Department of Energy Argonne National Laboratory Office of Science NEWTON's Homepage NEWTON's Homepage
NEWTON, Ask A Scientist!
NEWTON Home Page NEWTON Teachers Visit Our Archives Ask A Question How To Ask A Question Question of the Week Our Expert Scientists Volunteer at NEWTON! Frequently Asked Questions Referencing NEWTON About NEWTON About Ask A Scientist Education At Argonne Controlling Nuclear Fusion
Name: N/A
Status: N/A
Age: N/A
Location: N/A
Country: N/A
Date: N/A

Have you been able to control nuclear fusion yet? We heard in science class that you cannot control it yet.

Check out the internet newsgroup sci.physics.plasma for regular updates on the achievements in nuclear fusion. When you actually look into it, "controlling nuclear fusion" actually involves a bunch of steps. A group at Princeton has already achieved one early step - they have a big magnetic container called a tokamak, and they pump in some deuterium and heat it up to really high temperatures (millions of degrees), and they have seen fusion to the extent that they can actually measure the power output (I think it was in the Megawatt range), which they can keep going for at least a few seconds at a time. However, I do not think they have achieved "ignition", which would be the point at which the fusion energy is sufficient to sustain the high temperature of the plasma and keep the fusion going. That means they have to keep pumping power in. So, controlled fusion has been achieved, but it is not very useful yet. There is also another way of getting fusion which is to build huge lasers and focus them in on tiny pellets of deuterium and tritium, causing them to collapse and produce a very tiny and extremely hot plasma, which can also produce fusion. However, I do not think the laser groups have reached a high enough temperature to actually enhance the fusion rate into a useful region (you can always have fusions happening at random even below the extremely high temperatures these experiments are trying to get to).

Arthur Smith

Click here to return to the Physics Archives

NEWTON is an electronic community for Science, Math, and Computer Science K-12 Educators, sponsored and operated by Argonne National Laboratory's Educational Programs, Andrew Skipor, Ph.D., Head of Educational Programs.

For assistance with NEWTON contact a System Operator (, or at Argonne's Educational Programs

Educational Programs
Building 360
9700 S. Cass Ave.
Argonne, Illinois
60439-4845, USA
Update: June 2012
Weclome To Newton

Argonne National Laboratory