Grace Smith | December 15, 2022
On Dec. 5, a National Ignition Facility team at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history to produce more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to operate it. The U.S. Department of Energy and the National Nuclear Security Administration announced on Dec. 13 that the breakthrough by the LLNL will pave the way for the future of clean energy in a way that emulates the sun by generating energy to support life on Earth.
“We have had a theoretical understanding of fusion for over a century, but the journey from knowing to doing can be long and arduous. Today’s milestone shows what we can do with perseverance,” said Dr. Arati Prabhakar, the President’s chief adviser for Science and Technology and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
During the test on Dec. 5, the nuclear reaction activated in a small target area released about 50 percent more energy than it took to drive the reaction with the laser. Scientists warn that although this breakthrough is exciting, this technology has a long way to go to stop the climate crisis. The experiment generated 3.15 megajoules of energy from 2.05 megajoules of input from the laser. But, the laser drew 300 megajoules from the grid just to operate.
This milestone alone doesn’t stop the climate crisis, but the urgency to cut fossil fuel emissions will push researchers and scientists to continue this work. A long-term goal for the future is to create a system that can fire constantly and power the laser with energy to spare. Scientists hope in future decades to build a power plant with the research completed and with future analyses to be conducted.