US scientists on Tuesday announced a historic breakthrough in nuclear fusion that could revolutionize energy production on Earth.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), which is affiliated with the US Department of Energy, said on Twitter that its experiment “produced more fusion energy than laser energy”.
On December 5, 2022, a group at LLNL @lasers_llnl Conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history to achieve fusion ignition. Also known as the scientific energy breakeven, the experiment produced more energy through fusion than the laser energy used to power it. pic.twitter.com/t9htICEcuh
— Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (@Livermore_Lab) December 13, 2022
The Department of Energy described the discovery as a “major scientific breakthrough” that could lead to “improvements in national security and a clean energy future.”
LLNL Director Kim Puddle said it is “one of the most important scientific challenges humanity has ever faced.”
Scientists have been working for decades to develop nuclear fusion, which is considered a clean, abundant and safe source of energy that will allow humanity to end its dependence on fossil fuels that are fueling the global climate crisis.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm assured a press conference that the discovery would go down in the “history books.”
Nuclear power plants currently generate energy by splitting the nuclei of heavy atoms.
Nuclear fusion fuses two hydrogen atoms together to form a heavier helium atom, releasing more energy in the process.
The National Ignition Facility (NIF) has 192 lasers aimed at a cylinder, the size of a finger, to fuse light hydrogen atoms.
According to the lab report, the scientists produced about 3.5 megajoules of energy using 2.05 megajoules of lasers.
Fusion has some advantages: it does not pose the risk of a nuclear disaster and produces less radioactive waste. Best of all, it produces no greenhouse gases compared to coal or gas plants.
However, there is still a long way to go before fusion becomes viable on an industrial and commercial scale.
“Decades,” said Kim Puddle, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, on Tuesday.
The challenges are technical because the experience can be repeated several times per minute, he explained.
There are several nuclear fusion projects in the world, such as ITER, which is currently being developed in France.
Instead of lasers, ITER uses a technique called magnetic confinement: hydrogen atoms are heated in a large reactor, where they are confined with the help of a magnetic field.