Fusion, essentially producing the same kind of energy release that powers the Sun, has always been the Holy Grail of energy production. The Conversation explained the science and the obstacles. “Sustaining nuclear fusion at scale has the potential to produce a safe, clean, almost inexhaustible power source.
Our Sun sustains fusion at its core with a plasma of charged particles at around 15 million degrees Celsius. Down on Earth, we are aiming for hundreds of millions of degrees Celsius, because we don’t have the enormous mass of the Sun compressing the fuel down for us.
Scientists and engineers have worked out several designs for how we might achieve this, but most fusion reactors use strong magnetic fields to “bottle” and confine the hot plasma.
Generally, the main challenge to overcome on our road to commercial fusion power is to provide environments that can contain the intense burning plasma needed to produce a fusion reaction that is self-sustaining, producing more energy than was needed to get it started.”
A national laboratory in the United States may have finally had the breakthrough needed to see fusion power go from science fiction to reality.
The Financial Times had the incredible scoop. “US government scientists have made a breakthrough in the pursuit of limitless, zero-carbon power by achieving a net energy gain in a fusion reaction for the first time, according to three people with knowledge of preliminary results from a recent experiment.
Physicists have since the 1950s sought to harness the fusion reaction that powers the sun, but no group had been able to produce more energy from the reaction than it consumes — a milestone known as net energy gain or target gain, which would help prove the process could provide a reliable, abundant alternative to fossil fuels and conventional nuclear energy.
The federal Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, which uses a process called inertial confinement fusion that involves bombarding a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma with the world’s biggest laser, had achieved net energy gain in a fusion experiment in the past two weeks, the people said.
Although many scientists believe fusion power stations are still decades away, the technology’s potential is hard to ignore. Fusion reactions emit no carbon, produce no long-lived radioactive waste and a small cup of the hydrogen fuel could theoretically power a house for hundreds of years.”
Arthur Turrell, Deputy Director of the UK Office of National Statistics, had more about the exciting news.
Rumours have been circulating that this is what happened but I understand no official confirmation as yet—but numbers might be as much as 120% of net energy gain.
If this is true, we are witnessing a moment of history: controlling the power source of the stars is the greatest..
— Arthur Turrell (@arthurturrell) December 11, 2022
“Proponents argue that fusion is much safer than nuclear fission, the process that powers all existing nuclear energy plants (and nuclear weapons). They say that if commercial reactors were able to regularly achieve net energy gain, and were powered by renewable energy, fusion could be the energy source that finally weans the world off its dangerous dependence of fossil fuels,” according to The Independent.
“For my generation, it was fear of weapons that influenced people’s view of nuclear. In this generation, it’s climate change,” Todd Allen, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan and director of the school’s Fastest Path to Zero climate center, told The Independent earlier this year. “I don’t know in the end if these are the technologies that catch fire or not. It’s just interesting to me because they’re the first demos of new ideas in half a century. I think there is a lot of interest and potential.”
Reports are saying officials at the U.S. Department of Energy — Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and the undersecretary for nuclear security, Jill Hruby — will be holding a press conference at the Livermore facility this Tuesday to announce “a major scientific breakthrough,” but further details have not been discussed.
The future of power might be just around the corner.