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Nuclear Power

Periodic Graphics

Periodic Graphics: The science of fusion reactors

Chemical educator and Compound Interest blogger Andy Brunning explains describes the different approaches to fusion power.

by Andy Brunning, special to C&EN
January 29, 2023 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 101, Issue 4


An infographic describes the science of fusion reactors. The left-hand side of the graphic details nuclear fusion, a reaction in which two nuclei fuse to form one heavier one, releasing massive amounts of energy. The fusion of deuterium and tritium to form helium is shown in a diagram. The right-hand side of the graphic introduces two types of fusion reactors: magnetic confinement reactors, which use a magnetic field to confine deuterium and tritium plasma, and inertial confinement reactors, which use laser pulses to trigger fusion in small pellets of deuterium and tritium. A short list of fusion milestones is also provided.

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References used to create this graphic: Ball, Philip. “The Chase for Fusion Energy.” Nature, Nov. 17, 2021.Gibney, Elizabeth. “Nuclear-Fusion Reactor Smashes Energy Record.” Nature (2022). DOI: 10.1038/d41586-022-00391-1.Jacoby, Mitch. “Fusion Experiment Demonstrates Energy Gain.” Chemical & Engineering News, Dec. 15, 2022.World Nuclear Association. “Nuclear Fusion Power.” Last modified December 2022.

A collaboration between C&EN and Andy Brunning, author of the popular graphics blog Compound Interest

To see more of Brunning’s work, go to To see all of C&EN’s Periodic Graphics, visit



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