This is an amazing breakthrough. If we can control nuclear fusion reactions then all our energy problems may be solved – enough energy for the future, reduced carbon emissions, control of climate change. But ‘control’ is the key. Can we do it?
|Lasered into dawn,
sun-bright, star-light, earth born chimera;
marvel, monster, hope, despair
from elements of power shorn
Fusion tightly caged.
Prometheus bound, unbinding
7th October 2013 – headline from the BBC
Notes: “Nuclear fusion milestone passed at US lab.” Researchers at a US lab have passed a crucial milestone on the way to their ultimate goal of achieving self-sustaining nuclear fusion. Harnessing fusion – the process that powers the Sun – could provide an unlimited and cheap source of energy. But to be viable, fusion power plants would have to produce more energy than they consume, which has proven elusive. Now, a breakthrough by scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) could boost hopes of scaling up fusion. NIF, based at Livermore in California, uses 192 beams from the world’s most powerful laser to heat and compress a small pellet of hydrogen fuel to the point where nuclear fusion reactions take place. The amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel – the first time this had been achieved at any fusion facility in the world. This is a step short of the lab’s stated goal of “ignition”, where nuclear fusion generates as much energy as the lasers supply. But the latest achievement has been described as the single most meaningful step for fusion in recent years, and demonstrates NIF is well on its way towards the coveted target of ignition and self-sustaining fusion.