Department of Energy to announce fusion power ‘breakthrough’

Science News

This illustration provided by the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory depicts a target pellet inside a hohlraum capsule with laser beams entering through openings on either end. The beams compress and heat the target to the necessary conditions for nuclear fusion to occur.

(NewsNation) — Earth is one step closer to harnessing “fusion” power — a clean energy alternative that fuels stars.

Fusion energy powers the Sun and stars, but researchers hope it could one day power homes and other needs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, fusion energy has the potential to provide “safe, clean, and nearly limitless power.”

The department is expected to make an announcement Tuesday that scientists at a national lab have made a breakthrough in fusion energy. That’s according to Reuters, which cited two sources with knowledge of the matter.

The Financial Times first reported about the experiment, noting that scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California achieved a net energy gain for the first time, in a fusion experiment using lasers.

Simply put: the reaction successfully produced more energy than it used.

Harnessing that energy and converting it into electricity could be useful here on Earth, said Todd Allen, professor and chair of Nuclear Engineering and Radiological Sciences at the University of Michigan.

“The idea is once you get that energy released you convert it to heat or electricity of the things we use every day to make our lives better,” Allen said.

Researchers ultimately hope to sustain that kind of power, though it could still be years away.

“They’ve got the next big challenge,” Allen said. “They now have to figure out how to convert that easily, affordably and consistently.”

Fusion reactions can be created in what’s aptly called a nuclear fusion reactor. There, heated plasma reaches 150 million degrees Celsius — 10 times hotter than the center of the Sun, according to the Oak Ridge National Library.

Under that heat, the centers of two atoms (known as nuclei) merge and form a heavier nucleus.

Because the new nucleus has less mass than the original two, what’s left over is released as energy.

Researchers are interested in a specific kind of reaction (between deuterium and tritium) because it releases more energy and can happen at lower temperatures compared to other elements.

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