On Tuesday, December 13th, scientists with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced that they’d achieved “fusion ignition.” The Verge has an updated post on the news here.
A “scientific breakthrough” in the development of fusion energy is expected tomorrow from the Biden administration. For more than half a century, people have poured billions of dollars into nuclear fusion research, hoping to create a source of abundant, clean energy.
The rough idea is this: if we develop technology that can replicate the way the sun generates energy in a controlled way, we could power the world with energy that’s free of greenhouse gas emissions and long-lived radioactive waste. But scientists have been unable to trigger a fusion reaction that results in a net energy gain. Turns out, it takes a lot of heat energy to force atomic nuclei to “fuse” together.
People have poured billions of dollars into nuclear fusion research, hoping to create a source of abundant, clean energy
On Sunday, the Financial Times reported that researchers with the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were finally able to create a fusion reaction that resulted in a net energy gain. In other words, it produced more energy than it took to cause the reaction.
There are very few details, though, on what exactly happened and how it was accomplished. In an email to The Verge, the national laboratory declined to confirm details reported by the Financial Times. “Our analysis is still ongoing, so we’re unable to provide details or confirmation at this time. We look forward to sharing more on Tuesday when that process is complete,” Breanna Bishop, senior director of strategic communications at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, wrote to The Verge.
Hopefully, we’ll learn more during a livestream tomorrow, cryptically billed as an announcement of a “major scientific breakthrough” by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The announcement is scheduled to take place at a press conference in Washington, DC, at 10AM ET. It will be livestreamed at energy.gov/live. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar are expected to speak alongside officials with the National Nuclear Security Administration and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
There will be a panel discussion and Q&A with experts from the national laboratory right after the press conference. That discussion will also be livestreamed at energy.gov/live and is scheduled to start at 10:30AM ET.
No matter what gets announced tomorrow, any potential real-world benefits from nuclear fusion are more than likely well over a decade away under the most optimistic scenario — if it happens at all. It’s still looking very unlikely that we’ll be able to count on fusion energy in time to dig us out of a climate crisis. But this is cool science, and one can dream.