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LLNL’s Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough Offers Step to Clean Energy

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LIVERMORE, Calif., Dec. 12, 2022 — Researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have made a significant breakthrough in ongoing nuclear fusion research. The scientists created a fusion reaction that produced more energy than the process consumed and that briefly sustained itself. The so-called net-energy gain from a fusion reaction could be a major step toward the goal of creating an unlimited source of clean energy in the future.

The experiment leading to the milestone was reportedly performed in August. The news was covered by major media outlets this morning, including CNN, The Washington Post, the Daily Mail, and others.

A press conference is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 13, in which U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will offer initial details on the LLNL scientists’ work.

London’s Financial Times reported on the planned reveal over the weekend, citing three people familiar with preliminary results of the research. The Washington Post reported on two additional people with knowledge of the development.
One year after achieving a yield of more than 1.3 MJ at LLNL’s NIF, the scientific results the experiment were published, in three peer-reviewed papers. Building on this result, NIF scintists have reportedly achieved a "net gain" in a fusion creating a reaction that produced more energy than the process consumed, and that briefly sustained itself. Courtesy of LLNL.
One year after achieving a yield of more than 1.3 MJ at LLNL’s NIF, the scientific results of the experiment were published in three peer-reviewed papers in 2022. Building on this result, NIF scientists have reportedly achieved a 'net gain' in a fusion reaction that produced more energy than the process consumed and that briefly sustained itself. Courtesy of LLNL.
Nuclear fusion reactions, such as that which the LLNL team harnessed for its achievement, are the same type of reactions that power the sun. Physicists have investigated these reactions for roughly 70 years in a quest to identify an alternative to fossil fuels and conventional nuclear power. In addition to zero carbon emissions, the energy source is expected to produce much less radioactive waste than power plants that are based on nuclear fission.

The NIF uses the process of inertial confinement fusion (ICF) to produce fusion energy. The process uses a system of 192 lasers — the NIF system is the largest in the world — to heat fuel pellets to produce a plasma. The pellets contain so-called heavy versions of hydrogen — deuterium and tritium — that are easier to fuse and that produce more energy.

The net gain demonstration follows a setback that LLNL and NIF scientists suffered earlier this year, in failing to replicate a 2021 result in which they generated more than 10 quadrillion W of fusion power, reaching the brink of ignition. This forced the NIF-based team to rethink designs on experimentation aimed to recapture ignition and obtain a net gain.

Now, according to the Financial Times, people familiar with the latest development said the fusion reaction produced about 2.5 MJ of energy, which was about 120% of the 2.1 MJ of energy in the lasers.

The speculated breakthrough follows previous LLNL and NIF results including the August 2021 experiment that brought researchers to the cusp of nuclear fusion ignition. Additionally, earlier this year, NIF scientists reported on engineering and testing a laser system in which fusion itself — as opposed to external heating mechanisms — provided most of the heat needed for a fusion reaction. This accomplishment will enable scientists to achieve higher levels of fusion performance in an ultimate attempt to attain energy from nuclear fusion as well as fusion energy that is self sustaining.

Though fusion power stations remain far from practical implementation, it is hoped that fusion energy delivered by the same technology used in the rumored LLNL demonstration will ultimately yield a limitless clean energy resource.

Beyond a technical milestone, the achievement of net energy gain comes as laser fusion-aimed startup companies have surged globally. The demonstration would also come as the Biden administration and global leaders continue to pursue efforts for low-carbon energy to slash emissions.
Dec 2022
Americasnuclear fusionLasersenvironmentalenergygovernmentLawrence Livermore National LaboratoryLLNLNational Ignition FacilityNIF

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