US energy officials announce fusion success 'that could revolutionize the world'

The United States has taken “the first tentative steps towards a clean energy source that could revolutionize the world” through a successful fusion experiment, announced Jill Hruby, the under secretary for nuclear security.

The breakthrough came after an experiment that saw “192 high-energy lasers converge on a target about the size of a peppercorn, heating a capsule of deuterium and tritium to over three million degrees Celsius and briefly simulating the conditions of a star and achieving ignition.”

Speaking earlier, the White House science chief, Arati Prabhakar, gave a one-sentence summary of what scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California achieved: “They shot a bunch of lasers at a pellet of fuel and more energy was released from that fusion ignition than the energy of the lasers.”

The energy department’s press conference on the breakthrough in its fusion experiment has wrapped up, but before it concluded, a top official said it could be a long time before the technology becomes commonly used.

“There are very significant hurdles, not just in the science but in technology,” said Kim Budil, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where the experiment was conducted. “This is one igniting capsule one time, and to realize commercial fusion energy, you have to do many things. You have to be able to produce many, many fusion ignition events per minute, and you have to have a robust system of drivers to enable that.”

She predicted that “with concerted effort and investment, a few decades of research on the underlying technologies could put us in a position to build a power plant.”

Marv Adams, deputy administrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, gave a detailed (and easy to understand) recap of what happened in the successful experiment.

He began by holding up a cylinder similar to the one used in the experiment:

Inside that was a small, spherical capsule about half the diameter of a BB. One hundred and ninety two laser beams entered from the two ends of the cylinder and struck the inner wall. They didn’t strike the capsule, they struck the inner wall of this cylinder and deposited energy, and that happened in less time than it takes light to move 10 feet, so it’s kind of fast.

X-rays from the wall impinged on the spherical capsule. Fusion fuel in the capsule got squeezed. Fusion reaction started.

This had all happened before, 100 times before. But last week, for the first time, they designed this experiment so that the fusion fuel stayed hot enough, dense enough and round enough for long enough that it ignited, and it produced more energies than the lasers had deposited– about two mega joules in about three mega joules out, a gain of 1.5.

The energy production took less time than it takes like to travel one inch.