Scientists have confirmed in three peer-reviewed papers that the nuclear fusion experiment conducted on August 8, 2021, triggered a reaction that could be self-sustaining, which means the world is one significant step closer to a massive source of energy.
The experiment was conducted at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL’s) National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California; it yielded over 1.3 megajoules and reached scientific ignition. One MJ represents “the kinetic energy of a one tonne mass moving at 100mph,” Newsweek noted.
“The record shot was a major scientific advance in fusion research, which establishes that fusion ignition in the lab is possible at NIF,” Omar Hurricane, chief scientist for LLNL’s inertial confinement fusion program, celebrated, as SciTechDaily reported. “Achieving the conditions needed for ignition has been a long-standing goal for all inertial confinement fusion research and opens access to a new experimental regime where alpha-particle self-heating outstrips all the cooling mechanisms in the fusion plasma.”
LLNL physicist Annie Kritcher explained that scientists have been attempting to replicate the initial experiment. “Many variables can impact each experiment,” she said. “The 192 laser beams do not perform exactly the same from shot to shot, the quality of targets varies and the ice layer grows at differing roughness on each target. These experiments provided an opportunity to test and understand the inherent variability in this new, sensitive experimental regime.”
The subsequent experiments yielded results in the 430-700 kJ range.
“It is extremely exciting to have an ‘existence proof’ of ignition in the lab,” Hurricane added. “We’re operating in a regime that no researchers have accessed since the end of nuclear testing, and it’s an incredible opportunity to expand our knowledge as we continue to make progress.”
The sun as well as other stars are powered by nuclear fusion, which features hydrogen atoms smashing together to form helium atoms, thus producing excess energy. The significance of ignition is that it means once the hydrogen plasma ignites, the reaction can sustain itself. Thus, no fossil fuels would be required to produce a possibly inexhaustible form of energy.
The only byproduct of nuclear fusion would be helium, which is harmless; it does not impact the greenhouse effect. In addition, the process is safe because the physical properties prevent an uncontrolled fusion reaction as the searing temperatures make it impossible to sustain if a malfunction arises.