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Understanding Thermonuclear Fusion


The sun is so bright and hot. How much energy per second does it actually give out? How many litres of water can it boil? What does it use for fuel? Probably not coal or oil!

Someone has calculated that if the sun uses these kinds of chemical fuel, it can only burn for a few thousands years. Even by gravitational collapse, in which gravitational potential energy is changed into heat energy that radiates out, with the present radius and the total luminosity taken into account, the sun is only 100 million years old. But the earth is not that young!

What maintains the brightness and heat of the sun is nothing else but thermonuclear fusion.

Let’s understand thermonuclear fusion in a simpler way.

That moment when you are discouraged badly by your adversary, so bad that you give them a high five on the face with a chair (inside your head, obviously).


This is what we call a thermonuclear reaction.

In technical terms, thermonuclear reaction occurs when matter is forced to exist only in a plasma state, consisting of electrons, positive ions and very few neutral atoms. Such a reaction is not self-sustaining because the released energy is not readily imparted to other nuclei.

Now let me tell you the story of the city, Manhatom. Manhatom was a completely peaceful city. The peace of Manhatom was maintained by its two gifted beings, Dee and Tee. Dee had the power of telekinesis (you know, like Jean Grey) while Tee had the power to move, think and react at the speed of light (just like our very own Flash). One fine day, Manhatom was attacked by Burpasaur, an evil monster who burped heat rays. These heat rays made the temperature of Manhatom extremely high. Such high temperature was killing the people. People called Dee and Tee for their rescue. Dee lifted Burpasaur in the air while Tee ran round him creating a tornado. This tornado carried Burpasaur away from Manhatom. And the city of Manhatom was saved.


Graphic Design Credits: Abhinav Jain

Now you must be wondering why on Earth I am telling you this story. Whatever happened in the story is exactly what happens during a Thermonuclear Fusion.

Technically, in a thermonuclear fusion, deuterium and tritium fuse at an exceptionally high temperature which produces a helium nucleus and an energetic neutron.



The sun and the stars are examples of thermonuclear fusion in nature.

A good thing about thermonuclear plasma is that a certain type of plasma called Tokamak Plasma can be heated to temperatures 10-15 million K by the current flowing in the plasma. If scientists find a way to use it in the kitchen, you’ll be able to broil a chicken in half a second.


Now let us come to the most interesting part of a nuclear fusion- the bomb. A thermonuclear or a hydrogen bomb is a weapon whose enormous explosive power results from an uncontrolled, self-sustaining chain reaction in which isotopes of hydrogen combine under extremely high temperatures to form helium after nuclear fusion.


The only drawback being faced by nuclear fusion is that it is confined to laboratories. If nuclear fusion becomes a practical power source, it would provide an inexhaustible supply of energy, without pollution or global warming.

An initiative to make nuclear fusion as the practical power supply is taken by the collaboration of China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States. This project is called ITER.




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