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The Possibilities of Fusion Energy

Author: Patrick Lin

Editors: Shannan Tan and Kira Tian

Artist: Abhinaya Vijayanand

Nuclear fusion is a process where energy is generated by combining two nuclei of atoms to form a larger nucleus; fusion reactors are the devices created to harness the power of the fusion reaction energy. Fusion research was initially done by the U.S. and Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); nowadays, fusion research is done by a handful of countries in an international effort, due to the high cost and complexity of the devices needed to create the fusion reactions.

The sun and other stars generate energy using fusion reactions: hydrogen atoms are fused together into helium. The hydrogen is first heated to an extremely high temperature so that the hydrogen gas can turn into plasma, in which negatively charged electrons of the atom separate from the positively charged nucleus. The hydrogen nuclei are then forcefully pulled together from repulsive forces coming from the positive nucleus. When the nuclei are close enough, the attractive nuclear forces that bind protons and neutrons together outweigh the repulsive forces, allowing the nuclei to fuse together, creating helium. This is possible because the sheer mass of stars creates a powerful enough gravitational force that allows fusion to take place.