US scientists make huge breakthrough in fusion power

Fusion reaction produces net energy gain, says US government lab – Shutterstock

A major breakthrough in clean energy research has been achieved by US government scientists at a lab in California, it has been reported.

A fusion reaction, performed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, produced more energy than was absorbed by the fuel to create it.

It represents a major step in the drive to wean the United States and other major economies from carbon-producing fossil fuels, which scientists believe are the primary driver of climate change.

The energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine has intensified the need for alternative energy.

Earlier this year, the Biden administration passed the Cut Inflation Act, which included nearly $370 billion in new low-carbon energy subsidies.

Upon taking office, Mr. Biden promised that his administration would be a world leader in the race to develop green technologies.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Undersecretary for Nuclear Security Jill Hruby are due to announce the breakthrough on Tuesday.

Last August, Livermore’s lab announced the results of a reaction that released 1.3 megajoules of energy, about five times the 250 kilojoules absorbed by the capsule.

The reaction is produced by bombarding a minute of plasma with light from 192 lasers at the lab’s $3.5 billion National Ignition Facility, which was originally created to test nuclear weapons by simulating explosions.

Ms Hruby hailed the results at the time.

“These extraordinary results from the NIF (National Ignition Facility) advance the science on which the NNSA (National Nuclear Safety Administration) depends to modernize our nuclear weapons and production,” she said.

“It also offers potential new avenues of research into alternative energy sources that could contribute to economic development and help combat climate change.”

However, this fell short of the 1.9 megajoule target set by the NIF.

This threshold has been crossed in recent weeks by scientists from Livermore, the FinancialTimes reported.

It is understood that the last laser reaction produced 2.5 megajoules of energy. The results of the fusion experiment are still being analyzed.

The power produced in the fusion experiment was such that some of the diagnostic equipment was damaged.

The laboratory remained cautious, beyond qualifying the experiment as successful.

“Initial diagnostic data suggests another successful experiment at the National Ignition Facility,” he said.

“However, the exact yield is still being determined and we cannot confirm that it exceeds the threshold at this time.

“This analysis is ongoing, so releasing the information . . . before this process is complete would be inaccurate.

Fusion reactions produce neither carbon nor long-lived radioactive waste – thus achieving the holy grail of energy production.

It also makes it possible to produce large amounts of energy from very little hydrogen.

The technique of inertial confinement fusion dates back to the 1970s and simply aims to harness the power of nuclear weapons to produce energy.

Fusion energy has bipartisan support in Washington.

Earlier this year, Democratic MP Don Beyer, who launched the Fusion Energy Caucus, pointed out that the technology was different from that used to generate electricity in Fukushima and Chernobyl.

“Fusion is the holy grail of climate change and a decarbonized future,” he said at a White House summit.

“Perhaps even more profoundly, fusion has the potential to lift more global citizens out of poverty than any idea since the fire.”

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