US scientists are said to have carried out the first nuclear fusion experiment to achieve a net energy gain, a major breakthrough in a field that has pursued such a result since the 1950s, and a potential step in the search for climate-friendly renewable energy. source to replace fossil fuels.
The experiment took place in recent weeks at the government-funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where researchers used a process known as inertial confinement fusion, the FinancialTimes reportsciting three people with knowledge of the preliminary results of the experiment.
The test involved bombarding a hydrogen plasma pellet with the world’s largest laser to trigger a nuclear fusion reaction, the same process that takes place in the sun.
The researchers were able to produce 2.5 megajoules of energy, or 120% of the 2.1 megajoules used to power the experiment.
The laboratory has confirmed FT he had recently conducted a “successful” experiment at the National Ignition Facility, but declined to comment further, citing the preliminary nature of the data.
“Initial diagnostic data suggests another successful experiment at the National Ignition Facility. However, the exact yield is still being determined and we cannot confirm that it exceeds the threshold at this time,” he said. “This analysis is in progress, therefore the publication of the information. . . before this process is complete would be inaccurate.
The scientific community is abuzz that a net-gain fusion reaction has taken place, noting that US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and US Undersecretary of Nuclear Security Jill Hruby are expected to make a national lab announcement this next Tuesday.
Many commentators celebrated the reported merger breakthrough.
“Scientists have struggled to show that fusion can release more energy than has been seen since the 1950s, and the Lawrence Livermore researchers seem to have finally and absolutely shattered that decades-old goal. “, said Arthur Turrell, deputy director of the UK office. for national statistics, wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “This experimental result will electrify efforts to eventually power the planet with nuclear fusion, at a time when we have never needed an abundant source of carbon-free energy more!”
Oliver Cameron, an executive at self-driving car company Cruise, predicted that with the Livermore news, the world could enter a futuristic era of widespread nuclear fusion power and largely capable artificial general intelligence (AGI).
“It’s becoming more and more likely that we’ll end this decade with both AGI and viable nuclear fusion,” he said. wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
In April, the White House announced a series of initiatives to support the development of the fusion industry.
“Fusion is part of a much larger suite of clean energy game changers that [are] commensurate with the scale that the climate challenge demands,” Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said at the time in a press release. “Now is the time for courageous innovation to accelerate fusion energy.”
The Biden administration also helped secure $370 billion in grants for low-carbon energy development under the Cut Inflation Act of 2022.
Researchers and environmentalists remain divided on the green potential of nuclear fusion.
Proponents argue that fusion is much safer than nuclear fission, the process that powers all existing nuclear power plants (and nuclear weapons). They say that if commercial reactors were able to consistently deliver net energy gains and were powered by renewable energy, fusion could be the energy source that would finally wean the world from its dangerous addiction to fossil fuels.
“For my generation, it was the fear of weapons that influenced people’s views on nuclear power. In this generation, it’s climate change,” Todd Allen, 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 it’s the technologies that are on fire or not. It’s just interesting to me because these are the first demos of new ideas in half a century. I think there is a lot of interest and potential.
Others, however, argue that nuclear fusion has a long history of over-promising and under-delivering, despite massive capital expenditure, a slow pace of development that the world cannot afford given the time to shorter and shorter available to avoid the worst of the climate crisis.
“We have never been against a technology in principle, but it is very clear, every time you start to calculate, that the moment you introduce nuclear, the costs increase and the speed of change decreases”, Jan Haverkamp , an energy expert at Greenpeace, said The Independent in January. “This is exactly what we cannot afford now, as climate change becomes more and more real. If you’re starting to talk about nuclear right now, you’re either following a fad or trying to distract from what really needs to be done.
Yet despite this debate, billions of dollars are flowing into private nuclear startups, like the TerraPower supported by Bill Gatesas well as government efforts such as ITERa 23,000 ton, $22 billion nuclear experiment in 35 countries under construction in France.