For the first time ever, US scientists at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California successfully produced a nuclear fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain.
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 fusion that powers the sun.
Nuclear fusion happens when two or more atoms are fused into one larger one, a process that generates a massive amount of energy as heat. Unlike nuclear fission that powers electricity all over the world, it doesn’t generate long-lived radioactive waste.
Scientists across the globe have been inching toward the breakthrough, using different methods to try to achieve the same goal.
The National Ignition Facility project creates energy from nuclear fusion by what’s known as “thermonuclear inertial fusion.” In practice, US scientists fire pellets that contain a hydrogen fuel into an array of nearly 200 lasers, essentially creating a series of extremely fast, repeated explosions at the rate of 50 times per second.
The energy collected from the neutrons and alpha particles is extracted as heat, and that heat holds the key to producing energy.