Fusion Power Explained – Future or Failure


The fundamental currency of our universe is energy. It lights our homes, grows our food,
powers our computers. We can get it lots of ways: Burning fossil fuels, splitting atoms, or sunlight striking photovoltaics. But there’s a downside to everything Fossil fuels are extremely toxic, Nuclear waste is… well, nuclear waste, And, there are not enough batteries to store sunlight for cloudy days yet. And yet the sun seems to have virtually limitless free energy. Is there a way we could build a sun on Earth? Can we bottle a star? [Intro Jingle] The sun shines because of nuclear fusion. In a nutshell, fusion is a thermonuclear process. Meaning that the ingredients have to be incredibly hot. So hot, that the atoms are stripped of their electrons Making a plasma where nuclei and electrons bounce around freely. Since nuclei are all positively charged, They repel each other. In order to overcome this repulsion, The particles have to be going very, very fast In this context, very fast means “very hot” Millions of degrees Stars cheat to reach these temperatures. They are so massive, that the pressure in their cores Generates the heat to squeeze the nuclei together Until they merge and fuse Creating heavier nuclei and releasing energy in the process. It is this energy release that scientists hope to harness In a new generation of power plant, The fusion reactor. On earth it’s not feasible to use this brute force method to create fusion. So if we wanted to build a reactor that generates energy from fusion, We have to get clever. To date, scientists have invented two ways of making plasmas hot enough to fuse: The first type of reactor uses a magnetic field to Squeeze a plasma in a doughnut shaped chamber Where the reactions take place. These magnetic confinement reactors Such as the I.T.E.R. reactor in France, Use superconducting electromagnets cooled with liquid helium To within a few degrees of absolute zero. Meaning that they host some of the biggest temperature gradients in the known universe. The second type called “Inertial confinement” Uses pulses from super-powered lasers To heat the surface of a pellet of fuel Imploding it, briefly making the fuel hot and dense enough to fuse. In fact, one of the of the most powerful lasers in the world Is used for fusion experiments At the National Ignition Facility in the U.S. These experiments and others like them around the world are today, just experiments. Scientists are still developing the technology, And although they can achieve fusion, Right now, it costs more energy to do the experiment Then they produce in fusion. The technology has a long way to go before it’s commercially viable, and maybe it never will be. It might just be impossible to make a viable fusion reactor on earth, But if it gets there, it will be so efficient That a single glass of sea water, could be used to produce as much energy as burning a barrel of oil, with no waste to speak of. This is because fusion reactors
would use hydrogen or helium as fuel And sea water is loaded with hydrogen But not just any hydrogen will do. Specific isotopes with extra neutrons called Deuterium and Tritium Are needed to make the right reactions. Deuterium is stable and can be found in abundance in sea water, Though Tritium is a bit trickier. It’s radioactive And there may only be 20 kilograms of it in the world Mostly in nuclear warheads Which makes it incredibly expensive. So we made need another fusion buddy for Deuterium instead of Tritium. Helium-3, an isotope of Helium,
might be a great substitute. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly rare on earth. But here, the moon might have the answer. Over billions of years, the solar wind may have built up huge deposits Of Helium-3 on the moon. Instead of making Helium-3, we can mine it. If we could sift the lunar dust for helium, We’d have enough fuel to power the entire world for thousands of years. One more argument for establishing a moon base, if you weren’t convinced already. Ok, maybe you think building a mini sun Still sound kind of dangerous But they’d actually be much safer
than most other types of powerplants A fusion reactor is not like a nuclear plant, Which can melt down catastrophically. If the confinement failed, then the plasma would expand and cool, And the reaction would stop. Put simply, it’s not a bomb. The release of radioactive fuel, like Tritium, Could pose a threat to the environment. Tritium could bond with oxygen making radioactive water, Which could be dangerous as it seeps into the environment. Fortunately, there’s no more than a few grams in use at a given time, So a leak would be quickly diluted. So we’ve just told you that theres nearly unlimited energy to be had At no expense to the environment In something as simple as water. So, whats the catch? Cost. We simply don’t know if fusion power will ever be commercially viable. Even if they work, they might be too expensive to ever build. The main drawback, is that it’s unproven technology Its a 10 billion dollar gamble And that money might be better
spent on other clean energy That’s already proven itself. Maybe we should cut out losses Or maybe, when the payoff is unlimited
clean energy for everyone, It might be worth the risk. Videos like this one take hundreds of hours to make and are made possible by your contributions on patreon.com If you want to learn more about global energy, Here’s a playlist about nuclear energy, fracking and solar power. Let us know in the comments if there are other technologies you want us to explain.

100 thoughts on “Fusion Power Explained – Future or Failure

  1. Now we have a choice to make: build a Dyson Swarm and the collecting/beaming stations and receivers. Or to build a fusion reactor.

  2. We actually used fusion in the hydrogen bomb, the second a-bomb that the USA dropped on Japan at the end of WW2.

  3. Nobody:

    2142: Buy now! Sun in a bottle, packed with a dyson sphere! Available for only 9999,99$! (free wifi)

  4. Going to the Moon to mine He3? May as well collect unlimited solar energy from the sun while you're out there anyway.

    Our sun blasts out 10 TRILLION times more energy than humanity currently uses. We don't need all of it. A percent, of a percent, of a percent of it would still be millions of times more energy than we're using right now. And our sun has at least 5 billion years left on its clock, near enough to forever from our perspective to be forever.

    Space-based solar power has none of the terrestrial drawbacks. No weather, no day/night. No environmental impacts since there's no life to interfere with out there. No gravity so no expensive support structures, just something to keep the collectors pointed the right way. If you're already mining the Moon for He3 you could spend a moment to collect vastly more abundant silicon used for photovoltaics.

  5. damn i didn't realize that the moon was helium rich i thought it was just a piece of rock lmao

    so maybe that's why the chinese want to set their foot in there

  6. Too much energy is lost in a torus to sustain fusion. A sphere is better. Search for "spherical electromagnet" if you want to see a better design. It should be the first thing that pops up. Look at figure 1. You will know it when you see it – it's my icon that you see to the left. In this design the plasma is rotated like the armature of a motor with the axis of rotation constantly changing. The counter emf inside the plasma compresses it toward the center.

  7. You said that stars are cheating to make fusion by making a high preasure inside so it can fuse easily then lets make a hi preasure cell with lassers and make plasma!

  8. Look at the computer at 0:09 there is a computer inside the computer that has a computer inside the computer:p

  9. 지금 원자로 돌리는거에서 물 쓰는거 바다에 버리지 말고 모아둬서 쓰면 안되나 거기에는 이중수소(D)랑 삼중수소(T) 더 많을텐데

  10. All the wealth of the capitalist class should be expropriated and diverted to nuclear fusion and moon bases. Bezos gets the wall. 😊

  11. The only reasonable solution to our energy problem is a mix of fission and hydro now and fusion in the future.
    But sadly all our politicians are too stupid and/or too biased for such an easy and rational decision..

  12. 0:00
    This is just so adorable
    Come on the earth pushing the moon on a cart
    That Hass to be one of the cutest things.

  13. Yes I know. 2016 but Inertial Confinement Reactor is in Minecraft Mekanism Mod. You need D-T fuel, Tritium and Deuterium. Also you need Hohlraum to ignite the reactor. And you need to charge up a big laser. (Charging up that laser takes so much time. Trust me. :D) You can watch some videos about Mekanism Fusion Reactor on YouTube

  14. Solar batteries is more harmful for nature than nuke plant becose it needs to be changed very often and it requires more energy to make one solar battery than you get energy of them it is money fashing thing. Wind mills are harmful for insect population its just like out cars we kill billions of insects every single day. So the best way in all categories to get energy is nuke plants and fusion energy.

  15. When u said its free, i doubt the politicians and capitalist had the same idea. More money for them I guess

  16. I'm a little put off by how common it is in essentially every science video that brings it up, to characterize a nuclear reactor failure as "a bomb", especially when the people making these videos obviously know better. A nuclear reactor's failure runs a similar course as you mentioned for the fusion reactor, it runs away, the water boils off, and having lost the water used as a moderator, the reaction shuts down. Yes, overheated fuel can melt down and potentially escape containment, just as with the other. It does not explode. There can be explosions secondary to the meltdown, like the hydrogen gas explosions at Fukushima, or steam explosions from the rapid boil-off of water around the core. But not nuclear explosions. Anyway…point taken that it is still a messier event than a fusion reactor mishap, I just don't like re-enforcing the misconceptions people already have about nuclear power plants. Love the videos though, thanks!

  17. I love the animation and knowledge put into the videos you can really see how much fun the have on both ends

    A: being the dragon ball reference
    B: decently long and in depth about something that haven’t happened yet that we know of……

  18. Not good option to use water as fuel….even water is limited and EVERY life depends on it. Eventually water will be exhausted in decades of tremendous use.

  19. fusion power is so complicated and stucked. I think we will be able to use dark energy as a power source way before fusion power become fesible

  20. Bullshit there is nothing such as clean energy in the first place and renewable require storage, transportation, metal extraction…. Nuclear energy is the most reliable we have if we want to avoid C02 emissions… This ending is misleading.

  21. I know this is an older video and i do hope this comment is seen at some point, what would happen if the fundamental force of gravity is turned off throughout the universe everywhere at once??

  22. I think it would be a better idea to take power from the sun like thousands of solar panels going around the sun there no cloudy days on the sun

  23. Some additional questions to this, maybe this video could be upgraded to version 2.
    – Wasn't there some recent breakthrough on that this year (2019) which changed the equation somewhat?
    – If it works, is water consumed fully or only the Deuterium in seawater? Maybe filtered out? Is the fuel (water) lost or only the Deuterium in it?
    – Could fusion reactors later also be used for waste disposal especially for radioactive waste from nuclear reactors and hazzardous chemical waste? If yes having at least one could offset the costs and good for the environment world-wide.
    – As I understand it suns are able to create every kind of matter from the created Helium-atoms by combining them to larger atoms when the Sun "dies". Would it be possible with Fusion reactors to do this as well maybe in a later version? Or is this a sun-/supernova-only feature?

  24. The technology to harness a star's energy will either come before, or at the same time as the technology to create one. Solar power is only an issue here on earth, it's unlimited in space.

  25. Would this be the best form of energy to use on earth? I mean it seems to me that its clean and makes infinite energy which would help developing countries exponentially just by putting 1 reactor in each one. This seems like all our energy problems would be solved with this. 10 billion is pretty small in the grand scheme of things tbh. Why don’t we just bite the bullet?

  26. Trust me it won’t be unlimited energy for everyone, someone will take control of it and force others to pay for it. At least in America that’s how it would go.

  27. you can use trees as solar collection units, they aid in powering our bodys by producing oxygen, a system to collect wood gasburn the biomass and capture the byproducts and use the heat from them

  28. Tritium would allow your sun or power to last longer not stable you need a combo binder for stability

    Helium-3 is more stable but does not last as long

  29. Your videos give people innovative ideas and futuristic ideas which could lead mankind ahead . Sort of topped up with gr8 inventions

  30. Hey there Kurzgesagt!
    I'm writing this on the behalf of my team, but simply enough i want to use some parts of your video (Screenshotted) for my presentation.
    I'll be crediting you heavily for this, Thank you!

  31. "commercially viable" that shouldn't be a reason. With the growing demand for energy and absolute necessity to go green governments should be responsible for filling the need for energy. Taxes are being used for all kinds of stupid military shit, dead end projects and red tape, so paying for clean reliable energy should not be an issue.

  32. How about a joint space station where we have multiple nuclear reactors in space it won't harmony body will be very expensive sadly but will get lots of energy from it in other words I'm just speaking about a ginormous where we get to refill rockets with nuclear for nuclear rockets new rocket coming up from to the station filling up the ship with nuclear it would be expensive I know trust me I seen other things happen I never on different for my first thousands of years spending here on this lol I'm not a name being I'm a human who is really hungry at the moment I'm waiting till I can eat we are not your normal human I'm from a different universe were we have the giants if multiple nuclear funny what is interesting of how many nuclear reactors we have we have about a million nuclearAnna all perfectly safe and now for people to go in and out of the and I work there I am a repair Crewe I fix broken ships is a little bit dangerous if you don't know what you're doing I know what to do are we also measure background radiation was completely and don't ask me how I managed to get here I have no idea to how I got here the last thing I remembered was on a nuclear reactors failed and then I think they might have worked my memory cos my photo pillow I've been putting into a ship innocent here right goodbye for now about swim I see eachother again in a thousand years Wilko thousand years from now would be the year 3019 and I can't exactly what happens in a thousand years but yeah so this is goodbye for now do you think I should call somebody from my time a rescue mission basically right yes or no

  33. It is much more than 10 billion dollar gamble. And btw, how do you imagine we will "mine" this Helium-3 on the Moon? Don't get me wrong, I am a big fan of thermonuclear fusion, but this "mining" on the Moon is a problem, gently said.

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