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Nuclear Fusion Reaction

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The release of energy with the fusion of light elements is due to the interplay of two opposing forces: the nuclear force, which combines together protons and neutrons, and the Coulomb force, which causes protons to repel each other. Protons are positively charged and repel each other by the Coulomb force, but they can nonetheless stick together, demonstrating the existence of another, short-range, force referred to as nuclear attraction. Light nuclei (or nuclei smaller than iron and nickel) are sufficiently small and proton-poor allowing the nuclear force to overcome repulsion. This is because the nucleus is sufficiently small that all nucleons feel the short-range attractive force at least as strongly as they feel the infinite-range Coulomb repulsion. Building up nuclei from lighter nuclei by fusion releases the extra energy from the net attraction of particles. For larger nuclei, however, no energy is released, since the nuclear force is short-range and cannot continue to act across longer atomic length scales. Thus, energy is not released with the fusion of such nuclei; instead, energy is required as input for such processes.

Research into developing controlled thermonuclear fusion for civil purposes began in earnest in the 1940s, and it continues to this day.


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