The US Department of Energy announces a breakthrough in nuclear fusion

(CNN) – US Energy Department officials announced a historic breakthrough in nuclear fusion on Tuesday: For the first time, US scientists have produced more energy from fusion than the lasers used to power an experiment.

Nuclear fusion is a man-made process that replicates the same energy that powers the sun. On the other hand, the so-called “net energy gain” is a major milestone in the decades-long bid to get unlimited clean energy from nuclear fusion, the reaction that occurs when two or more atoms fuse together.

The experiment introduced 2.05 megajoules of energy and produced 3.15 megajoules of fusion energy, generating more than 50% of the energy that was put in. This is the first time that an experiment has generated such significant energy gains.

“This monumental scientific achievement is a milestone for the future of clean energy,” said Democratic Senator Alex Padilla of California.

The target chamber at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is where the magic happens: temperatures of 100 million degrees and pressures intense enough to compress the target to a density 100 times that of lead.  (Damien Jemison/LLNL)

The target chamber at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is where the magic happens: temperatures of 100 million degrees and pressures intense enough to compress the target to a density 100 times that of lead. (Damien Jemison/LLNL)

Scientists around the world have been studying nuclear fusion for decades, hoping to recreate it with a new source that provides unlimited, carbon-free energy, without the nuclear waste generated by today’s nuclear reactors. Fusion projects primarily use the elements deuterium and tritium, which are both isotopes of hydrogen.

The breakthrough was made by a team of scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility in California on December 5. It is a sports field-sized facility equipped with 192 lasers.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm described the breach as a “historic achievement” in a statement.

In the text, Granholm said scientists at Livermore and other national laboratories are doing work that will help the United States “solve humanity’s most complex and pressing problems, such as providing clean energy to combat climate change and maintaining nuclear deterrence without conducting nuclear tests.”

Livermore’s director, Dr. Kim Bodell, called the scientists’ attempts to perform fusion ignition in the lab “one of the most important scientific challenges humanity has ever faced” and praised the work of her lab’s scientists.

“His achievement is a victory for science, engineering and, above all, a victory for people,” Bodell said in a statement. “Going beyond this is the vision that has driven 60 years of ad hoc research. These are the problems for which the United States National Laboratories were created.”

He also added that “there are still ‘significant hurdles’ to overcome with nuclear fusion technology before commercialization becomes possible.”

Arathi Prabhakar during a press conference on Tuesday on scientific advances in nuclear fusion.  (US Department of Energy)

Arathi Prabhakar during a press conference on Tuesday on scientific advances in nuclear fusion. (US Department of Energy)

For her part, Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and science advisor to President Joe Biden, said the nuclear fusion breakthrough announced on Tuesday is a “scientific milestone” and “a marvel of engineering.”

Prabhakar talked about how, as a 19-year-old student, he spent three months at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California working on a nuclear fusion project. He added, “They did not lose sight of this goal.”

“Going forward,” this work will see more “advancements” and “setbacks,” said Jill Hruby, deputy secretary of the National Nuclear Security and Safety Administration (NNSA).

Hrubi added that his work focuses on “strengthening national security” while “advancing towards … a clean energy future.”

She said Tuesday’s “unprecedented” announcement confirms what she and others have been saying for decades, which is that there is “no dedicated or talented group of scientists” at work today.

This news is under development.

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