A Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough at Livermore Lab

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An amazing scientific breakthrough involving the study of nuclear fusion occurred less than 20 miles away from Dublin High at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) last December. This was a huge milestone that many believe can possibly lead to a future revolution in plentiful clean energy. 

 

Fusion is a nuclear reaction where two light nuclei combine together to form a single heavier nucleus, the process releasing huge amounts of energy. The reaction is behind the powering of many things, including our sun. In our sun, this usually happens when four hydrogen atoms fuse together to create one helium atom. This research has been going on for several decades but December 5th, 2022 marked the first time a fusion reaction in a laboratory setting had produced more energy than it needed to start the reaction. In order to achieve that, the team at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility had to use 192 lasers in the process. 

 

The U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm remarked “This is a landmark achievement for the researchers and staff at the National Ignition Facility who have dedicated their careers to seeing fusion ignition become a reality, and this milestone will undoubtedly spark even more discovery. The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting our world-class scientists — like the team at NIF — whose work will help us solve humanity’s most complex and pressing problems, like providing clean power to combat climate change and maintaining a nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing.”

 

Although this was certainly a breakthrough and a monumental step forward, many scientists have noted that it will take a lot more years before the fusion energy can be fully harnessed and be available for use on a global scale. Matt Orsagh, a senior advisor for GreenBiz, said that “Even with government-sponsored initiatives, the science of fusion will take time to become a practical reality. And it may never do so. With a timetable of decades in the most optimistic scenarios, fusion won’t get us to net-zero 2050 goals. We still have to do the heavy lifting of getting off carbon-based energy sources and removing CO2 and methane from the atmosphere. Fusion may make it a little bit easier to be green 20-30 years from now. But not today and not tomorrow.”  When that day comes, whether it takes decades from now, a future of clean energy with zero emissions would be possible and can significantly slow down climate change that is currently caused by the energy sources used today. But unfortunately as Matt Orsagh mentioned, we can not rely on that magical day to pass and we as a collective must start making climate positive decisions now.

 

Works Cited

Chang, Kenneth. “Scientists Achieve Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough with Blast of 192 Lasers.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Dec. 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/12/13/science/nuclear-fusion-energy-breakthrough.html.

LLNL. “National Ignition Facility Achieves Fusion Ignition.” LLNL, 2022, https://www.llnl.gov/news/national-ignition-facility-achieves-fusion-ignition.

Orsagh, Matt, and Matt OrsaghSenior AdvisorResponsible [email protected] “Nuclear Fusion Is a Reality! Do Not Invest in Nuclear Fusion.” Greenbiz, 12 Jan. 2023, https://www.greenbiz.com/article/nuclear-fusion-reality-do-not-invest-nuclear-fusion.