A breakthrough in fusion energy? Watch live as US scientists make an important announcement

According to a Financial Times report, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory may have reached a remarkable new peak for fusion reactions, generating even more energy than was pumped in during a recent experiment.

The publication suggests that scientists “with knowledge of the preliminary results of a recent experiment” have discussed the result and the analysis is ongoing. A major announcement is scheduled for Tuesday, December 13th on LLNL. It is expected to be broadcast live by the Department of Energy around 7:00 a.m. PT.

The National Ignition Facility is running an “inertial confinement fusion” experiment in which nearly 200 lasers are fired directly at a tiny hydrogen capsule. According to Nathan Garland, a physicist at Griffith University in Australia, the lasers create a plasma around the capsule that eventually triggers an implosion – conditions that make fusion reactions possible.

Fusion is the reaction that powers our sun, and it works by banging two atoms together. This requires extreme pressure and extreme heat, but trying to replicate conditions in a lab is “super difficult,” Garland noted.

The energy released by the fusion of two atoms is enormous and most importantly it does not release carbon dioxide. Unlike fission – the splitting of atoms – used in nuclear power plants, fusion also leaves no radioactive waste behind, and there is no risk of a meltdown. In short, if we could harness the power of fusion, it would revolutionize energyenabling us to generate clean electricity without pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

If the FT report and social media chatter are correct, scientists at LLNL may have made a “fusion energy win” denoted by the letter Q. In a fusion experiment, if Q > 1, then we are on our way to a real energy breakthrough that scientists have long dreamed of. “It sure is a big deal if it’s true,” Garland said.

But as with any science, it is good to be careful and not exaggerate results that are not yet fully analyzed. After all, we’ve been here before. In 2013, reports swirled that the NIF had accomplished just that feat. It wasn’t the case.

More recently, however, NIF has made great strides towards achieving the goal. in August 2021, Researchers reported that for a brief moment they mimicked the power of the sun in a self-sustaining reaction. That’s a good pedigree, and one that makes us a little more confident about the rumors here at CNET Science.

A spokesman for LLNL told CNET, “Our analysis is ongoing, so we are unable to provide details or confirmation at this time,” and provided a link to the media guide — which indicates “MAJOR SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGH” in capital letters. “

The result will not mean that we suddenly have endless energy. It is likely that the reaction that took place at NIF lasted only a fraction of a second or even less. But this is the first step towards fusion energy as a viable, serious technology to power our world. It provides a proof of concept that fusion experiments like this can achieve Q > 1.

So while I’m always wary of throwing the word “breakthrough” around when reporting cutting-edge research — particularly in the area of ​​fusion energy — it seems like it might be warranted here. We have to wait.

Updated December 12: Changed sentence to “banging two atoms together” instead of “heavy” atoms because hydrogen is of course a very light atom.

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