Fission or Fusion
I think that right now, fission is the only way that we can get more energy out of a nuclear reaction than we put in.
First, the energy per fission is very large. In practical units, the fission of 1 kg (2.2 lb) of uranium-235 releases 18.7 million kilowatt-hours as heat. Second, the fission process initiated by the absorption of one neutron in uranium-235 releases about 2.5 neutrons, on the average, from the split nuclei. The neutrons released in this manner quickly cause the fission of two more atoms, thereby releasing four or more additional neutrons and initiating a self-sustaining series of nuclear fissions, or a chain reaction, which results in continuous release of nuclear energy.
Naturally occurring uranium contains only 0.71 percent uranium-235; the remainder is the non-fissile isotope uranium-238. A mass of natural uranium by itself, no matter how large, cannot sustain a chain reaction because only the uranium-235 is easily fissionable.
The probability that a fission neutron with an initial energy of about 1 MeV will induce fission is rather low, but can be increased by a factor of hundreds when the neutron is slowed down through a series of elastic collisions with light nuclei such as hydrogen, deuterium, or carbon. This fact is the basis for the design of practical energy-producing fission reactors.
In December 1942 at the University of Chicago, the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi succeeded in producing the first nuclear chain reaction. This was done with an arrangement of natural uranium lumps distributed within a large stack of pure graphite, a form of carbon. In Fermi's 'pile,' or nuclear reactor, the graphite moderator served to slow the neutrons.
Nuclear fusion was first achieved on earth in the early 1930s by bombarding a target containing deuterium, the mass-2 isotope of hydrogen, with...