The U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday announced that scientists have achieved a breakthrough in the search for a clean, renewable energy source.
Officials said that scientists at the federal Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory last week produced the first in-laboratory fusion reaction that created more energy than it used.
Update 10:55 a.m. EST Dec. 13: Marvin “Marv” Adams, the National Nuclear Security Administration’s deputy administrator for defense programs, said that on Dec. 5, a team at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s Ignition Facility fired 192 high-powered lasers at a glass cylinder that contained a capsule about half the diameter of a BB. The experiment was one researchers had done 100 times before, he added.
“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,” he said.
The lasers put in 2 megajoules of energy, and the experiment output about 3 megajoules in less time than it takes for light to move 10 feet, he said.
“The achievement we celebrate today illustrates that big, important accomplishments often take longer and require more effort than originally thought, and that these accomplishments are often worth more time and effort than they took,” he said.
Kim Budil, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, hailed the Dec. 5 breakthrough as “a first step — a truly monumental one — that sets the stage for a transformational decade in high-energy density science and fusion research.”
Update 10:35 a.m. EST Dec. 13: Jill Hruby, DOE’s under secretary for nuclear security and administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration noted that the recent breakthrough was the result of decades of work from scientists across the globe.
“The tireless efforts of thousands of people from around the … nuclear security enterprise and their predecessors are responsible for this breakthrough,” she said. “All of this is in the interest of promoting national security, pushing towards a clean energy future and … redefining the boundaries of what’s possible.”
“We have taken the first tentative steps towards a clean energy source that could revolutionize the world,” she said.
Update 10:20 a.m. EST Dec. 13: White House Office of Science and Technology Policy Director Arati Prabhakar on Tuesday hailed the fusion breakthrough as “a scientific milestone” and “an engineering marvel beyond belief.”
“This duality of advancing the research, building the complex engineering systems, both sides learning from each other — this is how we do really big, hard things,” she said at a news conference. Earlier, she noted, “It took not just one generation but generations of people pursuing this goal.”
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said that breakthrough “will go down in the history books.”
Update 10:10 a.m. EST Dec. 13: Officials said a team at the federal Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on Dec. 5 “made history” by “demonstrating fusion ignition or the first time in a laboratory setting.”
“This breakthrough will change the future of clean power and America’s national defense forever,” officials said in a statement posted on social media.
Original report: The announcement is expected after reports surfaced over the weekend that scientists had for the first time produced a fusion reaction that created a net energy gain. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is set to announce a “major scientific breakthrough accomplished by researchers at DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory” around 10 a.m. EST.
On Sunday, the Financial Times reported that government scientists had produced a fusion reaction that created a net energy gain for the first time since physicists began trying in the 1950s.
Fusion reactions power the sun and have been studied in the interest of creating a clean, cheap and carbon-free power source. They occur when, under extremely high heat, two nuclei combine to form a new nucleus.
In the past, scientists experimenting with fusion were unable to produce more energy than the process consumed, according to the Times.
“Everyone working on fusion has been trying to demonstrate for over 70 years that it’s possible to generate more energy from fusion than you put in,” Jeremy Chittenden, a professor of plasma physics at Imperial College London, told The Wall Street Journal. Research into the technology has become increasingly significant against the background of climate change and threats to energy security, the newspaper reported.
A source told Reuters that the process would need to be about 100 times bigger in order to produce commercial amounts of energy. It will likely be at least a decade before the reaction can be used commercially, The Washington Post reported.
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