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What is nuclear fusion?

Nuclear fusion is an important natural process: Many chemical elements originate from hydrogen through fusion; fusion is the energy source of the sun and stars.


Fusion in the sun ...

The sun is the basis of all life on earth: the central star contains 99.8 percent of the mass of the entire planetary system. This huge plasma ball consists mainly of hydrogen. A constant fusion fire burns in its core, where the hydrogen atomic nuclei merge into helium. The enormous energy produced in this nuclear fusion is what heats and lights the earth.


... and on earth

The goal of fusion research is to derive energy from fusion of atomic nuclei. Under terrestrial conditions it is the two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, that fuse most readily. In the process a helium nucleus is produced, this being accompanied by release of a neutron and large quantities of useful energy: One gram of fuel could generate 90,000 kilowatt-hours of energy in a power plant – the combustion heat of 11 tonnes of coal.

Fusion fuels are cheap and uniformly distributed on earth. Seawater contains deuterium in almost inexhaustible quantities. Tritium, a radioactive gas with a short half-life of 12.3 years, hardly occurs in nature. It can, however, be formed in a power plant from lithium, which is likewise abundantly available. Since, moreover, a fusion power plant will have ecologically favourable properties, fusion could make an enduring contribution to future energy supply.


 
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