Fusion Energy Has Winked!
Scientists have conducted a nuclear fusion experiment that has resulted in a net energy gain, or more energy output than the amount of input.
On December 5th, researchers from the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California executed the first controlled nuclear fusion by heating a fuel capsule the size of a peppercorn with high-power lasers.
The dream of producing high amounts of clean energy has been pursued for more than seven decades, and now it seems we have taken the first “tentative” steps towards it. Thermonuclear fusion is a very powerful way of producing energy, which powers the stars. Today’s nuclear power plants are fueled by nuclear fission, which splits atoms to release energy, but this method results in radioactive waste that can persist for thousands of years and therefore must be stored very carefully.
Controlled nuclear fusion, on the other hand, produces limited radioactive waste. The problem is that it is technically much more difficult to achieve in the first place. In nuclear fusion, lighter atoms combine to form heavier ones. In the Sun, this occurs when a proton, typically the nucleus of a hydrogen atom, combines with other protons to form helium.
Getting atoms to fuse requires a combination of high pressure and high temperature. The intense gravity generated by the Sun’s giant mass easily facilitates this. But on Earth, it is quite difficult to produce this “ignition” and to keep it under control.
NIF made the ignition possible by heating a small capsule full of heavy hydrogen isotopes, tritium, and deuterium, to a temperature of over 300 million degrees Celcius with 192 high-power lasers directed to it.
However, the reaction still failed to generate enough energy to power the laser power supplies and other systems of the NIF experiment.
Even though the experiment is truly a scientific major breakthrough, it is not yet clear if the results will be usable and what needs to be done to convert it into clean energy. It may take years for the energy required to operate the system to be obtained from natural and renewable sources. Still, scientists and engineers now have a laboratory system to guide them on the road to providing clean fusion energy.
- 1. https://phys.org/news/2022-12-major-nuclear-fusion-breakthrough-power.html
- 2. https://techxplore.com/news/2022-12-breakthrough-fusion-energy-generates-excess.html