The race to recreate nuclear fusion has hotted up significantly, following a revolutionary breakthrough by US-based scientists.
Physicists at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), in California, have just announced that they’ve successfully overcome a major barrier in the artificial production of ‘nuclear fusion’ – the process that powers the Sun and other stars in our Galaxy.
For the very first time in a fusion experiment, more energy was produced that was put in – enough to power around 20 kettles. And, whilst that figure may seem pretty insignificant, what it could herald for the future of our planet is colossal… the promise of a fusion-powered future.
As nuclear fusion doesn’t rely on fossil fuels like oil or gas, it produces none of the harmful greenhouse gases that contribute so heavily to global warming. Often described by scientists as the “holy grail” of energy production, nuclear fusion also doesn’t depend on favourable weather conditions. Instead, it uses – and fuses – two of the Earth’s most abundant materials: lithium and hydrogen, which can be extracted inexpensively from seawater. This means that fuel supplies could foreseeably last for millions of years.
So, how does nuclear fusion work?
Nuclear fusion is a process that could potentially deliver an almost limitless supply of fossil-free energy, in the relatively near future.
It works by taking pairs of light atoms and fusing them together, using a powerful 192-beam laser which can achieve a temperature of 100 million degrees celsius – hotter than the centre of the Sun. This “fusion” releases the energy.
Nuclear fusion is the exact opposite of nuclear fission – the technology currently used by nuclear power stations worldwide – where heavy atoms are split apart. This process produces a lot of waste that continues to give out radiation for a long time (potentially hundreds of years) and, as we all know, can be extremely dangerous if not stored safely.
Fusion creates far more energy than fission, and results in only small amounts of short-lived radioactive waste. Crucially, from an environmental standpoint, nuclear fusion produces no greenhouse gas emissions, which trap the Sun’s heat. Therefore, it does not contribute to climate change.
But one of the challenges is that forcing and keeping the elements together in fusion requires very high temperatures and pressures. Until now, no experiment has managed to produce more energy than the amount put in to make it work. That’s what makes the recent LLNL experiment such a game changer.
How close is a fusion-powered future?
Widescale use of nuclear fusion could help countries meet their targets to produce “net zero” emissions by 2050. However, it will be many years before this recent experimental success can be meaningfully scaled up in order to power homes and businesses.
What the scientists working at the LLNL have done, however, is prove conclusively that the process works. Before it can be scaled up, the process needs to be repeated, perfected and the amount of energy it generates will have to be significantly boosted. Nuclear fusion certainly isn’t a cheap fix when it comes to climate change, but the promise of a clean, potentially inexhaustible source of energy is, undoubtedly, a huge incentive moving forward.
Turner & Coates – working towards a cleaner, greener tomorrow
As one of the most experienced and trusted Quality Management specialists serving global industry, Turner & Coates combines unparalleled customer service with a wealth of proven assessment and auditing expertise, across a broad range of internationally recognised and applied standards. These include ISO 14001.
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Part of the ISO 14000 family of Environmental Management standards, ISO 14001 exists to help companies and organisations across the globe to realise and maintain their ‘green’ missions and obligations, whilst minimising the ecological impact of their day-to-day working practices and procedures.
Similar to ISO 9000 family of Quality Management standards – in that it applies to a business as a whole rather than to the product itself – ISO 14001 helps businesses worldwide to respond positively, decisively and effectively to changing environmental conditions, in balance with pressing socio-economic needs.
The single biggest environmental management standard worldwide, ISO 14001 provides your business with a fully systematic approach to achieving responsibility and demonstrable control in this all-important area, in order to build long-term success and contribute to sustainable development.
Devised to follow the established ‘Plan-Do-Check-Act’ methodology of the ISO 9001 standard, ISO 14001 actively encourages and stimulates positive, productive communication with all parties concerned including employees, contractors, neighbours and regulatory authorities. Moreover, the basis of ISO 14001 has been used as the framework for other industry-specific standards, such as the American Chemistry Council’s Responsible Care Management System (RCMS) and RC 14001, full assessment, auditing and certification services for which are also available via Turner & Coates.
As part of our all-embracing provision in this vital and growing area of our service portfolio, we help companies to efficiently integrate their environmental management requirements into their existing management systems, rather than creating separate systems for different standards. After all, a company can only really have one management system in place; and it must incorporate all quality, environment, health, safety and financial aspects.
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