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Chemistry LibreTexts

24.8: Nuclear Fusion

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  • Page ID
    53987
  • A number of reactions take place in the sum that cannot be duplicated on Earth. Some of these reactions involve the formation of large elements from smaller ones. So far, we have only been able to observe formation of very small elements here on Earth. The reaction sequence observed appears to be the following: Hydrogen-1 atoms collide to form the larger hydrogen isotopes, hydrogen-2 (deuterium) and hydrogen-3 (tritium). In the process, positrons and gamma rays are formed. The positrons will collide with any available electrons and annihilate, producing more gamma rays. In the process, tremendous amounts of energy are produced to keep us warm and continue supplying reactions.

    Nuclear Fusion

    In contrast to nuclear fission, which results in smaller isotopes being formed from larger ones, the goal of nuclear fusion is to produced larger materials from the collision of smaller atoms. The forcing of the smaller atoms together results in tighter packing and the release of energy. As seen in the figure below, energy is released in the formation of the larger atom, helium \(\left( \ce{He} \right)\) from the fusion of hydrogen-2 and hydrogen-3 as well as from the expulsion of a neutron.

    Figure 24.8.1: Nuclear fusion reaction between deuterium and tritium.

    This release of energy is what drives research on fusion reactors today. If such a reaction could be accomplished efficiently on Earth, it could provide a clean source of nuclear energy. Unlike fission reactions, nuclear fusion does not produce radioactive products that represent hazards to living systems.

    Nuclear fusion reactions in the laboratory have been extraordinarily difficult to achieve. Extremely high temperatures (in the millions of degrees) are required. Methods must be developed to force the atoms together and hold them together long enough to react. The neutrons released during the fusion reactions can interact with atoms in the reactor and convert them to radioactive materials. There has been some success in the field of nuclear fusion reactions, but the journey to feasible fusion power is still a long and uncertain one.

    Summary

    • The process of nuclear fusion is described.
    • Examples of nuclear fusion reactions are given.

    Contributors

    • CK-12 Foundation by Sharon Bewick, Richard Parsons, Therese Forsythe, Shonna Robinson, and Jean Dupon.