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Fusion energy breakthrough by US scientists boosts clean power hopes

GS Paper 3

Syllabus: Awareness in the fields of IT, Space, Computers, robotics, Nano-technology, biotechnology, and issues relating to intellectual property rights.


Source: Financial Times, The Hindu

 Direction: Nuclear Fusion technology is quite important for both prelims and mains. Go through the article to understand the difference between fission and fusion technology.

 Context: US government scientists have made a breakthrough in the pursuit of limitless, zero-carbon power by achieving a net energy gain in a fusion reaction for the first time.


About Nuclear Fusion:

  • Nuclear fusion is the process by which two light atomic nuclei combine to form a single heavier one while releasing massive amounts of energy.
  • It is the opposite of nuclear fission, where heavy atoms are split apart
  • Nuclear fusion is described as the “holy grail” of energy production. It is the process that powers the Sun and other stars
  • Fusion reactions take place in a state of matter called plasma — a hot, charged gas made of positive ions and free-moving electrons with unique properties distinct from solids, liquids, or gases.


Why is nuclear fusion so important?

  • Nuclear fission reactors used currently produce a lot of radioactive waste, which can be dangerous and must be stored safely – potentially for hundreds of years whereas the waste produced by nuclear fusion is less radioactive and decays much more quickly
  • Nuclear fusion doesn’t need fossil fuels like oil or gas
  • It also doesn’t generate greenhouse gases
  • Most fusion experiments use hydrogen, which can be extracted cheaply from seawater and lithium, i.e., fuel supplies could last for millions of years
  • Fusion could generate four times more energy per kilogram of fuel than fission (used in nuclear power plants) and nearly four million times more energy than burning oil or coal



The US Experiment on Nuclear Fusion:



Challenges with Nuclear Fusion:

  • It has been particularly difficult to obtain high enough plasma densities, temperatures, and energy confinement times simultaneously for a reactor to approach ignition conditions.
  • Forcing and keeping the elements together in fusion requires very high temperatures and pressures.


Evolution of Nuclear Fusion Study:

  • The IAEA has been at the core of international fusion research. The IAEA launched the Nuclear Fusion journal in 1960 to exchange information about advances in nuclear fusion, and it is now considered the leading periodical in the field.
  • The world’s largest international fusion facility, ITER was established in 2007 in France, to demonstrate the scientific and technological feasibility of fusion energy production.


Insta Links:


Mains Link:

Q. With growing energy needs, should India keep on expanding its nuclear energy programme? Discuss the facts and fears associated with nuclear energy. (UPSC- 2018)


Prelims Link: (UPSC – 2020)

Q2. In India, why are some nuclear reactors kept under “IAEA Safeguards” while others are not?

(a) Some use uranium and others use thorium

(b) Some use imported uranium and others use domestic supplies

(c) Some are operated by foreign enterprises and others are operated by domestic enterprises

(d) Some are State-owned and others are privately-owned