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Scientists report nuclear fusion milestone

Posted on Tuesday, 8 October, 2013 | Comment icon 18 comments

Achieveing fusion is a complex task. Image Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 Lawrence Livermore National Security
Researchers have passed a crucial milestone in their ongoing efforts to create sustainble fusion power.
Nuclear fusion, the process that takes place within the sun, has long been sought after as the holy grail of power generation. If an effective self-sustaining nuclear fusion reactor could be built then it would be one of the greatest scientific achievements of the modern age, providing clean and limitless power to everyone without any of the dangers associated with conventional nuclear fission power plants. Unsurprisingly scientists have been pursuing this dream for decades.

Now researchers at the National Ignition Facility in California have managed to pass a major milestone in the creation of sustainable fusion by conducting an experiment in which the amount of energy produced by the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy absorbed.

To accomplish this, scientists used 192 beams from the world's most powerful laser to heat up a pellet of hydrogen fuel to the point at which fusion occurs. The team hopes to eventually achieve what they refer to as "ignition", the point at which the fusion reaction is able to produce as much power as the lasers supply.

Source: BBC News | Comments (18)

Tags: Nuclear Fusion

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #9 Posted by StarMountainKid on 8 October, 2013, 23:03
What exactly would be the result of contained fusion as an energy source? Heat. Heated water to produce steam. So, whatever machines that would use fusion as an energy source would be steam powered. Electrical generators, mainly, I think. So, what are the advantage of fusion power vs. fission power?
Comment icon #10 Posted by DieChecker on 8 October, 2013, 23:22
ONLY 192 of the worlds most powerful lasers concentrated on one tiny pellet of hydrogen??? And how do you make a pellet of hyrdrogen? A step forward I suspect, but still miles and miles till we have fusion power plants. I case anyone is confused by the wording... This experiment showed more energy out then was ABSORBED by the pellet. "Ignition" is when the energy out exceeds the energy of the combined lasers used to heat the pellet. Which are not the same thing apparently. Also on the Plus side... We'll have more Helium to use at parties!!!
Comment icon #11 Posted by Timonthy on 8 October, 2013, 23:25
The lasers used more energy than was output. The energy produced by the hydrogen pellet was more than was absorbed by the hydrogen pellet. Eg. The pellet does not absorb all the energy output from the lasers. So overall the system is still at a loss. But having more energy output than absorbed is the milestone here.
Comment icon #12 Posted by DieChecker on 8 October, 2013, 23:28
In fusion, you just take hydrogen and transform it into helium, like the Sun does. The problem is delivering enough energy to the hydrogen in enough of a density to get it to change into helium. And then of course there will be the problem of scaling it up. Not radioactive that I know of. In fission, you need uranium or another very radioactive material. So there is the effort of mining, refining the fuel, dangers due to radioactivity and eventually the fuel is used up and the waste needs to be stored. Very expensive.
Comment icon #13 Posted by Sundew on 9 October, 2013, 0:56
If fusion ever becomes a common way to generate "free" energy it will change the geo-political structure of the planet and cause the rise and fall of empires.
Comment icon #14 Posted by sepulchrave on 9 October, 2013, 14:30
I hate to sound like a conspiracy theorist (but I guess this is the appropriate site for it...), but I tend to believe the stories that the National Ignition Facility was primarily designed as a model for the dynamics inside a nuclear weapon - in other words, to study the dynamics inside a thermonuclear weapon without having to break the ban on testing actual thermonuclear weapons. While it is possible that some of the science will be useful for fusion power, I personally find it very hard to believe that this is a credible avenue for fusion power. Even if a hydrogen pellet achieves true ignit... [More]
Comment icon #15 Posted by Big Bad Voodoo on 9 October, 2013, 15:33
I wish that I understand what you were saying, Sepul.
Comment icon #16 Posted by DieChecker on 9 October, 2013, 21:52
That is not a conspiracy, it is what happens there on a daily basis. From my earlier link.... The fusion research is behind because focus was shifted toward nuclear weapons research
Comment icon #17 Posted by Chooky88 on 13 October, 2013, 8:56
Looks like I won't be powering my DeLorean with a Mr Fusion any time soon. However this "dream" is one worth pursuing and could save this planet. What's worse than fission? Coal. Australia is addicted to the filthy 19th century tech stuff :-(

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