The U.S. Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration announced a major breakthrough in the field of clean energy with the achievement of fusion ignition at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. This marks the first-ever net energy gain, or “ignition,” in a nuclear fusion reaction produced in a lab setting. This achievement represents a significant step forward in the pursuit to harness the same powerful reaction that occurs in the sun’s core as a source of clean energy.
“We have taken the first tentative steps towards a clean energy source that could revolutionize the world,” said Under Secretary for Nuclear Security and National Nuclear Security Administration Administrator Jill Hruby at a press conference.
“This monumental scientific breakthrough is a milestone for the future of clean energy,” said U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (CA).
The experiment surpassed the fusion threshold by delivering 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy to the target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output, demonstrating for the first time a most fundamental science basis for inertial fusion energy (IFE).
The process of nuclear fusion, in which two lighter nuclei combine to form a single nucleus and release a large burst of energy, has long been a tantalizing prospect for scientists. While still in the early stages, the potential for commercial energy produced from controlled fusion reactions could provide an endless source of clean energy.
The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, established by the United States government in the 1950s, has been studying nuclear technology since the Cold War. In 2009, the lab completed construction on the National Ignition Facility, which aims to explore “clean, sustainable sources of energy.” The facility is currently researching inertial confinement fusion, which uses a laser to repeatedly hit a speck of hydrogen plasma.
The promise of nuclear fusion is immense. It has the potential to produce nearly four million times more energy than traditional fossil fuels, such as gas, coal, and oil, and does not produce greenhouse gases or long-lived radioactive waste.
While the achievement of ignition is a crucial first step, researchers must now ensure that the reaction can be replicated consistently and reproducibly. Only then can efforts be made to improve upon the accomplishment and bring the technology closer to commercialization_