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A nuclear fusion breakthrough could lead to free electricity for consumers in the future.
On Dec 13, 2022, the US Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration announced the achievement of fusion ignition at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The National Ignition Facility team conducted the first controlled fusion experiment, producing more fusion energy than the laser energy used to fuel the experiment.
It is expected that the research that has been conducted as part of this major scientific achievement will provide the foundation for endless advances in clean energy, as shown at this week’s technical briefing in Washington, DC, which was held to inform the public about the accomplishment.
With this clean and almost inexhaustible power source, electricity generation would be revolutionized, bringing lasting benefits to future generations.
What is nuclear fusion?
Nuclear fusion, combining the nuclei of two atoms to form a heavier core, has long been hailed as the holy grail of clean energy.
Unlike fossil fuels, which produce greenhouse gases when burned, energy from nuclear fusion has the potential to provide an almost limitless source of energy without making any harmful emissions.
For decades, scientists have been working to harness this energy, and in recent years, several notable breakthroughs have brought us closer to achieving this goal.
One of the most significant recent developments in nuclear fusion reaction has been the successful operation of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, a large-scale experimental fusion facility located in the south of France.
In December 2020, the ITER collaboration triumphantly marked a significant milestone after three decades of progress.
This renowned accomplishment is known as “first plasma,” which marks their capacity to initiate and continue with sustaining plasma – an indispensable component for nuclear fusion.
Thirty-five nations were involved in this collaboration, including the United States, China, and the European Union.
Scientists at the National Ignition Facility in California made significant progress in developing laser-based fusion, a process in which laser beams are used to compress and heat hydrogen fuel to the point where fusion occurs, achieving “ignition,” in which more energy is produced than is put into the system, a key step towards achieving practical nuclear fusion energy.
One of the main challenges in achieving practical fusion energy has been finding a way to sustain plasma for long enough periods to make the process economically viable.
While the ITER project and other experimental fusion facilities have made significant progress, much work still needs to be done.
Further research is being conducted to develop materials that can withstand the extreme conditions required for fusion and efficiently capture and use the energy generated by this process.
Despite these challenges, the recent breakthroughs in nuclear fusion have generated a great deal of optimism and excitement in the scientific community.
What does nuclear fusion mean for the future?
Suppose scientists can overcome the remaining hurdles and bring fusion energy to fruition. In that case, it has the potential to revolutionize the way we generate electricity and could play a crucial role in addressing the global energy crisis and combating climate change.
Of course, nuclear fusion is not without its critics, who point out that it is still a very young technology and that there are significant safety concerns surrounding the use of nuclear reactions.
However, proponents of nuclear fusion argue that these concerns can be mitigated with proper safety measures and that the potential benefits of fusion energy far outweigh the risks.
The recent breakthroughs in nuclear fusion have brought us closer than ever to achieving practical fusion energy, a clean and almost limitless source of power that could revolutionize the way we generate electricity.
While there are still many challenges to overcome, the scientific community is optimistic that these challenges can be overcome and that fusion energy will play a crucial role in addressing the global energy crisis and combating climate change.