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Historic Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough Announced. Here’s What It Means

Scientists have been working on the development of nuclear fusion for decades. (representative)


US researchers on Tuesday announced a historic breakthrough in nuclear fusion, a “milestone achievement” in the search for a source of unlimited, clean energy and an end to fossil fuel dependence.

California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) said an experiment it conducted this month “produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to power it.”

The U.S. Department of Energy described the achievement of fusion ignition as a “major scientific breakthrough” that will lead to “advances in national defense and the future of clean energy.”

LLNL director Kim Budil described it as “one of the most important scientific challenges humanity has ever faced”.

Scientists have been working for decades to develop nuclear fusion – touted by proponents as a clean, abundant and safe source of energy that could eventually enable humanity to break its dependence on the fossil fuels that are causing a global climate crisis.

The LLNL said a team from its National Ignition Facility (NIF) conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history on Dec. 5, hitting what it calls “scientific energy break-even.”

“This is a milestone for the researchers and staff at the National Ignition Facility who have dedicated their careers to making fusion ignition a reality, and this milestone will undoubtedly lead to even more discoveries,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm.

– More developments needed –

Nuclear power plants around the world currently use fission – the splitting of the nucleus of a heavy atom – to produce energy.

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Fusion, on the other hand, combines two light hydrogen atoms into one heavier helium atom, releasing a large amount of energy.

That’s the process that takes place in stars, including our sun.

On Earth, fusion reactions can be triggered by heating hydrogen to extreme temperatures in specialized devices.

Researchers at the LLNL are using the massive National Ignition Facility — 192 high-powered lasers, all aimed at a thimble-sized cylinder filled with hydrogen.

Like fission, nuclear fusion is carbon-free during operation, but has many more advantages: it poses no risk of nuclear disaster and produces much less radioactive waste.

However, there is still a long way to go before fusion is viable on an industrial scale.

“Many advanced scientific and technological advances are still needed to realize simple, affordable IFE to power homes and businesses,” said LLNL.

There are also other nuclear fusion projects under development around the world, including the major international project ITER, currently under construction in France.

Instead of lasers, ITER will use a technique known as magnetic confinement, which involves a swirling mass of merging hydrogen plasma in a huge doughnut-shaped chamber.

(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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