Above: The Sun (seen here in ultraviolet) is the ultimate nuclear fusion reactor, but can we harness this power on Earth?
Last week, we compared the human and environmental cost of nuclear power and fossil fuels and nuclear came out as the clear winner. But nuclear power’s current means of extracting the power of the atom – nuclear fission – is still far from perfect.
To truly harness the energy locked away within the atom we need to look to the Sun.
The Sun is essentially a massive nuclear furnace but, instead of tearing atoms apart – as nuclear fission reactors do – our local star uses its massive gravitational power and million-degree heat to fuse atoms together. Fusion reactions can unleash many times more energy than nuclear fission and, instead of a mess of radioactive particles, the only byproduct is a harmless helium atom. When it comes to liberating energy, nuclear fusion makes fission look down-right clumsy.