An experiment at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California, US, saw the production of energy from nuclear fusion in a laboratory for the “first time.”
Hailed by many as the ‘holy grail’ of energy production processes, nuclear fusion is the process found in stars. In the process, pairs of atoms are heated and forced together to make one heavier atom, thus releasing energy, coming as the opposite to nuclear fission, which splits atoms apart.
H2 View understands the LLNL built a series of increasingly powerful laser systems to create temperatures and pressures like those in the cores of stars to kick start the fusion reaction, which forced hydrogen atoms together, and released energy.
Having been hypothesised since the 1960s, over 60 years of research and development in lasers, optics, diagnostics, target fabrication, computer modelling and simulation, and experimental design, led to the breakthrough.
“The pursuit of fusion ignition in the laboratory is one of the most significant scientific challenges ever tackled by humanity, and achieving it is a triumph of science, engineering, and most of all, people,” said Dr. Kim Budil, Director of the LLNL.
Budil added, “Crossing this threshold is the vision that has driven 60 years of dedicated pursuit—a continual process of learning, building, expanding knowledge and capability, and then finding ways to overcome the new challenges that emerged. These are the problems that the US national laboratories were created to solve.”
By comparison to nuclear fission, the waste produced by fusion is less radioactive and decays much faster. It does not produce greenhouse gases (GHG).
Despite the experiment only delivery 3.15MJ of fusion energy output, it is hoped the development could pave the way to see nuclear fusion become a key pathway to future energy.
Jennifer Granholm, US Energy Secretary described the experiment as a “major scientific breakthrough,” with many advocates of fusion hoping that one day it could produce nearly limitless, carbon-free energy.
Additionally, Granholm said the developments could maintain a nuclear deterrent, “without nuclear testing.” The Energy Secretary said, “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting our world-class scientists—like the team at NIF—whose work will help us solve humanity’s most complex and pressing problems, like providing clean power to combat climate change and maintaining a nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing.”
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