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Nuclear Fusion Researchers Celebrate a Major Breakthrough

Dec. 13, 2022
Six decades of work pay off for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, with significant ramifications for clean energy.

In what's been hailed as a giant step forward on the path to achieving clean energy, the U.S. Department of Energy has announced that scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California have successfully produced a  nuclear fusion reaction that resulted in a net energy gain.

As noted by Rod Walton at EnergyTech (like Machine Design, a publication of Endeavor Business Media), achieving nuclear fusion has long been a goal for energy researchers. When full realized, he writes, it has the potential to surpass other energy-producing resources, boosting thermal power efforts to provide baseload energy while meeting global climate goals.

LLNL has been working toward this goal for decades, having initially developed a hypothesis that lasers could be used to induce fusion in the 1960s. Last year, the group announced it had approached the threshold of fusion ignition with an experiment that yielded 1.3 megajoules (MJ).

The breakthrough came on Dec. 5 at LLNL's National Ignition Facility, a sports stadium-sized complex that uses beams to create extreme temperature and pressure. The NIF team finally surpassed the fusion threshold, achieving 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output with only 2.05 MJ delivered to the plasma target.

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

“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,” added LLNL Director Dr. Kim Budil.

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