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Scientists make big breakthrough in fusion energy

The ability to produce energy from fusion to power homes and businesses is still decades away. But the researchers said it was an important step nonetheless.

WASHINGTON — Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced a “major scientific breakthrough” on Tuesday A decades-long quest to harness fusion, The energy that drives the sun and stars.

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have for the first time produced more energy in a nuclear fusion reaction than was used to ignite it, according to the Department of Energy.

The achievement will pave the way for progress in national defense and a future of clean power, Granholm and other officials said.

“This is a milestone achievement for researchers and staff at the National Ignition Facility who have dedicated their careers to seeing fusion ignition become a reality,” Granholm said at a press conference in Washington. , this milestone will undoubtedly spark many more discoveries.” A fusion breakthrough “will go down in the history books,” she said.

Appearing alongside Granholm, White House science adviser Alathi Prabhakar described fusion ignition as “a tremendous example of what perseverance can really achieve” and “an incredible engineering marvel.” ” he called.

Proponents of nuclear fusion hope that one day it will be able to replace fossil fuels and other conventional sources of energy, producing nearly limitless amounts of carbon-free energy. The ability to produce energy from fusion to power homes and businesses is still decades away. But the researchers said it was an important step nonetheless.

Professor Dennis White, Director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Plasma Science and Fusion and a leader in fusion research, said: “We should promote the availability of fusion energy systems to address climate change and energy security.”

Net energy gains have been an elusive goal. This is because fusion occurs at very high temperatures and pressures, which are very difficult to control.

Nuclear fusion works by pushing hydrogen atoms together with such force that they bind to helium, releasing vast amounts of energy and heat. Unlike other nuclear reactions, no radioactive waste is produced.

Billions of dollars and decades of work have gone into fusion research, with exhilarating results in a fraction of a second. Previously, successful Lawrence researchers at his Livermore division, the National Ignition Facility, used 192 lasers and temperatures many times higher than the center of the Sun to produce a very short fusion reaction.

A laser concentrates a large amount of heat into a small metal can. The result is a superheated plasma environment in which nuclear fusion occurs.

Ricardo Betti, a professor at the University of Rochester and an expert in laser fusion, said the announcement that the fusion reaction yielded net energy was significant. But the results are a long way from producing sustainable power, he said.

He likened it to the breakthrough when humans first learned that refining petroleum into gasoline and igniting it could cause an explosion.

“No engine, no tires yet,” said Betty. “You can’t say you have a car.”

The result of the net increase in energy applied to the fusion reaction itself, rather than the total amount of power required to operate the laser and carry out the project. For fusion to be viable, it needs to produce much more power and for longer.

Controlling star physics is very difficult. White said this point is difficult to reach because the fuel must be hotter than the center of the sun. You want the fuel to leak and stay cool, not stay hot. Containing it is an incredible challenge, he said.

According to Jeremy Chittenden, a professor of plasma physics at Imperial College London, the California lab has already made progress, so the net energy gain isn’t a big surprise.

“That doesn’t take away from the fact that this is an important milestone,” he said.

Enormous resources and efforts are required to advance nuclear fusion research. One approach turns hydrogen into plasma, an electrically charged gas, and controls it with a giant magnet. The method is being explored in France in a 35-nation collaboration called the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, as well as researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and private companies.

last year A team working on these projects on two continents has announced significant progress in the key magnets needed for their work.

Mathew Daly reports from Washington. Maddie Burakoff reported from New York, Michael Phillis from St. Louis, and Jennifer McDermott from Providence, Rhode Island.

The Associated Press’ climate and environmental coverage is supported by several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiatives hereAP is solely responsible for all content.

https://www.wfaa.com/article/news/nation-world/fusion-energy-major-scientific-breakthrough-announcement/507-a240a883-d130-4de3-8f1f-030a9cc67603 Scientists make big breakthrough in fusion energy

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