Successful Nuclear Fusion Achieved
The target chamber at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. (Source: LLNL)
Scientists working at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have achieved a net gain of energy from a nuclear fusion reaction. This is a watershed moment in fusion research with the potential to upend global energy production, providing a safe, clean, and virtually unlimited source of power. The reaction was achieved in the early hours of December 5th and was formally announced a week later. This is only the first step in a long process that will take years to refine, but it has the potential to solve the looming energy crisis the world faces.
The quest for nuclear fusion is essentially to replicate the process that powers our sun. Within the cores of stars, the extraordinary temperatures and pressure fuse nuclei together, producing energy. Nuclear fusion on Earth is the same principle on a much smaller scale. Using a process called inertial confinement, hundreds of lasers aimed at a small container called a hohlraum produce shockwaves that supercharge a small BB of fuel within, causing the nuclei in the fuel to fuse.
The implications of this discovery are vast, with the potential to provide a clean and reliable energy source for a world desperate to rid itself of fossil fuels. Expectations must be tempered some, as such a future would be decades away and the feasibility of commercial nuclear fusion is still unknown. Additionally, the technology has its applications for nuclear weapons, with the potential that this great discovery is abused as a weapon of war. Nevertheless, this is a bona fide scientific breakthrough, one that offers a glimpse of a brighter future for the entire world.