The Department of Energy is expected to announce today that researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have made a “major scientific breakthrough.” On Sunday, the Financial Times teased that the announcement involved advancements made at the National Ignition Facility, or NIF. This facility, which opened in 2009, uses lasers to mimic the effects of nuclear explosions. Its main mission is to achieve self-sustaining nuclear fusion with high energy gains.
If what's been revealed is true, it looks like NIF is well on its way toward achieving this goal. According to anonymous government sources, the facility achieved ignition—which is when the amount generated is at least equal to the energy of the lasers used to start the reaction. A scientist familiar with the experiment also confirmed these results with The New York Times.
In this case, it appears that the nuclear reactor produced 120% of the energy used to start the experiment. While scientists are still confirming that number, a 20% energy jump would be an incredible breakthrough. As word spread throughout the scientific community, many experts were overjoyed by the news.
“Fusion ‘ignition' occurs when the power emitted by the fusion reactions exceeds the losses,” shared Dr. Robbie Scott of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Central Laser Facility (CLF) Plasma Physics Group. “Experiments on the National Ignition Facility are a bit like striking a match, with this experiment the match kept burning. This is a momentous achievement after 50 years of research into Laser Fusion.”
Nuclear fusion powers our Sun and other stars. As the process doesn't produce nuclear waste or greenhouse gases, it's considered an incredible form of green energy. The hope is that one day, it could be another solution toward moving Earth away from energy sources that harm the planet.
While the news from NIF will most likely take us a step closer to making nuclear fusion a tangible source of clean energy, there is still a lot of work to be done before that can happen. Still, by proving that ignition is possible, these scientists have moved the ball forward in a big way.
“For many years fusion energy has been described as the holy grail of the world’s energy problems—a limitless and clean energy source that would address the ever-increasing demands free from carbon emissions,” said Professor Gianluca Gregori, of the University of Oxford Department of Physics. “While this is not yet an economically viable power plant (the costs of targets are still exorbitant, and the amount of energy released is yet smaller than wall plug electricity costs), the path for the future is much clearer.”
You can watch the livestream announcement at on December 13 at 10 a.m. EST on the U.S. Department of Energy website, or the embedded video below.
The Department of Energy is expected to announce a nuclear fusion breakthrough. Watch the livestream at 10 a.m. EST:
h/t: [The New York Times]