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Nuclear fusion: the future of energy?

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Published: 3 March 2022 (GMT+10)
commons.wikimedia.org, CC BY 4.0 license. EUROfusionJET-cutaway-drawing-1980
1980s design drawing of JET

Hot off the press: The Joint European Torus (JET) nuclear fusion reactor at Culham in Oxfordshire really takes off and smashes a record in energy production.1 Over a period of five seconds it produced 59 megajoule of energy—over 11 megawatts—equivalent to boiling 60 kettles of water. This may not seem very impressive, but it is a good indication to the scientists that the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is the way forward to commercial energy production at large scale. It is not easy to get a nuclear fusion reaction to go, and even harder to sustain it for any length of time—and five seconds is a long period of time in this context! The long-term goal is to produce a lot of energy that is clean and abundantly available. In a common approach, the isotopes deuterium and tritium are needed. Approximately 1 in 5,000 hydrogen atoms in seawater is deuterium (containing a neutron in the nucleus), so no shortages there. Tritium (containing two neutrons in the nucleus) can be obtained via a process using Lithium, which may lead to a future argument among the experts about whether to use lithium to store energy in batteries, or use it to supply on-demand energy via the fusion process.

Fusion vs fission

Nuclear fusion is different from nuclear fission.

Fission is known from radioisotope decay and used in nuclear power plants all over the world. In the fission process, a large atom (e.g. uranium) breaks apart into smaller parts and the overall process is exothermal; i.e., heat is generated.

Nuclear fusion works the other way. Small atoms are smashed (fused) together, but the new mass is not equal to the sum of its parts. Instead, a little bit of mass is lost; or rather, it is converted into energy, lots of it. The energy produced is equivalent to the mass lost, according to Einstein’s famous formula E = mc2. Nuclear fusion is the process that happens inside stars, including our Sun.

Dr Joe Milnes, head of operations at the reactor lab, said, “We’ve demonstrated that we can create a mini star inside of our machine and hold it there for five seconds and get high performance, which really takes us into a new realm.”1

Create

en.wikipedia.org, CC BY 4.0 license. EUROfusionJoint-European-Torus-internal
What JET would look like when in action (the pink plasma would fill the entire vessel)

Scientists have no idea how the first stars could form naturally according to the big bang model. Although he probably was speaking colloquially when using the words “create a mini star”, it goes to show that it takes ingenuity (and power) to ‘create’ something—even a simple star.

Much intelligence over numerous years was involved in this project.2 Pre-existing matter was used, not only to form the superhot particle plasma, but also large magnets (plus cooling devices) to keep those particles in their helical orbit in the tokamak torus reactor; to name but a few examples.

Matter and energy can be converted into one another, but they cannot be destroyed or created. This is the First Law of Thermodynamics. Therefore, in the naturalistic worldview (which doesn’t allow for a supernatural Creator) matter/energy is eternal. This is the conclusion many scientists came to in the early 20th century. But contrary to this, the discovery of the redshift distance relation and the cosmic microwave background radiation caused scientists to believe the universe had a beginning (consistent with the Second Law of Thermodynamics). Many evolutionists refer to this as the big bang, Creationists point to Genesis 1:1.

Creation Ex Nihilio

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

The eternal Creator is the First Cause. He spoke “Let there be … ”, and it was so. God created from nothing, and gave His testimony described in Genesis 1. Verse 16 states “He made the stars also” (KJV), which makes it sound a bit like an afterthought. None of the kind. It was just easy for Him, just like everything else.

References and notes

  1. Amos, J., Major breakthrough on nuclear fusion energy, bbc.co.uk, 9 February 2022. Return to text.
  2. Including my uncle in the 1980s. Return to text.

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