Scientists for the first time have produced more energy in a fusion reaction than was used to power it in a “scientific breakthrough,” the Energy Department announced Tuesday.
Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California conducted the first controlled fusion experiment on December 5 to reach the milestone known as a “scientific energy equilibrium point.”
“The search for ignition by fusion in the laboratory is one of the most important scientific challenges ever tackled by humanity, and achieving it is a triumph of science, engineering and, above all, of people,” said the director of the laboratory, Kim Budil, in a statement.
The experiment produced 3.15 megajoules of fusion energy, surpassing the 2.05 megajoules used to power it.
The DOE said the achievement will promote more discoveries in “clean energy and nuclear weapons management” and would be a “game changer for efforts to achieve President Biden’s goal of a net zero carbon economy.”
“The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting our world-class scientists, like the team at [LLNL’s National Ignition Facility] – whose work will help us solve humanity’s most complex and pressing problems, like providing clean energy to combat climate change and maintaining a nuclear deterrent without nuclear tests.” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement.
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Nuclear fusion technology generates energy by breaking two or more atoms. It’s the same reaction that powers the sun and stars. It is different from nuclear fission, which is used in nuclear power plants and splits atoms to release heat and radiation.
The technology is still a long way from being replicated on a large scale at low cost, as it must be self-sustaining continuously rather than for short periods.
Budil said there are “significant hurdles” to overcome before nuclear fusion technology can be commercialized.
“I think it’s coming to the fore,” he said of the commercialization schedule. “Probably with concerted effort and investment, a few decades of research into the underlying technologies could put us in a position to build a power plant.”