The United States is set to announce a major breakthrough in the search for carbon-free nuclear fusion energy

Washington — The US Department of Energy said Sunday it would announce a “major scientific breakthrough” this week, after media reports that a federal lab recently achieved a major milestone in nuclear fusion research. The Financial Times reported on Sunday that scientists at the California-based Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) achieved a “net energy gain” from an experimental fusion reactor.

It would be the first time that researchers have succeeded in producing more energy in a fusion reaction – the same type that powers the Sun – than is consumed in the process, a potentially major step in the pursuit of an energy without carbon.

Spokespersons for the Department of Energy and LLNL told AFP they could not comment or provide confirmation regarding the FT report, but said US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm , “would announce a major scientific breakthrough” on Tuesday.

Merge Milestone
This image provided by the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory shows the NIF target bay in Livermore, California.

Damien Jemison/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory/AP

The LLNL spokesperson added that their “analysis is still ongoing”.

“We look forward to sharing more on Tuesday when this process is complete,” she said.

The fusion reaction that produced a net energy gain of 120% occurred within the past two weeks, the FT said, citing three people with knowledge of the preliminary results.

The Washington Post later reported that two people familiar with the research confirmed the development, with a molten senior scientist telling the paper, “for most of us, it was just a matter of time.”

Merge Milestone
This illustration provided by the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory depicts a target pellet inside a hohlraum capsule with laser beams entering through openings at each end. The beams compress and heat the target to the conditions necessary for nuclear fusion to occur.

Lawrence Livermore/AP National Laboratory

Nuclear fusion is considered by some scientists as a potential energy of the future, especially since it produces little waste and no greenhouse gases.

“If this fusion energy breakthrough is true, it could be a game changer for the world,” California Congressman Ted Lieu tweeted.

Fusion differs from fission, the technique currently used in nuclear power plants, by fusing two atomic nuclei together instead of separating one.

The LLNL fusion facility is the size of three football fields and consists of nearly 200 lasers that bombard a tiny point with high energy levels to trigger a fusion reaction.

As CBS News’ Haley Ott discovered earlier this year, the quest to harness the power of nuclear fusion for clean energy has led to one of the world’s largest and oldest collaborative science experiments – an experiment which, like the LLNL project, took on a new opportunity given the global energy crisis.

Ott toured the multi-billion dollar merger project known as the ITER – which means “the way” in Latin and is short for “International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor” in the south of France this year, where 35 countries are working together to try to solve the same scientific enigma that the United States is working on unilaterally to the LLNL.

Some of the countries participating in the ITER project – including the United States, Russia, China, India, South Korea, Japan and European Union countries – are frequent collaborators, but some are adversaries major on the world stage.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine unleashed an unprecedented barrage of sanctions against Moscow from some partner countries, for example, and in response Moscow has restricts its natural gas supplies towards Europe, aggravating the energy crisis.

The international science experiment grew out of an attempt to calm tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and the joint project continued despite ongoing tension between not only the United States and Russia, but also China, which is also involved.

In March, the White House announced a plan to accelerate the commercial development of fusion over the next few decades through continued investment in ITER and national projects like the one underway at the LLNL facility. The White House announced in the spring the “potential of fusion to revolutionize the energy industry, helping to tackle the climate crisis while meeting the growing electricity needs of the United States and the world.”

Inside an experimental fusion energy laboratory


“Of more than 30 merger companies worldwide, two-thirds are based in the United States and most were founded in the past decade,” the White House noted. “By partnering with these companies, we have the opportunity to keep these companies growing within our borders and solidifying America’s fusion technology leadership.”

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is chaired by Senator Joe Manchin, who visited the ITER facility earlier this year. The committee recently held a hearing to consider how the federal government could further support the commercial development of fusion energy.

“The race for fusion is also a race for future global leadership,” said Dr. Scott C. Hsu, senior merger coordinator in the office of the U.S. Department of the United States Department of Science and Innovation’s Undersecretary of Science and Innovation. energy. “While merger has long benefited from international collaboration and should continue to do so, make no mistake, merger is now also international competition. Failure to act now could relegate the United States to importing rather than exporters of fusion technology.”

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