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Scientists achieve historic fusion ‘ignition’ to produce ‘near-limitless’ clean energy

The United States has announced a nuclear fusion breakthrough, a historic step towards the promise of “near-limitless” clean energy.

“It will go down in the history books,” said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Tuesday in Washington DC alongside scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

For 70 years, hundreds of scientists and engineers have attempted to replicate the energy process of atoms fusing together that powers the sun and other stars.

It is an enormously complex – and expensive – process which is highly unstable due to the high temperatures and pressures involved.

Now, for the first time, the California lab team used lasers to achieve a “net energy gain”, producing more energy in a fusion reaction than was used to ignite it.

Scientists heralded the breakthrough but said there were still decades of work to be done before fusion would be powering our everyday lives.

Nevertheless, the fusion breakthrough has the potential to significantly impact the trajectory of the climate crisis – driven by the planet-heating emissions created by burning fossil fuels.


Without an engine and tires ‘you can’t say that you have a car’

Riccardo Betti, a professor at the University of Rochester and expert in laser fusion, said there’s a long road ahead before the net energy gain leads to sustainable electricity.

He likened the breakthrough to when humans first learned that refining oil into gasoline and igniting it could produce an explosion.

“You still don’t have the engine, and you still don’t have the tires,” Betti said. “You can’t say that you have a car.”

The Associated Press14 December 2022 07:00


Lasers create superheated plasma environment where fusion may occur

Billions of dollars and decades of work have gone into fusion research that has produced exhilarating results — for fractions of a second.

Previously, researchers at the National Ignition Facility, the division of Lawrence Livermore where the success took place, used 192 lasers and temperatures multiple times hotter than the center of the sun to create an extremely brief fusion reaction.

The lasers focus an enormous amount of heat on a small metal can. The result is a superheated plasma environment where fusion may occur.

The Associated Press14 December 2022 06:00


‘Challenges remain’ despite ‘fantastic scientific breakthrough’

A reader in nuclear materials at Imperial College London, Dr Mark Wenman, told The Guardian that the nuclear fusion accomplishment is a “fantastic scientific breakthrough – something we have not achieved in 70 years of trying”.

But he added that “challenges remain of how you can get the energy out of the system, how you can sustain the energy for long enough to be useful, how you scale up that energy and whether the energy can be cheap enough to compete with other sources”.

Gustaf Kilander14 December 2022 05:00


New science unlikely to impact current climate crisis, physics professor says

A professor of physics at the University of Oxford, Justin Wark, told The Guardian that “in some senses everything changes, in another, nothing changes”.

“This result proves what most physicists always believed – fusion in the laboratory is possible. However, the obstacles to be overcome to make anything like a commercial reactor are huge, and must not be underestimated,” he added.

“I understand that everyone wants to think of this as being the great solution to the energy crisis. It is not, and whoever says it is with any certainty is misleading,” he told the paper.

“It is highly unlikely that fusion will impact on a timescale sufficiently short to impact our current climate change crisis, so there must be no let up on our efforts in that regard,” he added. “The latest results also show that the basic science works – the laws of physics do not prevent us from achieving the goal – the problems are technical and economic. As Niels Bohr, the Nobel Prize-winning atomic physicist once said, ‘prediction is very difficult, especially when it is about the future.’”

Gustaf Kilander14 December 2022 04:00


‘A lot of good news on the horizon’: Biden hails fusion success

Fusion works by pressing hydrogen atoms into each other with such force that they combine into helium, releasing enormous amounts of energy and heat. Unlike other nuclear reactions, it doesn’t create radioactive waste.

President Joe Biden called the breakthrough a good example of the need to continue to invest in research and development.

“Look what’s going on from the Department of Energy on the nuclear front. There’s a lot of good news on the horizon,” he said at the White House.

The Associated Press14 December 2022 03:05


VIDEO: U.S. Scientists Announce Fusion Energy Breakthrough

U.S. Scientists Announce Fusion Energy Breakthrough

The Independent14 December 2022 02:20


‘It’s almost like it’s a starting gun going off’

Proponents of fusion hope that it could one day offer nearly limitless, carbon-free energy and displace fossil fuels and other traditional energy sources. Producing energy that powers homes and businesses from fusion is still decades away. But researchers said the announcement marked a significant advance nonetheless.

“It’s almost like it’s a starting gun going off,” said professor Dennis Whyte, director of the Plasma Science and Fusion Center at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a leader in fusion research. “We should be pushing towards making fusion energy systems available to tackle climate change and energy security.”

The Associated Press14 December 2022 01:35


Breakthrough will pave the way for advancements in national defense, energy secretary says

The breakthrough will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and other officials said.

“Ignition allows us to replicate for the first time certain conditions that are found only in the stars and the sun,″ Granholm told a news conference in Washington. “This milestone moves us one significant step closer to the possibility of zero-carbon abundant fusion energy powering our society.″

Fusion ignition is “one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century,″ Granholm said, adding that the breakthrough “will go down in the history books.″

The Associated Press14 December 2022 00:50


‘Useful energy production from fusion explosions faces enormous challenges’

A professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT, Ian Hutchinson, told The Washington Post that the work conducted at the National Ignition Facility is “not aimed at fusion energy production but at understanding fusion explosions”.

“Useful energy production from miniature fusion explosions still faces enormous engineering challenges, and we don’t know if those challenges can be overcome,” he added.

Gustaf Kilander14 December 2022 00:05


‘We had some rocky times’: Member of Congress fought efforts to defund National Ignition Facility

California Representative Zoe Lofgren worked against attempts to defund the National Ignition Facility.

“We had some rocky times,” she told The Washington Post. “To see they have achieved ignition is fabulous. It is a profound breakthrough that brings an enticing promise that we could produce a nonpolluting, basically limitless source of energy.”

Commercial fusion energy had been attempted for some time as results in national labs have disappointed some and amid the possibility that funding for experiments may dry up.

Gustaf Kilander13 December 2022 23:25

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