Huge amounts of public and private funds have been funneled into the fusion race worldwide, with the goal of ultimately manufacturing fusion machines that can feed electricity into the power grid with no carbon footprint, no radioactive waste, and with far fewer resources than it takes to generate solar and wind power. Aside from the climate benefits, promoters say it could help bring cheap electricity to impoverished parts of the world.
“For most of us, it was just a matter of time,” said a senior fusion scientist familiar with the work of the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where the discovery was made.
Nuclear fusion energy is getting closer to reality
The development was first reported by the Financial Times on Sunday. It was confirmed by two famous people with the research, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid ahead of the official announcement. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm was scheduled to make the announcement Tuesday at a media event billed as the unveiling of “a major scientific breakthrough.”
The department and lab declined to comment. A lab official said researchers there are still finalizing their analysis and will not release official findings until Tuesday.
The science of nuclear fusion is based on smashing two atoms together at incredibly fast speeds and converting the energy of that reaction into electricity that can power homes and offices without emitting carbon into the air or creating radioactive waste in the environment. to dump.
In the decades that scientists have experimented with fusion reactions, they have so far failed to create one that produces more energy than it consumes. While the achievement is significant, there are still monumental technical and scientific challenges ahead.
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Creating the net energy gain required the deployment of one of the largest lasers in the world, and the resources required to replicate the reaction on the scale needed to make fusion practical for energy production are immense. More importantly, engineers have yet to develop machines capable of converting that reaction into electricity that can be practically deployed on the power grid in an affordable way.
Building devices large enough to create fusion power on a large scale would, scientists say, require materials that are extremely difficult to produce. At the same time, the reaction creates neutrons that put an enormous amount of stress on the equipment it creates, so it can be destroyed in the process.
And then there’s the question of whether the technology can be perfected in time to make a dent in climate change.
Still, researchers and investors in fusion technology hailed the breakthrough as a major advancement.
“There will be great pride that this is something that happened in the United States,” said David Edelman, who heads policy and global affairs at TAE, a large privately held fusion energy company. “This is a very important milestone on the road to fusion power.”
It’s because the Biden administration is prioritizing fusion energy research in its climate and energy agenda. The projects are on the front line for the tens of billions of dollars in grants and subsidies approved by the major climate package Biden signed this summer called the Inflation Reduction Act.
In recent decades, the United States, Russia and several European countries have spent billions in government dollars to master the science, believing that if they could, it would be a blessing to the world.