US officials say that the nuclear fusion breakthrough is a milestone for clean energy
The fusion process at the European Union “nuclear fusion facility” completed with exactly the same fuel mix as planned for future fusion power plants
Researchers at the world’s largest nuclear-fusion facility have achieved a phenomenon called ignition, which leads to a nuclear reaction that creates more energy than it consumes. The results of the breakthrough at the NIF, conducted on 5 December, was announced today by the administration of US President Joe Biden. Nuclear fusion will provide a source of clean energy on Earth, with the goal of making it possible to replace fossil fuels.
That may not seem like much, but the experiment is still hugely significant because scientists demonstrated that they can create more energy than they started with. While there are many more steps until this can be commercially viable, that is a major hurdle to cross with nuclear fusion, experts say.
Many people see the need to use green energy solutions like solar panels and wind turbine. However, as ecologically friendly as those energy sources are, nuclear power dwarfs the other options in terms of the sheer amount of energy it can generate. Nuclear energy needs to be a part of a green future.
A tokamak has yet to turn on its power. But the magnets it uses have the potential to sustain a fusion reaction for a longer period of time. (At NIF, fusion reactions occur within a fraction of a nanosecond.) It can help bring fusion power closer to fruition thanks to breakthrough research.
It is one of many hurdles that fusion energy seekers have overcome. Scientists and engineers designed giant magnets to create a strong magnetic field to keep the heat bottled up. Anything else wouldn’t last.
“Our experiment showed for the first time that it’s possible to have a sustained fusion process using exactly the same fuel mix planned for future fusion power plants,” Tony Donné, CEO of EUROfusion, said at a press conference.
EUROfusion, a consortium that includes 4,800 experts, students and staff from across Europe, carried out the project in partnership with the UK Atomic Energy Authority. The European Commission funded some of the work.
The facility used its set of 192 lasers to deliver 2.05 megajoules of energy onto a pea-sized gold cylinder containing a frozen pellet of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium. The pulse of energy caused the capsule to collapse, creating temperatures only seen in stars and thermonuclear weapons, and the hydrogen isotopes fused into helium, releasing additional energy and creating a cascade of fusion reactions. The energy that was released was about half as much as what went into the reaction and more than twice the previous record.
Ian Chapman, CEO of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said, “These landmark results have taken us a huge step closer to conquering one of the biggest scientific and engineering challenges of them all.”
The International thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, better known as ITER, was delighted by this news. Its main objective is to prove fusion can be utilized commercially. The world will not use fossil fuels if it can, because they’re the main drivers of the climate crisis.
“The JET results are impressive and probably will get better as they proceed through their experiments. They are producing high power 12 MW, but right now just for five seconds. Much longer fusion burn is what is required,” Roulstone said.
An historic moment for nuclear fusion on Earth, and how to get power out of it: A case study of a small hill in South of France
The report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change shows that the world must cut its greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2020 to keep global warming in check. It means moving quickly away from fossil fuels like coal and oil.
The amount of energy output is an impressive number, but it is only a small portion of the power required for a typical American house. This recent accomplishment is a welcome development for the world that is both hungry for energy and concerned about the dangers associated with traditional power generation, and it won’t result in a new power plant immediately.
You can see two suns from a small hill in the south of France. One has been blazing for four-and-a-half billion years and is setting. The other is being built by thousands of humans, and is not rising very quickly. The last rays of the sun show a glowing glow over another site that could solve the most important crisis in human history.
35 countries have come together to try and master nuclear fusion, a process that happens naturally in the sun but is difficult to replicate on Earth.
“It is even harder to get economical power out of a fusion reactor.” There were still so many challenges to make fusion work economically that he and his team looked at a rival technology known as a tokamak. He believed fusion won’t be ready for the grid before the second half of this century. He believes the same timeline holds for NIF’s technology. It’s hard to understand how you scale this into a power reactor quickly.
It was enough to only power one house for a day, with more energy going into the process than coming out of it. It was a historic moment. Nuclear fusion was shown to be possible on Earth.
ITER Director Bernard Bigot: What the Future of Fusion Energy has to Tell Us About the Existence and Development of the Universe – A Reflection from the Past
There is a huge sense of optimism at ITER after the success of the UK, but there is a major change happening behind the scenes. Their director general, Bernard Bigot (pronounced bi-GOH in French), died from illness on May 14 after leading ITER for seven years.
Bigot shared optimism for fusion energy from his office, which overlooked the ITER’s own tokamak, a sci-fi like structure still under construction.
“Not anymore. The Industrial Revolution and the population explosion were the last ones. Fossil fuels have a lot of harm to our environment, so we embraced them. He said there were 8 billion strong and in the middle of a climate crisis.
“There is no alternative but to wean ourselves off our current main power source,” he said. “And the best option seems to be the one the universe has been utilizing for billions of years.”
Nature repels particles that are forced together to create fusion energy. After a small amount of fuel is injected into the tokamak, giant magnets are activated to create a plasma, the fourth state of matter, which is a bit like a gas or soup that is electrically charged.
Plasma needs to reach at least 150 million degrees Celsius, 10 times hotter than the core of the sun. The neutrons then escape the plasma, hitting a “blanket” lining the walls of the tokamak, and transferring their kinetic energy as heat.
The stars, our sun and all of the outside world are made of plasm. Down here in Australia, it is found in televisions and neon lights and we can see it when the sun comes up.
The ITER project – a giant tokamak designed for nuclear fusion energies using high-capacity nuclear magnets
The ITER project aims to produce a 10-fold return on energy by utilizing newer magnets, which can last much longer.
Tritium is an exceptionally pricey substance: a single gram is currently worth around $30,000. Nuclear fusion will present the world’s fusion masters with a new challenge, as demand will go through the roof.
The construction is complex. The sterile environment at the main site is where huge components are being put in place. Some of the parts of the tokamak are still being worked on by workers, but they have put together the shell.
The dimensions are mind-blowing. The tokamak is expected to weigh 23,000 tons. It is the combined weight of three Eiffel towers. It will consist of a million components and be divided into 10 million smaller parts.
The giant will have some of the largest magnets ever created. They’re too large to be transported and must be assembled in a giant hall, because of their staggering size.
Even the digital design of this enormous machine sits across 3D computer files that take up more than two terabytes of drive space. That’s the same amount of space you could save more than 160 million one-page Word documents on.
ITER – A Project of Peace in the Aftermath of War: China, the United States, the European Union, Russia and the rest of the world
The ITER, which is run by China, the United States, the European Union and Russia, is collaborating with 35 other countries. It looks a little like the UN Security Council, though the late Bigot, among others, have tried hard to keep geopolitics out of ITER entirely.
There are concerns over Russia’s continued role in ITER and its potential exclusion as the country tries to re-design Europe’s map with its war in Ukraine, and even challenge the post-war world order.
Russia has been cut out of a number of other international scientific projects in the fallout of its war, but the European Commission has explicitly made an exception for ITER in its sanctions.
“Before anything around the latest Russia circumstances, that has to date never affected the collaborative spirit. I think it’s obvious to say that ITER is a project of peace.
Our commitment is as strong as ever. I can say that, from the beginning of my involvement with the project, daily politics has had virtually no impact on our endeavors,” he said.
“Each of the partners seems quite aware dropping the ball could easily mean the demise of the entire project. This, of course, is a tremendous responsibility.”
The ITER Project: The Impact of Climate Change on the Planet and on the Human-Meson Interaction with the Terrestrial Nucleus
As the diplomacy and technology fell in step, building began. In 2010, the foundations were laid, and in 2014, the first construction machines were switched on.
The scale and ambition of ITER project seem huge, but it is really a response to the mess humans have made of the planet. Since 1973, global energy usage has doubled. By the end of the century, it might actually triple. Humans make 70% of the carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere through their energy consumption. Fossil fuels represent 80% of the energy we consume.
The Earth is getting hotter and it is going to lead to famine, floods, wildfires, heat waves, and sea levels rising. The impacts of the climate crisis are getting harder to reverse as the entire environment is putting human lives on the line.
Stephen Hawking told Time in 2010 that he would like to see a scientific discovery in his lifetime.
The European Commission’s first deuterium-tritium project: the case of Stielke’s father, and the real cost of the project
45% of the project’s construction costs are funded by the European Union. By rough estimates, the other countries contribute a little over 9% each. Initially, it was estimated that the entire construction was worth about 6 billion euros. Right now, the total has more than tripled to around 20 billion euros.
Expectations and deadlines were revised to be realistic under his leadership. First plasma is now expected in 2025, and the first deuterium-tritium experiments are hoped to take place in 2035, though even those are now under review — delayed, in part, by the pandemic and persistent supply chain issues.
He was in his car until the early morning at 7 a.m., and then he stayed until late at night. You always had the idea that he was serious when he was involved in a small detail.
The announcement is scheduled to take place at a press conference in Washington, DC, at 10AM ET. It will be livestreamed at energy.gov/live. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar are expected to speak alongside officials with the National Nuclear Security Administration and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
How to Make the Laser Fusion Experiment Efficient: The Collaborative Future at the Largest Nuclear Power Facility in the Universe
Currently, those lasers emit about 2 megajoules of energy per pulse. To fusion scientists, that’s a massive, exciting amount of energy. It’s only equivalent to roughly the energy used in about 15 minutes of running a hair dryer—but delivered all at once, in a millionth of a second. Producing those beams at NIF involves a space nearly the size of a football field, filled with flashing lamps that excite the laser rods and propagate the beams. The energy of 300 megajoules is lost. If you add the layers of cooling systems and computers, you will get an energy input that is multiple orders of magnitude greater than the energy produced by fusion. So, step one for practical fusion, according to Cappelli, is using much more efficient lasers.
The machine that generates the reaction has to undergo serious heat. The plasma needs to reach at least 150 million degrees Celsius, 10 times hotter than the core of the sun.
The key to producing energy comes from heat sustained by the process of fusing the atoms together, even if you use magnets or lasers.
Chittenden said they are spending a huge amount of time and money on every experiment. “We need to bring the cost down by a huge factor.”
Friedmann told CNN that it can’t be an energy source if you’re putting in less energy than you’re getting out. It is not the same thing as generating energy that can be used on a larger scale.
There are very few details, though, on what exactly happened and how it was accomplished. In an email to The Verge, the national laboratory declined to confirm details reported by the Financial Times. “Our analysis is still ongoing, so we’re unable to provide details or confirmation at this time. We look forward to sharing more on Tuesday when that process is complete,” Breanna Bishop, senior director of strategic communications at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, wrote to The Verge.
The experts from the national laboratory will have a panel discussion and Q&A after the press conference. That discussion will also be livestreamed at energy.gov/live and is scheduled to start at 10:30AM ET.
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. Nuclear fusion replicates the energy of the sun, and has been attempted by researchers for decades.
The deuterium from a glass of water, with a little tritium added, could power a house for a year. It can be made synthetically, but it’s more difficult to get tritium.
“Unlike coal, you only need a small amount of hydrogen, and it is the most abundant thing found in the universe,” Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct and a former chief energy technologist at Lawrence Livermore, told CNN. “Hydrogen is found in water so the stuff that generates this energy is wildly unlimited and it is clean.”
Even though this can be commercially viable, scientists still have to show that they can create more energy than they started with. It makes little sense for it to be developed.
Ignition as a Synchronization Burn: “It’s the difference between lighting a match and building a gas turbine”
In the US, much of the work is happening at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, in a building that spans the size of three football fields.
Friedmann said that this won’t contribute meaningfully to climate abatement in the next 30 years. “This the difference between lighting a match and building a gas turbine.”
Physicists were able to “ignite” hydrogen inside the capsule in August of 2021, generating a self-Sustaining burn. The process is analogous to lighting gasoline, says Riccardo Betti, the chief scientist of the laboratory for laser energetics at the University of Rochester. “You have a small spark, and then it gets bigger and bigger, and then there is a burn that goes through.”
“I think the breakthrough is great, it’s science,” Roulstone says. But many engineering obstacles remain. “We don’t really know what the power plant would look like.”
The Challenge of Fusion Reactions: How Does MIT’s Lawrence Livermore Lab Turn Lasers into Electricity? Anne White and J. C. McBride
The x-rays generated when the lasers are fired kill the diamond in less than a second. The hydrogen atoms are destroyed by the diamond’s shock, which causes them to release energy.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Anne White said that the NIF experiments focused on fusionenergy were important on the path to commercial fusion power.
Betti declined to specify how the milestone would help physicists working on nuclear weapons, but he did say that it was significant.
Ryan McBride, an engineer at the University of Michigan, says it is a big scientific step. But, it is not possible for NIF to produce power. For one thing, he says, the lasers require more than 300 megajoules worth of electricity to produce around 2 megajoules of ultraviolet laser light. In other words, even if the energy from the fusion reactions exceeds the energy from the lasers, it’s still only around one percent of the total energy used.
Moreover, it would take many capsules exploding over and over to produce enough energy to feed the power grid. ” You would have to do this many, many times a second,” he says. NIF can currently do around one laser “shot” a week.
There is a monumental scientific breakthrough in the field of clean energy and it is important that we pay attention to it.
Granholm said scientists at Livermore and other national labs do work that will help the US move quickly toward clean energy and maintain a nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing.
During her tenure as director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, she spoke about how she worked on the Lawrence Livermore project as a young scientist.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director Kim Budil on Tuesday called her lab’s breakthrough a “fundamental building block” to eventually realizing nuclear fusion powering electricity. She estimated it will take “a few decades” more work before it’s ready for commercial use.
Anne White, head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, told CNN that neither the US or UK have the equipment and steps in place to convert fusion neutrons to electricity.
Budil said both European fusion projects that run on magnets and the US laser-based system can work alongside each other to push advancements in fusion forward. Granholm added the federal government welcomes private investment in fusion as well.
Status of the National Ignition Facility: Tammy Ma, the first US based nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania, 15 years after the first reactor went online
The first US based nuclear power plant went online in Pennsylvania 15 years after the first reactor ran in Chicago, and Roulstone pointed out that big ambitious nuclear energy projects should start somewhere.
This must have a stable implosion. Otherwise, the pellet will wrinkle and the fuel won’t heat up enough. The NIF researchers used improved computer models to enhance the design of the capsule that holds the fuel and calibrate the laser beams in order to achieve last week’s result.
Tammy Ma was about to board a plane at the San Francisco International Airport when she got the call of a lifetime. She’s a plasma physicist at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world’s largest and most energetic laser. Scientists at the facility have been attempting to achieve a breakthrough in nuclear fusion for more than a decade.
Researchers will also need to dramatically increase the rate at which the lasers can produce the pulses and how quickly they can clear the target chamber to prepare it for another burn, says Time Luce, head of science and operation at the international nuclear-fusion project ITER, which is under construction in St-Paul-lez-Durance, France.
The engineering challenges faced by NIF are different from what is seen at other facilities. But the symbolic achievement could have widespread effects. “A result like this will bring increased interest in the progress of all types of fusion, so it should have a positive impact on fusion research in general,” says Luce.
White says that the latest milestone won’t necessarily mean researchers abandon their concepts as it’s largely independence from the concept.
What Happened in the First Star-Forming Interaction Between a Peppercorn Particle and a Deuteron-Tritium Pellet
On December 5, ultra-powerful lasers were fired on a pellet the size of a peppercorn containing a mix of deuterium and tritium – which are components of the fuel that powers the sun. The 192 lasers heated the tiny BB-sized object to temperatures hotter than the sun’s center, and for a fraction of a second, a tiny star was formed. Then, just as quickly, it winked out of existence. The technological triumph was the work of thousands of researchers.
What will happen in the future? That is up to us. It will take a lot of work to get fusion technology to the point where it will power the electric grid. If we give the fusion researchers the support they need, they will undoubtedly one day turn this recent advance into a useful and very powerful source of energy.
“The fuel capsule is a BB point sized shell made of diamond that needs to be as perfect as possible,” Michael Stadermann, Target Fabrication Program manager at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said during the December 13th press conference. It is difficult to get to perfect, we still have small flaws on our shells that are smaller thanbacteria.
Symmetry plays a huge role in achieving ignition when it comes to both the target and its implosion. Maintaining perfect symmetry is one of the key things that you need to do when you use a laser and blast your target. It’s like compressing a basketball down to the size of a pea, experts say, all while maintaining a perfect spherical shape. You will waste a lot of energy if you deviate from that shape.
Not by a long shot. The lab achievedignition by using only a limited definition of a net energy gain which was focused on the output of the laser. 300 megajoules were eaten by the lasers when they shot 2.05 megajoules at their target. Taking that into account, there was still a whole lot of energy lost in this experiment.
There’s a lot of work to do. Researchers are constantly trying to craft even more precise targets, aiming for that perfectly symmetrical sphere. This is incredibly labor-intensive. So much so that a single pellet target might cost about $100,000 today, according to University of Chicago theoretical physicist Robert Rosner. NIF’s External Advisory Committee has already been served by Rosner. A fusion reactor might need a million pellet a day, and that costs too much, if it is to go commercial.
It is less a scientific breakthrough and more a practical application to our energy system, at least for many more years.
Tammy Ma at the Fermilab Inertial Fusion Institute: What she’s telling us about the Nuclear Fusion and the Breakthrough with Ignition
Ma told reporters at the technical briefing in Washington that he was jumping up and down in the waiting area when he burst into tears.
The Verge has an explainer on nuclear fusion and the breakthrough with ignition that took place this week. We also interviewed Ma, who leads the Inertial Fusion Energy Institutional Initiative at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Check out our chat to find out what she has to say about her work.
Let’s be honest. We have an array of data from the past 10 years that is being used, so we aren’t pulling new ideas from the air. But you know, how do we improve on the last set of experiments? What changes do we want to make to the design?
The NIF Experiment – Exploring the Infrared Radiation from High-Redshift Atomic Neutron Stars to Oscillators
The laser scientists are trying to define the best laser pulse that we can use. Material scientists have to work with us to develop the materials we need. We work with experimentalists that have to set all our diagnostic instruments to exactly capture the burst of neutrons when it comes out. We have some of the fastest X-ray cameras in the world, so we can actually record what’s going on in real time. In total, it’s a team that brings all this together.
My role right now is to move toward fusion energy. We have been trying to prepare and how can we make best use of the discovery? We are here now.
It was amazing because the NIF runs 24/7 — we are doing experiments every single day. It was built on decades of work, right? And I’m very lucky to be here at this time. giants have come before us. I am not sure if it has sunk in yet that we have achieved this. So it is exciting.
We are going to try to repeat the shot several times and implement improvements in the future. We are continuously trying to improve the quality of the targets — that makes a huge difference. We have plans to continue turning up the laser energy in the future. We are doing new experiments every few weeks.