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California Lab Announces Breakthrough in Nuclear Fusion


A laboratory in California confirmed that it achieved a breakthrough in nuclear fusion, reporting that it recorded its first case of ignition last year on August 8th.

The results of a nuclear fusion experiment done by scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Library’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) reported their findings in peer-reviewed papers published in two scientific journals, Physical Review Letters and Physical Review E, earlier this week.

The said reports present the results of the August 8, 2021 endeavor in detail, along with the relevant project design, key improvements, as well as experimental parameters. 

Working with Modifications

According to NIF physicist Alex Zylstra, lead scientist on the initiative, he and his team conducted first-time experiments in the burning plasma regime, but that their work incorporated several changes, including adjustments to the target design.

Fellow project physicist Annie Kritcher added that these changes included improved capsule quality and a smaller fuel fill tube.

The NIF team conducted several experiments to reach an ignition result. These involved heating and compressing central hotspots of deuterium-tritium fuel with a dense piston made from the same material to create an incredibly hot and highly pressurized hydrogen plasma. The end result was an energy yield of over 1.3 megajoules for just several nanoseconds. 

A Milestone That’s Been a Long Time Coming

According to Omar Hurricane, head of the Library’s inertial confinement fusion program, this record marks a milestone in fusion research as it shows that fusion ignition under laboratory conditions is possible.

Hurricane added that achieving the required conditions to spark ignition has been the long-term goal of every experiment in inertial confinement fusion ever conducted. Now that this has been achieved, it opens the door to new experimental possibilities wherein alpha-particle self-heating surpasses any and all cooling mechanisms in the fusion plasma.

What Does This Mean for the Global Power Sector?

For those wondering what the NIF results mean for the world at large, the answer is both simple and complex: it presents a possible – and hopefully long-term – solution to the global energy crisis.

Based on both theoretical and practical information, the ignition that occurs during fusion reaction is a sign that the latter has produced enough energy to become self-sustaining. This aspect bolsters the potential of fusion in electrical generation.

If this fusion reaction can be harnessed, it may serve as the most efficient and ecologically sustainable energy source. Indeed, it would dispense with the use of fossil fuels as only hydrogen is necessary to fuel the endeavor. Its harmless byproduct would be helium which could then be siphoned and used in heavy industry.

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