Clean Energy Problem Solved?

For decades the world has battled with a solution to the ever-growing global warming crisis. By burning coal, oil, and other sources of fuel, the world has produced so much Carbon Dioxide in Carbon emissions that it has formed a barrier in the atmosphere that traps the Earth’s heat once it gets to Earth, thus warming up our planet. This is also known as the Greenhouse Effect. On December 2, 1942, we thought this problem was solved when physicist Enrico Fermi created the first sustained nuclear fission reaction. By the 1950’s and 60’s, nuclear power plants began sprouting up all over the place. These plants produced little to no Carbon emissions, unlike its predecessors. However, there was one major catch to this too-good-to-be-true source of energy. These power plants produce radioactive waste, which leaks radiation into the environment and lasts for upwards of 10,000 years. Storing this waste is both costly and inefficient, as most methods consist of stowing the waste away in concrete cylinders buried within mountains and under the Earth. This has made nuclear energy the topic of heated debate for years. But, nuclear fission was only one way of producing energy. Nuclear fusion, the very same reaction that gives the sun its energy, was believed to be a much cleaner alternative to nuclear fission as it did not produce any harmful radioactive waste, only Helium gas. Nuclear fusion would also be much cheaper than fission to use because it requires Hydrogen atoms rather than Uranium atoms. There was one problem though, in order to achieve nuclear fusion you need to jump start it first. To do this, you need to produce an energy level equivalent to that produced by the sun. This has made nuclear fusion energy nearly impossible to attain… Or at least it was until December 10 of last week. A German attempt at a nuclear fusion reactor, known as the Wendelstein 7-X rumbled to life and was able to produce and sustain for a short time its first plasma – a major proof that the machine is doing what it was intended to do.Currently, the Wendelstein 7-X is only doing test runs, but it plans on being fully ready by early 2016. Hopefully this latest advancement in clean energy will become what we hope it will become and lead to a world where we could put an end to global warming, or at least stop making it worse.

Wendelstein 7-X
An image showing the construction of the Wendelstein 7-X Stellarator. Photo by Gwurden

 

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