While the concept of harnessing nuclear fusion, the process which powers the sun, for use here on Earth has long been the “Holy Grail” of energy science, it has long been too good to be true. Nuclear fusion has the potential to solve some of the world’s greatest crises: it’s several times more powerful than nuclear fission, it can be produced using only hydrogen or lithium, which means that it creates none of the hazardous radioactive waste that makes nuclear fission so infamously problematic, and it produces absolutely zero carbon emissions. But there is one problem. Despite the many, many teams of scientists that have tried, no one has yet figured out how to make nuclear fusion reproducible on a commercial scale. This has been so difficult to achieve because it’s no easy feat to artificially recreate the extreme conditions like those found in the core of the sun, where nuclear fusion occurs naturally. As explained by the United States Department of Energy, “fusion reactions are being studied by scientists, but are difficult to sustain for long periods of time because of the tremendous amount of pressure and temperature needed to join the nuclei together.” Over the past year, however, it has become easier and easier to believe that commercialized nuclear fusion will not remain out of reach for much longer. First, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), a multinational project based in Southern France, announced in July that their team is now a mere 6.5 years away from achieving “First Plasma.” Now, just this week, researchers have announced another breakthrough bringing us closer to making commercial fusion a reality.
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