September 2012: The Clean Future

The Dark Knight rises to protect Gotham city in America. Batman, the DC Comics character is no stranger to any of us. This superhero film directed by Christopher Nolan is the second-highest grossing film of 2012. In the film, Wayne Enterprises owned by Bruce Wayne invested in a clean energy project. The company aimed to harness energy generated by nuclear fusion. However, they tried desperately to shut down the power plant after discovering the core could be used as a weapon, a nuclear bomb, an explosive device that provides an extremely sudden and violent release of energy due to exothermic reactions.

A fusion reaction occurs when two atomic nuclei fuse together to form a heavier nucleus. Energy is released due to a strong nuclear force. Our sources of natural fuel to generate power are decreasing as our need continues to rise. The concern with utilising a nuclear power plant is leakage of uncontrolled radiation into the environment. Radiation can cause harm to humans such as premature aging and even death. The recent Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in Japan caused by the tsunami in March 2011 caught worldwide attention. What if fusion power could be clean without the release of radiation meaning no radioactive material is emitted?

An article published in 2010 in the journal Energy and Environmental Science described a method of generating power using fusion with minimal radioactive emissions, at a rate even lower than that released by current coal-burning power stations. Researchers explored extracting the energy released from fusion by binding hydrogen and boron-11. The only waste generated was clean helium gas without radioactivity. Using hydrogen and boron-11 as fuel required much less energy to start the ignition.

Nuclear fusion, the process that powers the sun may solve our high demand for energy. It will be very fascinating to see whether fusion reaction can be used to generate power towards a clean future.

 

By Vicki Cheng