US scientists reportedly conducted the first nuclear fusion experiment to achieve a net energy gain, a major breakthrough in a field that has pursued such an achievement since the 1950s and a potential milestone in the search for a renewable energy climate-friendly source to replace fossil fuels.
The experiment took place in recent weeks at the government-funded Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where the researchers used a process known as inertial confinement fusion, the Financial Times reports, citing three people familiar with the preliminary results of the experiment.
The test involved bombarding a pellet of hydrogen plasma with the world’s largest laser to ignite a nuclear fusion reaction, the same process that occurs in the sun.
The researchers were able to produce 2.5 megajoules of energy, 120% of the 2.1 megajoules used to power the experiment.
The laboratory confirmed al ft extension 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 suggest another successful experiment at the National Ignition Facility. However, the exact yield is still being determined and we cannot confirm it is above the threshold at this time,” he said. “That analysis is ongoing, so posting the information . . . before the trial is completed would be inaccurate.
The scientific community is abuzz that a net-gain fusion reaction has occurred, noting that US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and US Undersecretary of Nuclear Safety Jill Hruby will make an announcement from the National Laboratory next Tuesday.
Many commentators celebrated the breakthrough of the reported merger.
“Scientists have struggled to demonstrate that fusion can release more energy than has been input since the 1950s, and Lawrence Livermore researchers appear to have finally and utterly dashed this decades-old goal,” Arthur Turrell, deputy director of the Bureau of the United Kingdom for national statistics, he wrote Sunday on Twitter. ‘This experimental achievement will electrify efforts to 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 the self-driving car company Cruise, predicted that with the Livermore news, the world could enter a futuristic era of widespread nuclear fusion power and widely capable artificial general intelligence (AGI).
“It is becoming increasingly likely that we will end this decade with both AGI and viable nuclear fusion,” he said he wrote on Twitter 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 revolutionaries [are] commensurate with the scale required by the climate challenge,” Alondra Nelson, head of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, She said at the time in a statement. “Now is the time for a bold innovation to accelerate fusion energy.”
The Biden administration also helped secure $370 billion in subsidies for low-carbon energy development as part of the 2022 Inflation Reduction Act.
Researchers and environmentalists remain divided over 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 achieve a net energy gain and were powered by renewable energy, fusion could be the energy source that would ultimately wean the world off its dangerous dependence on fossil fuels.
“For my generation, it was the fear of guns that influenced people’s views on nuclear power. In this generation, it’s climate change,” Todd Allen, a professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan and director of the school’s Fastest Path to Zero climate center, said The independent earlier this year. “I don’t know in the end if these are the technologies that catch fire or not. It’s just interesting to me because it’s the first demos of new ideas in half a century. I think there’s a lot of interest and potential.”
Others, however, argue that nuclear fusion has a long history of overpromising and underdelivering, despite massive capital expenditures, a slow pace of development that the world cannot afford given the ever-shrinking time available to avoid the worst of the climate crisis.
“We have never been against any technology in principle, but it is very clear, whenever you start calculating, that the moment you introduce nuclear, the costs go up and the speed of change goes down,” Jan Haverkamp, an energy expert at Greenpeace said The independent in January. “This is exactly what we cannot afford now that climate change is becoming ever more real. If you start talking about nuclear right now, you’re either following a fad or trying to divert attention away from what really needs to be done.”
However, despite this debate, billions of dollars are flowing into private nuclear startups, such as the TerraPower backed by Bill Gatesas well as government efforts such as ITERa 23,000-ton, $22 billion, 35-nation nuclear test under construction in France.