US Scientists Claim Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough

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Clean energy milestone as US scientists at Lawrence Livermore claim to have made a breakthrough in nuclear fusion experiment

The quest for clean energy has moved one step closer after US scientists “make history by achieving fusion ignition.”

The development for nuclear fusion energy was announced by US Department of Energy officials on Tuesday.

It comes after scientists and engineers running the Joint European Torus (JET) facility in Oxford, UK, earlier this year achieved a record-breaking 59 megajoules of heat energy from fusion, more than double the previous record. The experiment lasted 5 seconds.

Nuclear fusion

Fusion is the process that powers stars such as our sun, and it could be a clean source for the world’s energy needs in the future. Whether it arrives in time to combat climate changes remains to be seen.

Fusion is inherently safe as it cannot start a run-away process.

Now the US scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) claim to have produced more energy from Fusion than was used to drive it.

“The US Department of Energy (DOE) and DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced the achievement of fusion ignition at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) – a major scientific breakthrough decades in the making that will pave the way for advancements in national defence and the future of clean power.”

It seems that on 5 December a team at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history to reach this milestone, also known as scientific energy breakeven.

This means it produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it.

“This is a landmark achievement for the researchers and staff at the National Ignition Facility who have dedicated their careers to seeing fusion ignition become a reality, and this milestone will undoubtedly spark even more discovery,” said US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.

“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,” said Granholm.

Long journey

“We have had a theoretical understanding of fusion for over a century, but the journey from knowing to doing can be long and arduous,” said Dr. Arati Prabhakar, the President’s Chief Advisor for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. “Today’s milestone shows what we can do with perseverance.”

According to the DOE, LLNL’s experiment surpassed the fusion threshold by delivering 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy to the target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output, demonstrating for the first time a most fundamental science basis for inertial fusion energy (IFE).

Back in 2017 Google and nuclear fusion company Tri Alpha Energy developed a machine learning algorithm to accelerate experiments on turning plasma into energy.

The two companies were working together to advance research into plasma, which could lead to the development of nuclear fusion power.

But it is extremely complicated to achieve, with fusion experiments consuming more energy than what could potentially be yielded – until this week’s development however.