Professor Heinrich Hora

Nuclear fusion can change everything we know about energy and its limitations, but for the moment it isn’t possible to produce it on a large scale because of various issues arising from the high temperatures it can exist at.

Still, an Australian team of scientists from the University of New South Wales, led by Emeritus Professor Heinrich Hora, from the Department of Theoretical Physics, seems to have discovered the recipe for making nuclear fusion possible without the high-temperature hassle and without the fear that it would produce harmful nuclear residues.

Their solution uses hydrogen and boron-11, opposed to the deuterium-tritium version, tried by the National Ignition Facility at the LLNL. At first, Hora rejected the idea of hydrogen+boron, because it seemed almost impossible to implement (100,000 times more difficult than LLNL’s experiment), but after studying computer simulations, he discovered that it was only 10 times more difficult.

The scientists made use of a newly-developed petawatt laser (1015 watts) to ignite the hydrogen-boron mix, without the extreme temperatures normally linked to the process of nuclear fusion.

“The key is a very carefully controlled extremely short laser pulse essential for ignition. The pulse would ignite a fuel made of ordinary hydrogen and boron-11,” Professor Hora said.

“The idea of a hydrogen and boron fusion reaction is interesting because it wouldn’t cause neutron production. Neutrons are a problem because they generate radioactivity[…] It makes this all within the reach of current technology in a relatively short time. In fact these types of lasers are already in early testing at the Los Alamos National Laboratory.”

Hora also said that all the radioactive emissions produced by this method would be fewer than those produced by coal-burning power plants, in which coal contains “trace amounts of uranium”.

Also, he says that unlike deuterium-tritium, the hydrogen-boron mixture does not have to be compressed, needing far less energy to start the ignition. And even if it had to be compressed, that wouldn’t had been a problem, compared to the huge energy output nuclear fusion has.

Professor Hora and his team have a long way to go until practically demonstrating their nuclear reactor. For the moment, though, their theories promise a lot.

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