LIVERMORE, Calif. (BCN) — Scientists achieved fusion ignition last week at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, which could eventually mean clean energy for homes and businesses, U.S. Department of Energy officials announced Tuesday. Achieving fusion means more energy is produced than what was used to create it.
The breakthrough took decades. It holds promises for clean energy and may advance national defense initiatives, such as the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program. That program manages the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons.
“We have had a theoretical understanding of fusion for over a century, but the journey from knowing to doing can be long and arduous,” said Arati Prabhakar, President Biden’s chief adviser for science and technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in a statement. “Today’s milestone shows what we can do with perseverance.”
A team of scientists on Dec. 5 conducted a controlled fusion experiment at the lab’s National Ignition Facility in Livermore. It was the first such experiment in history.
Scientists used 2.05 million joules of energy and created 3.15 million joules. In fusion, scientists combine two light nuclei to form one heavier nucleus. A group of scientists at the lab hypothesized over 60 years ago that they could use lasers to induce fusion in the lab. Research and development since then finally spawned last week’s breakthrough.
To pursue the breakthrough, a series of laser systems were built, which led to what has become the National Ignition Facility. It is the largest and most energetic laser system in the world.
At the size of a sport stadium, it has enough power to simulate the temperatures and pressures in stars and planets and in exploding nuclear weapons.
“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 Kim Budil said in a statement. “These are the problems that the U.S. national laboratories were created to solve.”
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Many more developments are required before the type of energy created last week will power homes and businesses, lab officials said. The Department of Energy is restarting its inertial fusion energy program in the U.S. To deliver fusion energy to the public, private sector investments will be harnessed, too, according to the announcement.
“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, D-New York, said in a statement.
Like others, Schumer said making fusion energy available to homes and businesses will take more work. He has secured over $624 million this year for the Inertial Confinement Fusion program, a fusion energy research program, “to build on this amazing breakthrough,” he said.
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