It’s official: researchers at a DOE lab generated net energy gain from a nuclear fusion process.
On the morning of December 5th, at about 1:03 a.m. PT, 192 lasers at the National Ignition Facility focused on a tiny bead of fuel made of deuterium and tritium. Rapidly, the cylinder disintegrated, releasing X-rays that pounded the fuel pellet, transforming its outer diamond coating into an expanding plasma that squeezed the fuel until its nuclei merged and unleashed enormous amounts of energy.
What is the power consumption?
Approximately fifty percent more energy was released by the BB-sized fuel pellet’s continuous fusion reaction than was imparted by the experiment’s lasers, the world’s largest and most powerful laser system. The lasers’ power pushed the fuel pellet to a temperature of 150 million degrees Celsius and a pressure greater than twice that of the sun’s core.
The lasers contributed 2.05 MJ and the fusion reaction yielded 3.15 MJ. That’s fantastic, and it’s much better than the rumour mill predicted. A week has been spent by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory team interpreting the data in order to reach a definitive conclusion.
However, just 4% of the deuterium-tritium fuel was used in the fusion process, indicating significant possibility for improvement. It took around two weeks to construct the gold cylinder and seven months to generate the fuel pellet with a diamond coating.
The reaction is seen as favourable in the scientific and technological communities. Its output was far lower than that of a typical power plant. In a news conference today, Kim Budil, director of LLNL, claimed that the laser system required 300 megajoules of power to deliver the 2.05 megajoule blast.
In spite of this, Budil stated that the group sees a possibility to reach to “hundreds of megajoules of output” per shot, the amount needed for a commercial-scale power plant employing the technology, known as inertial confinement.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm has declared, “We need the private sector to come into the game.”
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