⚡ Nuclear fusion breakthrough: More energy out than in

⚡ Nuclear fusion breakthrough: More energy out than in

For the first time in history, scientists have managed to produce more energy from nuclear fusion than what was required for the lasers to drive it.

Mathias Sundin
Mathias Sundin

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Nuclear fusion has been 50 years away, they've been saying for over 50 years. Well, now they can stop saying that.

A team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory successfully conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history.

The experiment produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it.

The hohlraum that houses the type of cryogenic target used to achieve ignition on Dec. 5, 2022, at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility. Image from LLNL.

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

The target chamber of LLNL’s National Ignition Facility, where 192 laser beams delivered more than 2 million joules of ultraviolet energy to a tiny fuel pellet to create fusion ignition on Dec. 5, 2022. Image from LLNL.

The experiment delivered 2.05 MJ of energy to the target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output.

Fusion is a process that combines two light nuclei to create a single heavier nucleus, releasing a large amount of energy. In the 1960s, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory scientists proposed that lasers could create fusion in a lab. This idea became known as inertial confinement fusion and has been researched for over 60 years.

To create fusion ignition, the National Ignition Facility’s laser energy is converted into X-rays inside the hohlraum, which then compress a fuel capsule until it implodes, creating a high temperature, high pressure plasma. Image from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

They built a series of powerful laser systems, leading to the creation of NIF, the world's largest and most powerful laser. NIF is the size of a sports stadium and uses laser beams to create temperatures and pressures like those in the cores of stars and giant planets, and inside exploding nuclear weapons.