Nuclear fusion is considered as the most basic form of energy used today. It is produced by a nuclear reaction, where two atoms of similar lightweight elements (usually a hydrogen isotope) combine into one molecule of helium to release energy in the form of photons, which are visible as light. Though this technology promises abundant energy, it also has its downsides. Let us take a look at the pros and cons of nuclear fusion.
List of Pros of Nuclear Fusion
1. It is relatively cost-competitive.
Actually, the initial costs of constructing nuclear power plants are high. Aside from this, other investments are to be made for enriching and processing the fuel, controlling and getting rid of waste, and facility maintenance. However, electric generation in reactors is cheaper than that of oil, gas and coal plants, so we can say that it is cost-competitive.
2. It produces high energy density.
According to estimates, the amount of energy released in nuclear fusion is 10 million times greater than that in burning fossil fuels. Consequently, the amount of fuel needed in a nuclear plant is much smaller compared with those of other types of power-generating facilities.
3. It causes less pollution.
In terms of climate crisis, it would be more beneficial to replace other energy-harnessing processes that are being used today with nuclear fusion. Fact is, the environmental impact of this method is relatively light compared to others. However, we should still note that nuclear waste is potentially harmful to both the environment and people.
4. It can be sustainable.
By definition, energy from nuclear fusion is not renewable. However, it can become potentially sustainable by using fusion and breeder reactors. If we can learn how to control atomic fusion similarly as the sun, we can practically have unlimited energy. In this specific point in time, these reactors are still facing serious challenges to be used on a larger scale.
List of Cons of Nuclear Fusion
1. It produces radioactive waste.
Though nuclear power plants only emit negligible amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, its nuclear fuel chain processes, such as mining, enrichment and waste management, do produce radioactive waste.
2. It can cause accidents.
Radioactive waste from nuclear fusion can pose a threat to the workers and environment in the form of accidents. Taking into account the Chernobyl accident, the harmful effects of its radiation on humans can still be witnessed up to this day.
3. It requires extraordinary measures.
In stars, strong gravitational forces and high temperatures naturally create a fusion environment. But here on Earth, we are facing the challenge to make nuclear fuel hot and confined enough to start a self-sustaining ignition.
4. Its practical energy returns are still quite unreachable.
Existing methods for artificially igniting nuclear fusion still require large amounts of energy input even on a small scale for a brief moment. In fact, the world’s biggest tokamak-type fusion reactor today is studying plasma on a large scale, but is still short of the dimensions needed for a productive fusion reactor.
It is important to remember that there is no perfect energy source, and each of the available power resources in the world has its own pros and cons. So, we should weigh them down to know if our chosen energy source would do more good than bad for our society.