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American fusion scientists claim net energy gain in major clean energy breakthrough

good news Dec 18, 2022
Nuclear fusion reaction illustration

Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California claim to have made a historic breakthrough - producing more energy in an experimental nuclear fusion reaction than they used to generate it. If true, the breakthrough signals a possible turning point in the global clean energy revolution.

Nuclear fission, the process underlying existing nuclear power plants, splits atoms apart to produce energy. By contrast, nuclear fusion fuses atoms together to produce energy. While both generate emissions-free energy, nuclear fusion does not create radioactive waste, does not pose the risk of nuclear meltdown, and produces several times more energy. As such, nuclear fusion has long been considered the holy grail of clean energy, potentially producing abundant clean, safe energy.

In this experiment, researchers used the world's largest laser system to shoot light at hydrogen isotopes. Around 2.1 megajoules of energy were needed to initiate a 2.5-megajoule reaction, a 20% net gain of energy. Though the amount of energy produced was just enough to boil a few kettles of water, the experiment demonstrated for the first time ever that such a net gain is possible in practice.

Researchers are now looking to replicate these reactions at larger scales. In March 2022, the White House announced a $50 million investment to develop a pilot nuclear fusion plant by 2032. While some have considered this timeline ambitious, perhaps this new breakthrough will help make the plan a reality, or perhaps even accelerate it.

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