Lawrence Livermore lab achieves fusion; breakthrough set to pave way for clean power
The U.S. Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) have announced the achievement of fusion ignition at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), located in Livermore, CA.
According to the laboratory, this is a major scientific breakthrough decades in the making and will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power.
On Dec. 5, a team at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history to reach this milestone, also known as scientific energy breakeven, meaning it produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it.
The laboratory reports this first-of-its-kind feat will provide unprecedented capability to support NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program, and it will also provide invaluable insights into the prospects of clean fusion energy, which would be a game-changer for efforts to achieve President Joe Biden’s goal of a net-zero carbon economy.
“This is a landmark achievement for the researchers and staff at the National Ignition Facility who have dedicated their careers to seeing fusion ignition become a reality, and this milestone will undoubtedly spark even more discovery,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.
The team at NIF is working on humanity’s most complex and pressing problems, including finding ways to provide clean power to combat climate change and maintaining a nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing.
“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, President Biden’s chief adviser for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
“The pursuit of fusion ignition in the laboratory is one of the most significant scientific challenges ever tackled by humanity, and achieving it is a triumph of science, engineering, and most of all, people,” LLNL Director Dr. Kim Budil said.
LLNL’s experiment surpassed the fusion threshold by delivering 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy to the target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output, demonstrating for the first time a most fundamental science basis for inertial fusion energy (IFE).
Fusion is the process by which two light nuclei combine to form a single heavier nucleus, releasing a large amount of energy. In the 1960s, a group of pioneering scientists at LLNL hypothesized that lasers could be used to induce fusion in a laboratory setting.
Image courtesy of LLNL.