Scientists make massive breakthrough in nuclear fusion as 'ignition' is finally achieved

By injecting more power into a tiny gold capsule on August 8, 2021, than the whole US electric system could handle, scientists were able to initiate the same chemical reaction that fuels the Sun.

It's truly amazing how, for a nanosecond, the same thermonuclear fire that powers the Sun was ignited by the force of 192 laser beams.

We are now closer than ever to being able to harness chemical reactions with enough oomph to power the Sun, which generates energy by flinging hydrogen atoms together, creating helium in the process. This is thanks to the advancement in fusion power.

It's also important to note that the fusion reaction developed by scientists was self-perpetuating, meaning it didn't end right away.

When two atoms come together to form a heavier atom and release a tremendous amount of energy, this process is known as nuclear fusion. Although the process occurs frequently in nature, it is very challenging to recreate in a lab setting, mostly because a very high energy environment is required to ensure the reaction continues.

Three recently released papers—one in Physical Review Letters and two in Physical Review E—describe the experiment, which was carried out by the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Although the articles claim that scientists have achieved "ignition," which indicates that nuclear fusion may be conceivable, a workable fusion reactor is still a long way off.

If scientists could create completely functional fusion power plants, the facilities would generate a large amount of energy utilizing fuel made of hydrogen from water.

As a result, there would be no radiation risk and only helium would be created as trash.

By contrast, modern nuclear power plants separate the nuclei of heavy materials like uranium to produce energy through nuclear fission.

The experiment from last year consumed more than a quadrillion watts of power, a tremendous quantity of energy that was only released briefly. 

Scientists filled a tiny gold capsule with more energy than the whole US electric grid. Credit: Alamy Stock / GiroScience Photo

Omar Hurricane, lead scientist for the inertial confinement fusion programme at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, stated of the groundbreaking experiment: "The record shot represented a tremendous scientific achievement in fusion research, establishing that fusion ignition in the lab is feasible at NIF."

The author continued, "Achieving the ignition conditions has been a long-term objective for all inertial confinement fusion research and allows entry to a new experimental domain where alpha-particle self-heating exceeds all cooling mechanisms in the fusion plasma."

Reference(): Physical Review Letters and two in Physical Review E

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