There are two basic kinds of nuclear power … fission and fusion. From a bomb standpoint, this is the same as “atom” vs. “hydrogen.” In thepower plant business, this is the comparison between conventionalnuclear plant (fission) and the yet to be made future of nuclear orfusion plant. In past blogs, we’ve talked about nuclear fission plantsand how messy they are. Today, we’re going to look at nuclear fusion and why this is the dream of engineers and politicians alike.
Sometimes, when we talk about solar power, we say that it’s nuclearpower and we simply put the plant 93,000,000 miles away so that the badfolks can’t mess with it. This is actually more true than not. In thiscase, the nuclear process that’s going on is fusion … the process ofsmacking two Hydrogen atoms together so hard that they stick and makeHelium. It turns out that while it takes quite a pop to get this tohappen, the Hydrogen actually prefers to stay together and actuallygives out a lot of the energy that it took to start on the way tobecoming Helium. That’s what’s going on in the Sun all day, every day,for billions of years. It really gives you some idea of how muchHydrogen is up there
So day after day, the Hydrogen is changing into Helium and sending outenergy. A big portion of this energy comes in particle/waves calledphotons. They don’t weigh anything and travel at the speed of light,which shouldn’t be so surprising because they are light. Out they comefrom the Sun as a result of this mashing of Hydrogen into Helium, andaway they go … everywhere! Top, bottom, sides, all around they go. Sometravel for billions of years and may even be seen someday from amountain top on a planet on the other side of the Universe. Some ofthose photons head out towards us. It takes just over 8 minutes to gethere (a neat thing to consider is if the Sun just disappeared, wewouldn’t know if for 8 minutes … how weird is that?) and then they crash into our planet.
For SkyPower customers, they crash into solar panels that use one ofEinstein’s tricks to make electricity, which is sort of a round trip for the energy … starting as Hydrogen floating around in space, joining tomake a star, burning to become Helium and that energy being capturedsome distance away and being used to make Hydrogen to run our cars hereon Earth. Round trip complete … Wild!
The thing is that the other kind of nuclear is more common on Earthbecause it takes less power going in to make it. Think of nuclearfission as a bunch of hills and beachball stuck at the bottom of one ofthe gullies. In order to get it to the very bottom of the hill, you’dhave to add some power to lift it over the next rise, but when you do,it goes all the way down and gives you back all that you put in plus alot more. Nuclear fusion is like mountains. It take a lot more power tolift the ball over the next mountain top, but the distance to the bottom is massive and the return on your effort is equally massive, much morethan the fission hills.
We are humans and we like things that are easy … the “low hangingfruit,” so to speak. Nuclear fission is easier and gives us plenty ofpower even though it’s dangerous and makes a deadly side product.Fusion, like the sun, is harder to do and costs more to get going, butthe payoff is … well, the payoff is the future of our civilization … ifwe get there.
Solar panels are a neat way of using the Sun’s nuclear power until the day comes that we figure out how to do it straight away.
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