Plasma-driven fusion has long been hypothesized as a source of unlimited, carbon-neutral energy. It is distinct from the familiar nuclear fission process in which large uranium-235 atoms are split into more minute atoms, in the process generating significant energy. Drawbacks of this approach include the scarcity of uranium and the expense and safety hazards associated with the technology. A major issue is that radioactivity stays present in nuclear waste for centuries.
Nuclear fusion represents an opposite reaction, through which small atoms are squeezed together to make larger atoms. This creates tremendous energy, approximately three to four times more than fission, from a small amount of matter. It replicates the process by which the sun constantly generates energy, with hydrogen nuclei jammed together with heavier elements, albeit in vastly larger quantities.
The potential advantages of this process includes no pollution produced and minute amounts of radioactive waste. In cases where a malfunction occurs, there is no meltdown risk, as the reactor simply shuts down. The challenges of fusion are that it requires extreme temperatures and speeds for atoms to shake off electrons and fuse with other atoms.