Breakthrough Experiment Offers Promise of Nuclear Fusion
In a recent experiment, a team of researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory used 192 lasers to pulverize a fuel target to create a fusion reaction. What makes this experiment remarkable is that it is reportedly the first time such an experiment has successfully produced more energy output than the amount of energy spent igniting the fuel.
Citing a report in the science journal Nature, The Guardian reports that the researchers used lasers in an attempt to pulverize a fuel target with two mega joules of energy, an impact roughly equivalent to two standard sticks of dynamite. However, most of the energy from the lasers gets absorbed by its surroundings.
In a report from CBC News, Blair Bromley, chair of the nuclear fusion division of the Canadian Nuclear Society, said that the recent experiment "would power 173 100-watt light bulbs for one second."
Of course, that small output is nowhere near the amount of energy necessary to replace our current energy options. Nevertheless, this small feat is being hailed worldwide as a major scientific breakthrough for an area of research that has long had its fair share of sceptics.
The ultimate goal of the experiment is to create a controlled fusion reaction in which the energy input is lower than the energy output.
Omar Hurricane, one of the authors of the report in Nature, told The Guardian, "We are finally, by harnessing these reactions, getting more energy out of that reaction than we put into the DT fuel." Although Hurricane also cautioned that it was "too early to say" whether or not the team's work will ultimately result in controlled fusion at the facility.
Some experts view fusion energy as the hope for the future, with zero carbon emissions, little waste and no meltdown dangers such as those plaguing a typical nuclear fission reactor, like the facility at Fukushima.
These findings and more were published in Nature, on Wednesday.