Exploring the Breakthrough of Fusion Energy--A Star in a Box

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Join Mary Daphne and Greg as they delve into the exciting world of fusion energy and the recent breakthroughs being made. Learn about the science behind nuclear fusion, the potential of this technology as a power source, and how it compares to traditional forms of energy generation.


Mary Daphne: Hello, Advanced English learners. Welcome back to another episode. I am joined of course by the one and only Greg. Thank you, Greg for joining me. Of course, and welcome to all of you. We are gearing up for another great conversation, but before we dive in, I want to remind you that the reason we do these, is not just because we like talking to each other, but because this is a great way for you to practice your listening comprehension skills, to work on your communication skills, to reach social fluency, to get acquainted with how native English speakers speak and see how a conversation unfolds naturally.

This is not scripted. It's not rehearsed. What we are sharing is happening in real time and it's just the magic of conversation. So with all that in mind, I hope you definitely, take that into perspective with your language learning journey. Alright, so let's dive into our conversation today.

What are we talking about, Greg? 

Greg: Today we are talking about fusion energy, right? So nuclear fusion energy. And there's been a big breakthrough and I'm really excited to talk about it. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. So let's get into it.

Okay. So this is pretty incredible what has just happened. This is something that has been decades in the making. Lots of resources and research has been poured into making this a reality. I think it's been something like 80 years. 

Greg: Oh yeah. Fusion as a power source has been the holy grail of energy generation for at least a century.

Mary Daphne: Wow. 

Greg: And the reason is we've known for a long time that the sun produces its energy using a fusion reaction, right? So the sun is basically a neverending explosion, right? It's just a chain reaction that's continuing to happen and it produces a huge amount of energy. So much that we can't put it into numbers, but you can just imagine that, to fly to the sun would take years and even at that great distance, we still feel the warmth of the sun on the planet, right? It actually warms our planet. It's on a summer, hot summer day, that's the heat of the sun warming the planet. 

Mary Daphne: It's incredible. Just the power of the sun's light. 

Greg: Think about a heater like that you have in your house, right?

 A little space heater. How far do you have to get away from that heater to not feel the warmth? 

Mary Daphne: I mean, several feet. 

Greg: Yeah. You step back maybe 10 Yeah. 15 feet and you can't feel the warmth of it anymore. The sun, you can feel the warmth from millions and millions of miles away.

That just shows you how much energy it's producing and it's producing it using fusion. 

Mary Daphne: Okay. So that's really great background for it. I think, Greg, the way people are describing it is that it's going to be like a star in a box. 

Greg: Yeah. I think that's such a good description. A star in a box, right?

Yeah. So the sun is obviously massive. We don't wanna create the sun exactly on earth because it would burn up earth. 

Mary Daphne: It'd be overpowering, it'd be too much. 

Greg: Exactly. We wanna replicate the sun in a much smaller fashion. So that we can have this much smaller but control the heat source. Yeah. That's constantly generating power.

And then what we would do is take that heat source and like we do with many other types of power generation, that heat source boils water, which produces steam, which turns a turbine which has magnets and coils. And that magnet spinning within these coils is what generates power, right?

So most of our power plants, whether it's coal, nuclear or fusion in the future, is just getting something to spin a coil that generates power. We need some energy to spin something. 

Mary Daphne: And up until now there was so much energy that was expended in order to create something.

Greg: Yeah. There's two ways to make. , you can put a lot of energy in and get less energy out. Or in the case of fusion, you can have a chain reaction where the inputs of energy is actually less than the output. Yeah. And that's incredible, right? Because what it means is it takes less input to create more output.

Yeah. It's essentially what it's saying is it's limitless. 

Mary Daphne: It's limitless, carbon free energy. 

Greg: And that's the other part of it. The way, for example, that we make a lot of power in the US is using natural gas. Yeah. And natural gas you can think of is derived from oil. Yeah. That comes outta the ground.

And you can think of natural gas as stored energy. So there's a lot of energy that was built up over millions of years in in this gas. And when we burn it, we're expending that energy. Yeah. And that of course produces fossil fuel. Yeah. What are they called? Byproducts. Toxic byproducts. 

Mary Daphne: Which is really harmful for the planet. Yes. And if we keep this up, we can't live here anymore. 

Greg: Yes. It's definitely, we've proven with scientific certainty that it is contributing to global warming and climate change. Yeah. So we definitely want to, to the extent that we can move away from what we're calling fossil fuels, fuels that have come from the ground that we burn. Yeah. And that produce byproducts that are bad for the environment. 

Mary Daphne: Not to mention the actual physical, the physicality of drilling into the earth. That's problematic too. 

Greg: Another really good point, right? Yeah. It's not just that burning these things produces pollution, which not only hurts the environment, it also hurts our lungs.

Yeah. If you've spent some time in a polluted city, you know what bad air quality is yeah. But the second part of it is, like you're saying, the extraction of the energy can be really destructive too. Obviously. A big one is fracking where they literally explode the earth. Using water pressure to get to pockets of oil and gas. And that creates all kinds of chemical runoff. It can actually destabilize the mantle of the earth, the crust to the point where it can cause earthquakes. Yeah. There's all kinds of negative externalities. Negative externalities, meaning bad things that come as a byproduct of extracting and burning fossil fuels. 

So whatever your politics are on global warming it's a fact that it's expensive and it does cause pollution. Yeah. So to the extent that we can find something that doesn't rely on that that's a huge plus. It's a huge plus for our health. Countries themselves also really want this because it's a big strategic advantage, right? If they don't have to rely on other countries. Think about Ukraine and Russia right now. That war has caused Russia to turn off its taps, which has put Europe into a huge crisis, right? Yeah. They don't have oil right now. Wouldn't Europe be much happier if they had their own limitless supply of energy. 

Mary Daphne: And to be self-sufficient. So you don't have to be in anyone's good graces, on purpose. You would just do it out of the goodness of your heart or out of the goodness of the nation's heart, exactly. Diplomacy. But it's not like someone's groveling to another country just for that reason. . So. 

Greg: Yeah, it's energy independence. And then the final thing I'll say on the benefits is energy is the fuel of innovation, right? And we love innovation here at Explearning. And what I can say is that innovation requires power.

Yeah, right? You need electricity to power your computer, to power your internet. To power collaborative tools that we use to power machinery, to build things, to power robots, to power, anything. It all comes back to the price of fuel. 

Mary Daphne: Yes.

Greg: And the cheaper that fuel gets, the cheaper the energy gets, the cheaper it is for people to create.

The cheaper it is for people to invent things. Yeah. And provide things. So the cheaper we can get energy the more abundant everything you can think of becomes, which is really good for, people that don't have as much money, really good for countries that don't have as much money.

Mary Daphne: Yeah. And it's again, better for diplomacy. So we can all be on better terms with each other. Nations, countries, they don't have to be fighting for resources or buddying up to a country for their resources or, ganging up with a country for their resources. So it's really going to help with better peace and prosperity.

Greg: Yeah. Hopefully. Hopefully we get more peace from it. Yeah. There's gonna be a transition period where there's gonna be countries that have this type of power. Yeah. And countries that don't. Yeah. And that transition period could be shaky, but the long term end game here is that power becomes fully abundant. And so everything downstream of that, including food as well, right? Yeah, food takes a lot of energy input. Yeah. Everything downstream becomes cheaper and that's good.

Mary Daphne: And the economics of it too, it's, it's gonna be lighter on your pockets, so food will be hopefully less expensive. And also like the healthy organic food that you wanna get less expensive. Energy. Less expensive. 

Greg: So housing, right? Housing, yeah. Think about it. Housing requires a lot of energy inputs to, to produce all the materials to build the house. 

Mary Daphne: That's usually someone's like biggest expense. If you look at people's monthly budgets, that's usually where a lot of money goes, right?

Mortgages, rent. Maintenance payments. So even if you own or rent a house, that's a huge part of your monthly budget for a lot of people. 

Greg: Oh, yeah. Food and housing. So yeah. Everything you could think of gets cheaper. Yeah. Okay. So we talked a lot about the benefits of this technology. Okay.

Mary Daphne: So what are some of the cons? 

Greg: Before I was gonna talk about the cons, I should have said we also did talk about some of, which are just that, it could cause an energy imbalance between countries. Yeah. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. So that would be a tenuous and hopefully temporary situation. Yeah. 

Greg: Yeah. What I wanted to do was just talk a little bit about the actual technological breakthrough itself.

Okay. Yeah. Let's do that. Okay. So we said this is a sun in a box. 

Mary Daphne: Yeah. Star in a box. 

Greg: A star in a box. Yeah. What does that really mean? What they've done is they've taken a very small amount of hydrogen. And it's a special type of hydrogen called something like Deuterium, which is a funny little name.

Yeah. And they've taken a pea sized amount of this, and they've bombarded it with a bunch of lasers. 

Mary Daphne: And it's two protons, something like that. Yeah. 

Greg: Yeah. It's a subset Yeah. Of the hydrogen atom. Yeah. It's just the protons. Yeah. Which is a tiny sub particle. Of an atom. Yeah. You have your protons and your electrons and the nucleus.

Yeah. The protons are absolutely infinitesimally small. So they bunched a bunch of these together into a pea size thing. 

Size of a peppercorn, I think. Size of a peppercorn. Yeah. Even smaller than a pea. 

Mary Daphne: Can you imagine? 

Greg: That's not the small part. The small part is the lasers they use.

Mary Daphne: Oh my gosh. 

Greg: The lasers have the precision. Of, you can't possibly describe how precise these lasers are cause you have to fired it in very precise. But what they've done is they fire these lasers at this ball of hydrogen and it's ignited it with a chain reaction that burns as hot as the center of the sun.

Mary Daphne: Oh. Which is the hottest part, right? 

Greg: Technically no. 

Mary Daphne: Really? What's the hottest part of the sun 

Greg: the, there's I think there's parts of the sun that are even hotter, a little further out. Okay. But it's suffice to say it's insanely hot. It's essentially what's called plasma. Wow. You can also get this at the center of a nuclear explosion.

Okay. It's this super, super heated core . And, in the past, the only way we've been able to achieve this is with nuclear explosions. Yeah. 

Mary Daphne: With the atomic bomb or something. 

Greg: Atomic bombs are the fusion bombs are the hydrogen bombs, right? , it's the same hydrogen.

Mary Daphne: But instead we're harnessing this for good. 

Greg: Exactly. This is a controlled explosion. And the idea is you can trigger it so that the power that it produces is more than the inputs. We talked about that. 

Mary Daphne: So you're. On the way out, there's less energy that you need to create more energy on the way out, which in the past it's always been less energy out.

Greg: Yeah. I mean it's almost been, it's a paradox of physics, right? Yeah. Matter can never neither be created or destroyed. And so theoretically you could never have more out than you put in. But somehow they've achieved that here, and this is where we need someone who's a little more experienced in the physics to explain it.

Maybe that there's stored power in these hydrogen atoms, but the other part of it is that these hydrogen atoms that, that are used as fuel are super abundant. Yeah. They're everywhere. They're in ocean water. Think about the ocean covers like 70% of the earth. Yeah. There's limitless, effectively limitless amounts of this.

Mary Daphne: It's incredible. 

Greg: And it's clean, right? There's no radio active waste the way you would have with nuclear power. So typical standard nuclear power is what's called fission, right? So fission is when you split up the atoms. 

Mary Daphne: F i s i o n 

Greg: f i s i o n, I believe, 

Mary Daphne: f i s fis, f s i o n, 

Greg: like a fissure

Mary Daphne: like a fissure, right?

Yeah. Yeah. 

Greg: Exactly. 

Mary Daphne: Split 

Greg: a split. 

So that's when you're splitting atoms, and that can create a lot of power fusion. and hopefully I didn't mis state this. We'll see. But fusion is when you're fusing things, when you're combining them, 

Mary Daphne: they come together and they join. 

Greg: Exactly. Exactly. And so this is a fusion reaction where you're joining these different hydrogen atoms and that also produces energy.

Mary Daphne: Amazing. 

Greg: And so this is just such a cool thing. . It is only the first step. We have a long way to go in terms of actually turning this into a commercial reactor. That we can, plug into and get power from. It could be maybe another 10 years. This is also not the only type of fusion technology that we're developing, but this is the first of its kind.

 And it's an enormous breakthrough that prior to now we didn't even know is possible , we now know it's possible. And because of that, this could literally change our lives and the world and the economy everything. Wow. Everything we know about the present day will change if we're able to commercialize this technology.

So it's, 

Mary Daphne: oh my gosh,

Greg: it's a really big deal. 

Mary Daphne: Really big deal. Wow. Wow. It's just, wrapping your mind around something like that. It's just so different from what our status quo is right now. So it's hard to even imagine what that could be, but it's a good thing. Exciting.

Greg: Very exciting. 

Mary Daphne: Really exciting. Okay I think that's a good wrap on this. There's so much more we can talk about. Obviously, we could sit here for five hours and just talk straight through one of these topics like this, we wanna keep it short and sweet. We respect your time and we respect our time. 

If you wanna follow up to this, we are more than happy to do that. Let us know what are your thoughts here? What do you think are the implications of this kind of clean, limitless energy. What can you see happening with it? Use your imagination and creativity. I challenge you to do that and we welcome your feedback and your comments. 

So like I said, if you want to have the listening comprehension worksheet, you'll only be able to get it if you are a member of our ExplearningAcademy private community. So more on that later. That's it from us today, we will see you in the next one. Bye for now.