the sun’s energy. The sun and other stars are basically huge masses of hydrogen. Under the huge pressure and resulting many million degree temperature produced by gravity of the huge mass, the single protons (hydrogen nucleuses) are smooshed together and form pairs—nuclei of helium atoms with a loss of some mass that is converted into energy (E=MC2). 

      Hydrogen is abundant on earth as well—every water molecule is two thirds hydrogen. If the sun’s reaction can be duplicated on earth, the theory goes, we would have an everlasting source of energy with no dangerous waste products—helium is nontoxic and would float off into space. 

      As the following videos show, duplicating sun’s reaction on earth is no easy task, but attempts are underway. Necessary in understanding the videos.

      1. The temperatures required/produced would melt and destroy any known material used for a container.  Therefore, containing the hydrogen protons in a magnetic field (magnetic containment) is employed.
      2. To make the fusion slightly less difficult, isotopes of hydrogen are used: Deuterium has one neutron in addition to the proton in the nucleus. Tritium has two neutrons in addition to the proton in the nucleus.
      3. Note that huge amounts of energy are needed to run the electromagnets of the containment system. The breakeven point is a point at which the machine produces more energy that it consumes. 

      With this information and viewing the videos, have kids discuss whether they think fusion power (1.) will solve the climate crisis, (2) will ever be a viable (economic) means of producing power. Note that fusion power is still not a means of producing electrical power; it is a means of boiling water to produce steam to drive conventional turbogenerators.



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