Nuclear fusion Figure 2 is a nuclear reaction in which two or more atomic nuclei collide at very high speed and join to form a new type of atomic nucleus. During this process, matter is not conserved because some of the mass of the fusing nuclei is converted into energy (Figure 1).
Fusion reactions of light elements power the stars and produce virtually all elements in a process called nucleosynthesis. The fusion of lighter elements in stars releases energy and mass. For example, in the fusion of two hydrogen nuclei to form helium, 0.7 percent of the mass is carried away from the system in the form of kinetic energy or other forms of energy (such as electromagnetic radiation).
It takes considerable energy to force nuclei to fuse, even nuclei of the lightest element, hydrogen. This is because all nuclei have a positive charge due to their protons, and since like charges repel, nuclei strongly resist being put close together. Accelerated to high speeds, they can overcome this electrostatic repulsion and be forced close enough for the attractive nuclear force to be sufficiently strong to achieve fusion. The fusion of lighter nuclei, which creates a heavier nucleus and often a free neutron or proton, generally releases more energy than it takes to force the nuclei together. This is an exothermic process that can produce self-sustaining reactions.
Research into controlled fusion, with the aim of producing fusion power for the production of electricity, has been conducted for over 60 years. It has been accompanied by extreme scientific and technological difficulties, but it has resulted in progress. At present, controlled fusion reactions have been unable to produce self-sustaining controlled fusion reactions. Researchers are working on a reactor that theoretically will deliver 10 times more fusion energy than the amount needed to heat up plasma to required temperatures. Workable designs of this reactor were originally scheduled to be operational in 2018; however, this has been delayed, and a new date has not been released.