Nearly 700 scientists from across the world have gathered in St. Petersburg, Russia to compare notes on the most elusive of scientific dreams – fusion energy.
The 25th Fusion Energy Conference is being attended by scientists from 43 countries.
Fusion is what makes the Sun and billions of stars like it burn. When two nuclei of atoms combine, an enormous amount of energy is released. For example, just a kilogram of the most basic fusion fuel can release enough energy to run a 1GW (one billion watts) electrical power station for a day. For comparison, look at India’s power generation capacity – it is about 250 GW per year.
Just 0.6 tons of fusion fuel can produce the same amount of energy as 2 million tons of coal or 1.3 million tons of oil, or even 30 tons of uranium oxide used in current nuclear power plants. So, why is this only a dream? Because, to make atomic nuclei fuse together, incredible energy is needed. Temperatures running into millions of degrees, as in the Sun, put atoms into a state called plasma, a kind of atomic soup with protons, neutrons and electrons floating around excitedly. This is when fusion starts. Once you put in the needed energy, you get many times more through a chain fusion reaction. To create such conditions on Earth, under tight control, is what the scientists have laboured for close to half a century.
Since 2006, a collaborative project called ITER is building the world’s first fusion reactor in the south of France. The participants doing the research and building various parts of the giant reactor include US, Russia, China, India, Japan,Korea and the European Union is . It is slated to be completed only by 2019, and actual fusion will start only by 2027. Construction costs are estimated at over $50 billion.