Energy – securing a safe supply for the future
Securing future energy supply is the major challenge for Europe and the world. Today’s society depends on an abundant and reliable supply of energy. But our main sources of fuel, such as oil and gas, are becoming scarcer, more expensive and are, in any case, significant sources of greenhouse gas emissions – the chief cause of global warming.
Global energy demand may double over the next 50 years as people in developing countries become wealthier. Where will we find the clean, safe and secure energy that future generations will need around the world? A balanced mix of energies, including renewable technologies such as wind power, will be necessary to satisfy future needs, but we need to develop new energy sources that can deliver continuous, large-scale power for the long term without harming the environment.
Fusion: towards an international energy solution
Fusion energy has the potential to provide a sustainable solution to European and global energy needs. Scientists are about to embark on the next step towards realising this potential in an international collaboration for an experimental fusion facility, called ITER. ITER will be the biggest scientific project for energy research in the world and is being built in Europe.
Fusion is the process that powers the Sun – it is fusion energy that makes all life on Earth possible. Unlike nuclear fission, which involves splitting very heavy atoms to release energy, fusion releases energy as a result of two light atoms such as hydrogen joining together to form a helium atom. Inside the Sun hydrogen collides and fuses together at extremely high temperatures (about 15 million ºC) and enormous gravitational pressures: 600 million tonnes of hydrogen is fused to helium every second.On Earth, fusion will be reproduced on a smaller scale than the Sun! But the smaller scale also means that the temperatures involved must be even higher (by ten times!) to make a practical energy source. This is a significant challenge and will involve scientists and engineers from all over the world.