U.S. fusion energy breakthrough | Lasers, water and E=mc²

This is the news our world needs, and the fossil fuel industry hates. The US Department of Energy is expected to officially announce this breakthrough today.

On December 12, 2022 Shannon Osaka writes this in the Washington Post:

The news could galvanize the fusion community, which has long hyped the technology as a possible clean energy tool to combat climate change. Fusion involves smushing two atoms (often two hydrogen atoms) together to create a new element (often helium), in the same way that stars creates energy. In that process, the two hydrogen atoms lose a small amount of mass, which is converted to energy according to Einstein’s famous equation, E=mc². Because the speed of light is very, very fast — 300,000,000 meters per second — even a tiny amount of mass lost can result in a ton of energy.

What you need to know about the U.S. fusion energy breakthrough | December 12, 2022

“If it’s what we’re expecting, it’s like the Kitty Hawk moment for the Wright brothers. It’s like the plane taking off.”

Melanie Windridge, a plasma physicist and the CEO of Fusion Energy Insights
Breakthrough in nuclear fusion could mean ‘near-limitless energy’

On December 12, 2022 Nicola Davis writes in The Guardian:

According to a report in the Financial Times, which has yet to be confirmed by the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California that is behind the work, researchers have managed to release 2.5 MJ of energy after using just 2.1 MJ to heat the fuel with lasers.

Breakthrough in nuclear fusion could mean ‘near-limitless energy | December 12, 2022

“Fusion has the potential to provide a near-limitless, safe, clean, source of carbon-free baseload energy. This seminal result from the National Ignition Facility is the first laboratory demonstration of fusion ‘energy-gain’ – where more fusion energy is output than input by the laser beams. The scale of the breakthrough for laser fusion research cannot be overstated.”

Dr Robbie Scott, of the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) Central Laser Facility (CLF) Plasma Physics Group

“If what has been reported is true and more energy has been released than was used to produce the plasma, that is a true breakthrough moment which is tremendously exciting. It proves that the long sought-after goal, the ‘holy grail’ of fusion, can indeed be achieved.”

Prof Jeremy Chittenden, professor of plasma physics at Imperial College London
Nuclear fusion: How long until this breakthrough discovery can power your house

On December 13, 2022 Ella Nilsen and René Marsh share on CNN:

The result of the experiment would be a massive step in a decadeslong quest to unleash an infinite source of clean energy that could help end dependence on fossil fuels. Researchers for decades have attempted to recreate nuclear fusion – replicating the energy that powers the sun. Scientists around the world have been studying nuclear fusion for decades, hoping to recreate it with a new source that provides limitless, carbon-free energy – without the nuclear waste created by current nuclear reactors. The deuterium from a glass of water, with a little tritium added, could power a house for a year. Tritium is rarer and more challenging to obtain, although it can be synthetically made.

Nuclear fusion: How long until this breakthrough discovery can power your house | December 13, 2022

“Unlike coal, you only need a small amount of hydrogen, and it is the most abundant thing found in the universe. Hydrogen is found in water so the stuff that generates this energy is wildly unlimited and it is clean.”

Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct and a former chief energy technologist at Lawrence Livermore
The U.S. reaches a fusion power milestone. Will it be enough to save the planet?

Geoff Brumfiel reports this on NPR:

Unless there’s an even larger breakthrough, fusion is unlikely to play a major role in power production before the 2060s or 2070s, says Tony Roulstone, a nuclear engineer at Cambridge University in the U.K., who’s done an economic analysis of fusion power. He and his team looked at a rival technology known as a tokamak and concluded that there were still an enormous number of challenges to making fusion work economically. Still, the long-term potential is staggering, says Arati Dasgupta, a nuclear scientist with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Whereas a giant pile of carbon-spewing coal might generate electricity for a matter of minutes, the same quantity of fusion fuel could run a power plant for years–with no carbon dioxide emissions.

The U.S. reaches a fusion power milestone. Will it be enough to save the planet? | December 13, 2022
Department of Energy

DOE National Laboratory Makes History by Achieving Fusion Ignition

DECEMBER 13, 2022

For First Time, Researchers Produce More Energy from Fusion Than Was Used to Drive It, Promising Further Discovery in Clean Power and Nuclear Weapons Stewardship

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) today announced the achievement of fusion ignition at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL)—a major scientific breakthrough decades in the making that will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power. On December 5, a team at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history to reach this milestone, also known as scientific energy breakeven, meaning it produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it. This historic, first-of-its kind achievement will provide unprecedented capability to support NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program and will provide invaluable insights into the prospects of clean fusion energy, which would be a game-changer for efforts to achieve President Biden’s goal of a net-zero carbon economy.

“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,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “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.”

“We have had a theoretical understanding of fusion for over a century, but the journey from knowing to doing can be long and arduous. Today’s milestone shows what we can do with perseverance,” said Dr. Arati Prabhakar, the President’s Chief Advisor for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Monday, December 5, 2022, was a historic day in science thanks to the incredible people at Livermore Lab and the National Ignition Facility. In making this breakthrough, they have opened a new chapter in NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program,” said NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby. “I would like to thank the members of Congress who have supported the National Ignition Facility because their belief in the promise of visionary science has been critical for our mission. Our team from around the DOE national laboratories and our international partners have shown us the power of collaboration.”

“The pursuit of fusion ignition in the laboratory is one of the most significant scientific challenges ever tackled by humanity, and achieving it is a triumph of science, engineering, and most of all, people,” LLNL Director Dr. Kim Budil said. “Crossing this threshold is the vision that has driven 60 years of dedicated pursuit—a continual process of learning, building, expanding knowledge and capability, and then finding ways to overcome the new challenges that emerged. These are the problems that the U.S. national laboratories were created to solve.”

“This astonishing scientific advance puts us on the precipice of a future no longer reliant on fossil fuels but instead powered by new clean fusion energy,” U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said. I commend Lawrence Livermore National Labs and its partners in our nation’s Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) program, including the University of Rochester’s Lab for Laser Energetics in New York, for achieving this breakthrough. Making this future clean energy world a reality will require our physicists, innovative workers, and brightest minds at our DOE-funded institutions, including the Rochester Laser Lab, to double down on their cutting-edge work. That’s why I’m also proud to announce today that I’ve helped to secure the highest ever authorization of over $624 million this year in the National Defense Authorization Act for the ICF program to build on this amazing breakthrough.”

“After more than a decade of scientific and technical innovation, I congratulate the team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the National Ignition Facility for their historic accomplishment,” said U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA). “This is an exciting step in fusion and everyone at Lawrence Livermore and NIF should be proud of this milestone achievement.”

“This is an historic, innovative achievement that builds on the contributions of generations of Livermore scientists. Today, our nation stands on their collective shoulders. We still have a long way to go, but this is a critical step and I commend the U.S. Department of Energy and all who contributed toward this promising breakthrough, which could help fuel a brighter clean energy future for the United States and humanity,” said U.S. Senator Jack Reed (RI), the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“This monumental scientific breakthrough is a milestone for the future of clean energy,” said U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (CA). “While there is more work ahead to harness the potential of fusion energy, I am proud that California scientists continue to lead the way in developing clean energy technologies. I congratulate the scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory for their dedication to a clean energy future, and I am committed to ensuring they have all of the tools and funding they need to continue this important work.”

“This is a very big deal. We can celebrate another performance record by the National Ignition Facility. This latest achievement is particularly remarkable because NIF used a less spherically symmetrical target than in the August 2021 experiment,” said U.S. Representative Zoe Lofgren (CA-19). “This significant advancement showcases the future possibilities for the commercialization of fusion energy. Congress and the Administration need to fully fund and properly implement the fusion research provisions in the recent CHIPS and Science Act and likely more. During World War II, we crafted the Manhattan Project for a timely result. The challenges facing the world today are even greater than at that time. We must double down and accelerate the research to explore new pathways for the clean, limitless energy that fusion promises.”

“I am thrilled that NIF—the United States’ most cutting-edge nuclear research facility—has achieved fusion ignition, potentially providing for a new clean and sustainable energy source in the future. This breakthrough will ensure the safety and reliability of our nuclear stockpile, open new frontiers in science, and enable progress toward new ways to power our homes and offices in future decades,” said U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell (CA-15). “I commend the scientists and researchers for their hard work and dedication that led to this monumental scientific achievement, and I will continue to push for robust funding for NIF to support advancements in fusion research.”

LLNL’s experiment surpassed the fusion threshold by delivering 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy to the target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output, demonstrating for the first time a most fundamental science basis for inertial fusion energy (IFE). Many advanced science and technology developments are still needed to achieve simple, affordable IFE to power homes and businesses, and DOE is currently restarting a broad-based, coordinated IFE program in the United States. Combined with private-sector investment, there is a lot of momentum to drive rapid progress toward fusion commercialization.

Fusion is the process by which two light nuclei combine to form a single heavier nucleus, releasing a large amount of energy. In the 1960s, a group of pioneering scientists at LLNL hypothesized that lasers could be used to induce fusion in a laboratory setting. Led by physicist John Nuckolls, who later served as LLNL director from 1988 to 1994, this revolutionary idea became inertial confinement fusion, kicking off more than 60 years of research and development in lasers, optics, diagnostics, target fabrication, computer modeling and simulation, and experimental design.

To pursue this concept, LLNL built a series of increasingly powerful laser systems, leading to the creation of NIF, the world’s largest and most energetic laser system. NIF—located at LLNL in Livermore, Calif.—is the size of a sports stadium and uses powerful laser beams to create temperatures and pressures like those in the cores of stars and giant planets, and inside exploding nuclear weapons.

Achieving ignition was made possible by dedication from LLNL employees as well as countless collaborators at DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Nevada National Security Site; General Atomics; academic institutions, including the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University; international partners, including the United Kingdom’s Atomic Weapons Establishment and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission; and stakeholders at DOE and NNSA and in Congress. Source



What is nuclear fusion? Harnessing the power of the sun to create clean energy
December 12, 2022 – In fusion, two atomic nuclei are combined to create a heavier nucleus, and the process releases energy. The reaction takes place in a state of matter called plasma, which is distinct from liquids, solids or gasses. In the sun, nuclei collide at hot enough temperatures to overcome the electric repulsion that would normally keep them apart. When they are very close together, the attractive nuclear force between them becomes stronger than the electric repulsion, and they are able to fuse. The gravity of the sun ensures that nuclei are kept close enough together to increase their chances of colliding.

If humans can harness the power of fusion on an industrial scale, it could help create a virtually limitless source of clean energy on earth, with the power to generate four million times more energy than burning coal or oil.

the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency

What to know about DOE’s fusion milestone
December 13, 2022 – Firing an energy “shot” from world’s largest cluster of lasers, scientists at Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility ignited a BB-sized fuel pellet, achieving 100 million degrees Celsius — 10 times hotter than the temperature at the center of the sun. The ignition required a little over two units of laser energy and produced 3.15 units of heat energy in the instantaneous reaction, the production of “net energy” that scientists at the lab have pursued for more than 60 years. Tammy Ma, a plasma scientist at the facility, said she got the news of the results while waiting for a flight. “I burst into tears” and began jumping up and down in joy, she said Tuesday.

Scientists Achieve Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough With Blast of 192 Lasers
December 13, 2022 – Within the sun and stars, fusion continually combines hydrogen atoms into helium, producing sunlight and warmth that bathes the planets. In experimental reactors and laser labs on Earth, fusion lives up to its reputation as a very clean energy source. The successful experiment finally delivers the ignition goal that was promised when construction of the National Ignition Facility started in 1997. When operations began in 2009, however, the facility hardly generated any fusion at all, an embarrassing disappointment after a $3.5 billion investment from the federal government. The main purpose of the National Ignition Facility is to conduct experiments to help the United States maintain its nuclear weapons. That makes the immediate implications for producing energy tentative.

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