Officials from the US Department of Energy hailed a historic achievement in nuclear fusion on Tuesday. For the first time, scientists in the United States generated more energy from fusion than the laser energy necessary to power the experiment.
A “net energy gain” is a significant milestone in a decades-long effort to generate clean, limitless energy from nuclear fusion – the reaction that occurs when two or more atoms fuse together.
The experiment applied 2.05 megajoules of energy to the target, yielding 3.15 megajoules of fusion energy output – more than 50 percent more energy than was applied. It’s the first time an experiment has resulted in a significant increase in power.
“This monumental scientific breakthrough is a milestone for the future of clean energy,” said Democratic US Sen. Alex Padilla of California in a statement.
A team of scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility in California made the breakthrough on Dec 5 in a facility the size of a sports stadium and outfitted with 192 lasers.
“Ignition allows us to replicate, for the first time, certain conditions that are only found in the stars and sun,” Granholm said. “This milestone moves us one significant step closer to the possibility of zero-carbon, abundant fusion energy powering our society,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
Granholm stated that professionals at Livermore and other national labs are working to help the United States transition swiftly to sustainable energy while maintaining nuclear deterrence without nuclear testing.
“This is what it looks like for America to lead, and we’re just getting started,” Granholm said. “If we can advance fusion energy, we could use it to produce clean electricity, transportation fuels, power, heavy industry, and so much more.”
Experts warn that we are still a long way from having nuclear fusion power the electric grid. Nonetheless, the current breakthrough is enormously significant since scientists revealed that they could generate more energy than they started with.
While there are many more steps before this can be commercially viable, scientists say it is a significant hurdle to overcome with nuclear fusion.
Kim Budil, director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, called her lab’s breakthrough a “fundamental building block” toward eventually attaining nuclear fusion generating electricity.
She estimates that “a few decades” of additional work will be required before it is suitable for commercial use.