The US Department of Energy on Tuesday announced a milestone in nuclear fusion research: A “net energy gain” has been achieved for the first time in history by scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.
“Simply put, this is one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century,” US energy secretary Jennifer Granholm told a news conference, adding that researchers have been working on it for decades.
“It strengthens our national security and the ignition allows us to replicate certain conditions found only in the stars and the sun,” he said. “This milestone brings us one significant step closer to the possibility of zero-carbon-abundant fusion energy fueling our society.”
The impact of the scientists’ work will help US industries nationwide, Granholm said.
“Today we tell the world that America has achieved significant scientific progress,” said Granholm.
The hope is that it can be used to develop a clean energy source that breaks reliance on fossil fuels.
“The day you get more energy in than you put in, the sky’s the limit,” American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson told CBS News.
it has been considered the holy grail of energy creation which some say could save humans from extinction. It combines two hydrogen atoms, which then produce helium and a lot of energy.
This is how stars, like our sun, generate energy.
“We know how to fuse atoms and generate energy. We just haven’t been able to control it,” said deGrasse Tyson, author of “Starry Messenger: Cosmic Perspectives on Civilization.”
Nuclear fusion technology has been around since the creation of the hydrogen bomb, but using that technology to harness energy has required decades of research.
“They took 200 laser beams, some of the most powerful on planet Earth, and focused that energy into a pellet, a pellet the size of a BB,” said Dr. Michio Kaku, professor of theoretical physics at the City College of New York. “And he remembers, fusion power has no nuclear waste to speak of, no fusion to worry about.”
Scientists believe that fusion plants would be much safer than today’s nuclear fission plants, if the process can be controlled.
This is the goal of acalled the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, which is below in the south of France.
Currently, nuclear power plants use fission, which breaks apart atoms to produce energy. Even if it’s not burning fossil fuels, meltdowns like Chernobyl and Fukushima are proof that our nuclear fission can still harm humans and our environment.
But now, the time for the merger seems to have finally arrived.
“We have long been waiting to have converted something so destructive that finally it could be used for a peaceful purpose in the service of civilization,” said deGrasse Tyson.
Granholm said the scientists have reached a milestone that will go well beyond Tuesday’s announcement.
“This is a landmark achievement for researchers and National Ignition Facility staff who have dedicated their careers to seeing fusion ignition become a reality, and this milestone will no doubt spur even more discoveries,” Granholm said, adding that the breakthrough “will go down in the history books.”
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