Scientists May Have Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough

Scientists May Have Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough

( – A shortage of Russian gas has sparked a global energy crisis and pushed the price of electricity through the roof, showing just how vulnerable we all are to the globalized energy market. But what if the US could generate almost unlimited, cheap, carbon-free power? Scientists have just taken a vital step towards that goal.

Current nuclear reactors work by nuclear fission — harnessing the energy released when a uranium or plutonium atom splits. The problem is fission creates highly radioactive waste that can stay dangerous for millennia, and there have been a handful of notorious accidents (although, in fact, coal power kills 10 times as many people as nuclear).

There’s another kind of nuclear technology, though, and it could be revolutionary: nuclear fusion. Not only does it not produce radioactive waste, but it can produce far more power from very cheap fuel. The process involves boiling water and using the energy released when two hydrogen atoms are smashed together to form a helium atom.

The problem is that, until recently, fusion reactors have consumed more power than they produce. Now, that’s changing. On December 13, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced the $3.5 billion National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in California had achieved a fusion reaction that released more energy than the reactor used.

Scientists used a battery of powerful lasers to fuse hydrogen into helium. The lasers pumped 2.05 megajoules of energy into the fuel capsule, but the fusion reaction that ignited released 3.15 megajoules. That isn’t much, and a working fusion power plant is still years (and billions of dollars) away, but now we know it’s possible, if not cheap.

The Biden Administration has just announced another $47 million for fusion research.

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