Nuclear reaction in which atomic nuclei combine.
Nuclear fusion is a process that powers the sun and the stars. It is the reaction in which two atoms of hydrogen combine together, or fuse, to form an atom of helium. In the process, a large amount of energy is released, which is several times the amount produced by a typical chemical reaction.
The term 'nuclear fusion' comes from the fact that the process involves the nuclei of atoms. The fusion process is in stark contrast to nuclear fission, where a heavy atomic nucleus splits into two smaller ones. While both processes release energy, the energy produced by fusion is much greater than that produced by fission.
The basic process of nuclear fusion involves two light atomic nuclei combining to form a heavier nucleus. This process is accompanied by the release or absorption of energy, depending on the masses of the nuclei involved. For lighter nuclei, such as those of hydrogen, the fusion process releases energy. For heavier nuclei, energy is absorbed.
The fusion of hydrogen nuclei (protons) to form helium is the fundamental process powering the sun and other stars. In these celestial bodies, the high temperature and pressure conditions allow nuclear fusion to occur naturally. On Earth, however, these conditions are difficult to achieve, making controlled nuclear fusion a significant scientific and engineering challenge.
Nuclear fusion has the potential to provide a nearly limitless and clean source of energy. Unlike fossil fuels, fusion does not produce greenhouse gases, and unlike fission, it does not produce long-lived radioactive waste. The fuel for fusion (hydrogen isotopes) is abundant and widely available, making fusion a promising solution for the world's energy needs.
In conclusion, nuclear fusion is a powerful process that holds the key to a potential energy revolution. It is the process that powers the stars, and if harnessed effectively, it could power our future as well. The following units will delve deeper into the importance and applications of this fascinating process.
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