Scientists can no longer replicate self-sustaining nuclear fusion; know the reason

In August 2021, scientists achieved a real feat: to reproduce a self-perpetuating nuclear fusion, in the laboratory. After decades of research, the first successful ignition of a nuclear fusion reaction was possible. However, researchers are no longer able to reproduce this great feat.

“Self-sustaining” nuclear fusion is a process that occurs naturally in nature. The Sun, for example, generates energy from this process, when two atoms combine and generate a new heavier element, in this case, two fused hydrogen atoms create helium.

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However, it is very difficult to replicate this reaction here on Earth, as there are several variables involved in this achievement. Finding a high-energy environment capable of sustaining this process is a huge challenge. Not to mention that the process itself also releases an immense amount of energy. Furthermore, in artificial environments on Earth, heat and energy tend to escape through cooling mechanisms, in the form of radiation and heat conduction.

One of the ways to guarantee that the procedure adopted by the scientists worked is when they reach a level called “ignition”, it is he who ensures that all the energy released is consumed by the reaction again. Generally, this level is reached in extremely intense environments.

Small details prevented self-sustaining merger

Plasma physicist Jeremy Chittenden of Imperial College London believes that in the last four failed attempts to try to reproduce the reaction, researchers have missed points that are extremely difficult to detect but crucial for the system to endure. “If you start from a microscopically worse starting point, that translates into a much bigger difference in the final energy yield,” he explains.

At this point, the team wants to determine what exactly is needed to achieve ignition and how to make the experiment more resistant to small errors, such as those that are limiting the reaction’s performance. Without this knowledge, it will be impossible to scale projects that aim to create nuclear fusion reactors that can feed cities, which is the ultimate goal of this type of research.

Via: Science Alert

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