Tuesday, June 6, 2023
HomeEditor's PickU.S. announce ‘breakthrough’ fusion energy

U.S. announce ‘breakthrough’ fusion energy

Newsman: The U.S. Department of Energy announced a breakthrough on fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars that one day could provide a cheap source of electricity. a whole new source of clean energy unlocked. The nuclear fusion research: a “net energy gain” was achieved for the first time in history by scientists from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. The hope is that it could be used to develop a clean source of power that would discontinue reliance on fossil fuels.

U.S. energy secretary Jennifer Granholm announced the monumental achievement on Tuesday at a press conference.

“Simply put, this is one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century,” Jennifer Granholm, U.S. energy secretary, said at a press conference, adding that researchers have been working on this for decades.

“Today, we tell the world that America has achieved a significant scientific breakthrough,” said Granholm. The breakthrough will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said.

“It strengthens our national security, and ignition allows us to replicate certain conditions only found in the stars and in the sun,” she said. “This milestone moves us one significant step closer to the possibility of zero carbon abundance fusion energy powering our society.”

President Joe Biden called the breakthrough a good example of the need to continue to invest in research and development. “Look what’s going on from the Department of Energy on the nuclear front. There’s a lot of good news on the horizon,” he said at the White House.

Nuclear fusion has been considered the holy grail of energy creation that some say could save humans from extinction. It combines two hydrogen atoms, which then makes helium and a whole lot of energy. 

It’s how stars, like our sun, generate power. 

Granholm said scientists have achieved a milestone that will reach far beyond Tuesday’s announcement.

“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,” Granholm said, adding that the breakthrough “will go down in the history books.

Fusion works by pressing hydrogen atoms into each other with such force that they combine into helium, releasing enormous amounts of energy and heat. Unlike other nuclear reactions, it doesn’t create radioactive waste.

The creation of what amounts to a miniature star required 192 lasers, produced in a high-security federal government building the size of a football stadium. The lasers fired into a small chamber holding a pellet of hydrogen about half the size of a BB.

As the beams fired, the atomic particles in the gas fused together and released more energy than the lasers had put in. The experiment delivered 2.05 megajoules of energy to the lasers’ target and resulted in 3.15 megajoules of energy output, basically, two in, three out.

Currently, nuclear power plants use fission, which breaks atoms apart to make energy. Even thought it’s not burning fossil fuel, meltdowns like Chernobyl and Fukushima are evidence that our nuclear fission can still harm humans — and our environment.

But now, fusion’s moment appears to finally be here. But it is still at least a decade — maybe decades — away from commercial use, but the latest development is likely to be touted by the Biden administration as an affirmation of a massive investment by the government over the years.

“Ignition allows us to replicate for the first time certain conditions that are found only in the stars and the sun,″ Granholm told. “This milestone moves us one significant step closer” to having zero-carbon fusion energy “powering our society.”

Granholm said the private sector is “very interested” in this development as well, and she referenced President Joe Biden’s 10-year goal of getting to a commercial fusion reactor.

That’s the goal of a multinational, multibillion-dollar project called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, which is under construction in southern France. This method is being explored in collaboration among 35 countries called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, as well as by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a private company.

“We have a lot more work to make sure it’s not just the United States, it’s other countries as well. So our example, both in the fusion example — as well as in all of these other of the technologies and policies — are being looked at very seriously by other countries who also want to do their part,” Energy secretary  Granholm said.

Investors including Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and John Doerr have poured money into companies building fusion. Private industry secured more than $2.8 billion last year, according to the Fusion Industry Association for a total of about $5 billion in recent years.

The nation’s fusion program was initially created with the goal of more efficient management of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile

The reaction that scientists produced at the National Ignition Facility required the firing of an immense laser system that was built only after massive cost overruns and years of delays.

For now, scientists will be focused on unlocking more practical and affordable ways to replicate the fusion reaction that powers the sun. In the sun’s core, the tremendous pressure drives hydrogen nuclei together. They combine to create helium and other light elements, converting some of the mass to energy.

Nuclear fusion is also what allows hydrogen bombs to deliver tremendously violent explosions. Such fusion bombs are far more powerful than the atomic bombs that employ nuclear fission, in which atoms are split rather than fused.

 Experimental fusion reactors heat plasmas — free electrons and atomic nuclei — to temperatures exceeding 100 million degrees Celsius, hotter than the sun’s core.

The next step is to confine that hot plasma in a tiny space, where the atomic particles can potentially undergo a fusion reaction. That can be done in different ways, reflected in the varying business plans of energy start-ups hoping to eventually deploy fusion energy to the electric grid.

This mission is rooted in our belief that great journalism has the power to enrich the experience of life that not only fulfills the purpose of life but also helps every single individual in society with the spirit of human values.

Most Popular