US researchers announced a historic nuclear fusion breakthrough on Tuesday, hailing a “landmark achievement” in the search for unlimited, clean energy sources and an end to dependence on fossil fuels.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) says it has used the world’s largest laser to create, for the first time, a fusion reaction that powers the Sun and produces more energy than it takes to produce it — a goal scientists have been pursuing for decades. .
Nuclear fusion is touted by its proponents as a clean, abundant, and safe source of energy that will finally allow humanity to break its dependence on coal, crude oil, natural gas, and other hydrocarbons that have led to the global climate crisis.
The US Department of Energy described the achievement of fusion ignition as a “major scientific advance” that “advances national defense and the future of clean energy.”
However, there is still a long way to go before fusion is viable on an industrial scale, powering homes and businesses.
“There are very significant hurdles, not just in science, but in technology,” Kim Budill, LLNL director, said at a news conference.
“Decades of research on the underlying technology could put us in a position to build a power plant,” he said.
LLNL, which is based in California, said a team at its National Ignition Facility achieved what it calls a “net energy gain” in an experiment this month, producing more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it.
“They shot a bunch of lasers at a pellet of fuel and that fusion ignition released more energy than the laser,” explained White House science adviser Aarti Prabhakar.
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For the experiment, researchers at LLNL used 192 ultra-powerful lasers to deliver 2.05 megajoules of energy into a capsule smaller than a pea containing isotopes of hydrogen.
It produced 3.15 megajoules of fusion energy.
Although the result was a net energy gain, the lasers required 300 megajoules of energy from the electrical grid to power them.
“Our calculations suggest that achieving yields in the hundreds of megajoules is possible with laser systems at scale,” Budil said.
“So there is a path to a target that yields enough, but we’re a long way from it right now.”
Nuclear power plants around the world currently use fission — the splitting of the nucleus of a heavy atom — to generate power.
Fusion, on the other hand, combines two lighter hydrogen atoms to form one heavier helium atom, releasing a large amount of energy in the process.
This process takes place inside stars, including our Sun.
On Earth, fusion reactions can be fueled by heating hydrogen to extreme temperatures inside special machines.
Like fission, fusion is carbon-free during operation, but it has many other advantages: it does not risk a nuclear meltdown and produces much less radioactive waste.
Other nuclear fusion projects are also in development around the world, including the major international project known as ITER, currently under construction in France.
Instead of lasers, ITER will use a technique known as magnetic confinement, a rotating mass of fusing hydrogen plasma inside a giant doughnut-shaped chamber.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is generated automatically from a syndicated feed.)
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