This past year’s experiments were conducted at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).
All stars, including our sun, get their energy from nuclear fusion events. When two atoms hit with enough energy, they fuse together and create a third. As a byproduct, this process generates a lot of power.
Since its existence was first theorized in the 1920s by English physicist Arthur Eddington, nuclear fusion has been regarded as the “holy grail” of energy research, according to Discovery Magazine.
A decades-long effort by scientists has been under way to figure out how humans can use nuclear fusion energy on Earth. A successful fusion reactor would reportedly be one of the cleanest, safest, and most sustainable energy sources available.
This new breakthrough may be the single most important step toward operational nuclear fusion for humans.
According to Newsweek, the information obtained from this experiment and its ongoing follow-ups will assist scientists further optimize the fusion process and investigate nuclear fusion as a viable option for electricity generation in the near future.
Ignition, the point at which a nuclear fusion process becomes self-sustaining, was achieved, making this experiment very significant. Ignition is a critical milestone on the path to harnessing fusion power for humanity’s needs.
This experiment “was a major scientific advance in fusion research, which establishes that fusion ignition in the lab is possible at NIF,” said Omar Hurricane, chief scientist for LLNL’s inertial confinement fusion program.
“It is extremely exciting to have an ‘existence proof’ of ignition in the lab,” he said. “We’re operating in a regime that no researchers have accessed since the end of nuclear testing, and it’s an incredible opportunity to expand our knowledge as we continue to make progress.”
To use fusion to generate electricity, the reaction must be able to sustain itself, which requires ignition.
“Ignition occurs when the heating from absorption of α particles [two protons and two neutrons tightly bound together] created in the fusion process overcomes the loss mechanisms in the system for a duration of time,” said the authors in a paper publishing the results in the journal Physical Review E.
Such a reaction, if harnessed to produce power, would be among the cleanest and most reliable energy options available, according to scientists. Hydrogen could be used as the only fuel—eliminating the need for fossil fuels—and the only byproduct would be helium, which has industrial applications but is in short supply.
Inadequate technology prevents us from effectively utilizing fusion energy at the present time. Global scientific communities are now engaged in solving these problems.
Years of study and the efforts of countless people led to this month’s accomplishment.
For example, one of the peer-reviewed papers includes over 1,000 authors “to recognize and acknowledge the many individuals who have worked over many decades to enable this significant advance.”
This is truly exciting news.
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