US scientists achieve major breakthrough in nuclear fusion technology
Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California have achieved a significant milestone pertaining to nuclear fusion, called net energy gain. For the first time, more energy has been generated than what was fed in to create the reaction. This could lead to endless carbon-free energy generation in the coming decades. The US Energy Secretary will make an announcement regarding the same today.
Why does this story matter?
- Since the 1950s, physicists have been trying hard to emulate the energy generation process of the Sun, but to no avail until now.
- The net gain process has the potential to generate abundant energy that will serve as an alternative to fossil fuels and conventional nuclear power (via fission).
- That being said, the switch cannot happen overnight and might take years to take shape.
How was the test done?
Scientists employed a process called 'inertial confinement fusion' for the test. A small pellet of hydrogen plasma was bombarded with the lasers -the world's largest- at LLNL. It is made up of 192 laser beams, approximately the size of three football fields. The reaction yielded 2.5 megajoules of energy, which was significantly more than the 2.1 megajoules of energy input provided by the lasers.
Fusion power technology generates minimal waste
The potential of fusion power technology is humongous. To begin with, there are no carbon emissions from fusion reactions and they do not produce long-lived radioactive waste. Further, theoretically speaking, a small cup of hydrogen fuel can power a house for years.
Scientists at LLNL have achieved a "decades-old" goal
"If this is confirmed, we are witnessing a moment of history," said Dr. Arthur Turrell, a plasma physicist and author of the book The Star Builders. "Scientists have struggled to show that fusion can release more energy than is put in since the 1950s, and the researchers at Lawrence Livermore seem to have finally and absolutely smashed this decades-old goal," he added.
Turrell also hailed nuclear fusion's usefulness
You should care about fusion: apart from being the reaction that makes the Universe light up (powering stars) and the reaction that created most of the elements we're made of, fusion promises clean, safe, low radioactivity energy for everyone—and wow do we need more clean energy pic.twitter.com/RKzmRUbdWj— Arthur Turrell (@arthurturrell) December 10, 2022