(WABNEWS) — For the first time in history, US scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility in California have successfully produced a nuclear fusion reaction that has resulted in a net gain of energy, they confirmed. a source familiar with the project told WABNEWS.
The result of the experiment would be a giant step forward in the decades-long search for an infinite source of clean energy that could help end reliance on fossil fuels. Researchers have spent decades trying to recreate nuclear fusion, that is, reproduce the fusion that powers the sun.
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Nuclear fusion occurs when two or more atoms fuse into a larger one, a process that generates an enormous amount of energy in the form of heat.
In February, British scientists announced that they had more than doubled the previous record for generating and sustaining nuclear fusion.
In a huge donut-shaped machine called a tokamak, fitted with giant magnets, scientists working near Oxford managed to generate a record amount of sustained power. Even so, it only lasted 5 seconds.
The heat sustained by the process of fusing atoms is the key to helping produce energy.
As WABNEWS reported earlier this year, the fusion process creates helium and neutrons, which are lighter in mass than the parts they’re originally made of.
The missing mass is then converted into an enormous amount of energy. The neutrons, which are able to escape from the plasma, strike a “blanket” that covers the walls of the tokamak, and their kinetic energy is transferred as heat. This heat can be used to heat water, create steam, and power turbines to generate power.
All this requires that the machine that generates the reaction be very hot. The plasma has to reach at least 150 million degrees Celsius, 10 times hotter than the core of the sun.
The big challenge in harnessing fusion power is sustaining it long enough to power electrical grids and heating systems around the world.
A British fusion scientist told WABNEWS that the outcome of the US breakthrough is promising, but also shows that more work needs to be done before fusion is capable of generating electricity on a commercial scale.
“They’ve worked on the design and composition of the target and the shape of the energy pulse to get much better results,” Tony Roulstone of Cambridge University’s Department of Engineering told WABNEWS.
“The counterargument is that this result is miles away from the actual energy gain needed for electricity production. Therefore, we can say (that) it is a success of science but it is a long way from providing useful energy.” .