(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have made a “breakthrough” in their quest to use nuclear fusion.
The US Department of Energy officially announced a milestone in fusion energy research on Tuesday.
For the first time, researchers have created a nuclear fusion reaction that produced more energy than they put into it.
An experiment conducted Dec. 5 at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California produced 3.15 megajoules of energy, more than the 2.05 megajoules spent to create it.
“Scientifically, they showed for the first time that this is possible,” Gianluca Sarri, a physicist at Queen’s University Belfast, told New Scientist.
“They knew from theory that this should happen, but in real life it has never been observed experimentally.”
What is fusion energy and why is it so important?
Nuclear fusion works by combining two atoms – most often hydrogen – to create a heavier one, such as helium.
This explosive process releases a huge amount of energy, explains the Department of Energy. Fusion is the opposite of fission, the reaction that powers the nuclear reactors used commercially today.
The merger occurs naturally in the heart of the Sun and stars, providing these space objects with fuel.
Since the 1950s, scientists have been trying to replicate it on Earth to use what nuclear proponents call clean, cheap, and nearly limitless electricity.
According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, fusion produces four times more energy per kilogram than nuclear fission used to power nuclear power plants and almost 4 million times more energy than burning oil or coal.
Moreover, unlike fossil fuels, synthesis does not release carbon dioxide, greenhouse gas, which is the main driver of climate change into the atmosphere. Unlike nuclear fission, fusion does not produce long-lived radioactive waste, according to the Department of Energy.
But so far, nuclear fusion has not solved our energy problems on a large scale.
What Tuesday’s ‘breakthrough’ announcement means for the future
Tuesday’s announcement is a huge step forward in the field of nuclear fusion power, but the technology is likely still a long way from commercial scale.
Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, a theoretical physicist, pointed out that the process used by the Department of Energy requires the use of tritium, a rare and radioactive isotope of hydrogen.
“It can provide important information that is ultimately transformative. We don’t know yet,” Prescod-Weinstein tweeted on Monday. “Being able to do it once a day with a laser doesn’t mean the machine will scale!”
Investors including Amazon founder Jeff Bezos have poured billions into clean energy startups trying to create nuclear fusion. commercially viable, and Tuesday’s announcement is likely to continue that trend.
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