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Nuclear fusion is a reaction in which atoms are combined to form larger atomic nuclei or subatomic particles. These atoms overcome the electrical resistance which keeps them apart. They get close enough to activate a force known as the strong nuclear force. This strong nuclear force allows the atoms to be held or fused together. When two atomic nuclei fuse, they form a larger atomic nucleus. This larger atomic nucleus may be considered a completely different element.
In the reaction, the atoms being combined are the reactants. The atomic nuclei formed may be considered the products of the nuclear fusion reaction. In order to make atoms fuse together, large amounts of heat and pressure are needed. When atoms are combined in a nuclear fusion reaction, some of the mass is lost in the reaction. This difference in masses between the reactants and products in the reaction is released as energy. This is described by Einstein’s equation, E = mc2. Here, the energy (E) released is equal to the change in mass (m) times the square of the speed of light (c) squared.
It should be noted that nuclear fusion is different from nuclear fission. In nuclear fission, a heavier atom splits to form smaller, lighter atoms. Einstein’s equation is valid for nuclear fission as well. In the process of nuclear fission, a small amount of mass is converted into a large amount of energy. Nuclear fission is the process used to date in nuclear power plants.
Since the 1950s, scientists had been trying to find a way to make the nuclear fusion reaction self-sustaining. This means that the energy released would be used to further the nuclear fusion reaction. On December 13, 2022, the U.S. Department of Energy said that scientists finally made a major discovery in the process after decades. The finding, known as “fusion ignition,” produces more energy than the energy which is being used to maintain the nuclear fusion reaction. Thus, the fusion reaction occurred through the energy which it produced on its own! This discovery was made by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. As of now, scientists believe that nuclear fusion will not be made easily available for at least a few decades. However, this discovery is certainly a major step in the field of nuclear fusion energy.
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