Nuclear Infusion breakthrough (CNN series)

Nuclear fusion breakthrough a milestone for the future of clean energy, US officials say

Ella Nilsen

By Ella Nilsen, CNN

Updated 1:15 PM EST, Tue December 13, 2022

Source: CNN — 

US Department of Energy officials announced a history-making accomplishment in nuclear fusion Tuesday: For the first time, US scientists produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy they used to power the experiment.

A so-called “net energy gain” is a major milestone in a decadeslong attempt to source clean, limitless energy from nuclear fusion – the reaction that happens when two or more atoms are fused together.

The experiment put in 2.05 megajoules of energy to the target and resulted in 3.15 megajoules of fusion energy output – generating more than 50% more energy than was put in. It’s the first time an experiment resulted in a meaningful gain of energy.

Live updates: US officials announce nuclear fusion breakthrough

“This monumental scientific breakthrough is a milestone for the future of clean energy,” said Democratic US Sen. Alex Padilla of California in a statement.

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. (Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via AP)

US officials to announce nuclear fusion breakthrough

The breakthrough was made by a team of scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility in California on December 5 – a facility the size of a sports stadium and equipped with 192 lasers.

Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm on Tuesday called the breakthrough a “milestone.”

“Ignition allows us to replicate, for the first time, certain conditions that are only found in the stars and sun,” Granholm said. “This milestone moves us one significant step closer to the possibility of zero-carbon, abundant fusion energy powering our society.”

Granholm said scientists at Livermore and other national labs do work that will help the US move quickly toward clean energy and maintain a nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing.

“This is what it looks like for America to lead, and we’re just getting started,” Granholm said. “If we can advance fusion energy, we could use it to produce clean electricity, transportation fuels, power, heavy industry and so much more.”

NIF's target chamber is where the magic happens -- temperatures of 100 million degrees and pressures extreme enough to compress the target to densities up to 100 times the density of lead are created there.

Nuclear fusion: How long until this breakthrough discovery can power your house

Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, spoke about how, as a young scientist early in her career, she spent three months at Lawrence Livermore working on its nuclear fusion project.

Prabhakar reflected on the generations of scientists who got to today’s achievement with nuclear fusion. “It took not just one generation but generations of people pursuing this goal,” she said. “It’s a century since we figured out it was fusion that was going on in our sun and all the other stars. In that century it took so many different kinds of advances that ultimately came together to the point that we could replicate that fusion activity in a laboratory.”

A technician is seen inside the preamplifier support structure of the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

A technician is seen inside the preamplifier support structure of the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Why a net gain in energy matters

We are still a very long way from having nuclear fusion power the electric grid, experts caution. The US project, while groundbreaking, only produced enough energy to boil about 2.5 gallons of water, Tony Roulstone, a fusion expert from the engineering department at the University of Cambridge, told CNN.

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That may not seem like much, but the experiment is still hugely significant because scientists demonstrated that they can create more energy than they started with. While there are many more steps until this can be commercially viable, that is a major hurdle to cross with nuclear fusion, experts say.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Director Kim Budil on Tuesday called her lab’s breakthrough a “fundamental building block” to eventually realizing nuclear fusion powering electricity. She estimated it will take “a few decades” more work before it’s ready for commercial use.

A model of the reactor of the future, ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor). Cowley says the experiments at ITER are critical. They are designed to reach a self-sustaining fusion burn -- the last scientific hurdle to fusion power, he says.

An artificial sun briefly blazed under the English countryside. One day, it could change everything

“I think it’s moving into the foreground and probably with concerted effort and investment, a few decades of research on the underlying technologies could put us in a position to build a power plant,” Budil told reporters. “With real investment and real focus, that timescale can move closer.”

Past fusion experiments including one in the United Kingdom have generated more energy, but have not had nearly as big of an energy gain. For instance, earlier this year, UK scientists generated a record-setting 59 megajoules of energy – about 20 times as much as the US-based project. Even so, the UK project only showed an energy gain of less than 1 megajoule.

Neither the US nor UK-based projects “have the hardware and steps in place to convert fusion neutrons to electricity,” Anne White, head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, told CNN.

Budil said both European fusion projects that run on magnets and the US laser-based system can work alongside each other to push advancements in fusion forward. Granholm added the federal government welcomes private investment in fusion as well.

Budil stressed that there are many more steps to take in the coming decades until nuclear fusion power can turn our lights on and heat our water.

“I don’t want to give you a sense that we’re going to plug the (National Ignition Facility) into the grid; that’s not how this works,” she said.

But Roulstone pointed out that big ambitious nuclear energy projects must start somewhere: In 1942, scientists in Chicago ran the first fission nuclear reactor for just 5 minutes in its first run; 15 years later, the first US-based nuclear power plant went online in Pennsylvania.

US officials announce nuclear fusion breakthrough

By Adrienne Vogt, Mike Hayes, Ella Nilsen and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 0256 GMT (1056 HKT) December 14, 2022

What you need to know about today’s nuclear fusion announcement — and what comes next

From CNN’s Ella Nilsen and René Marsh

NIF Target Area operators inspect a final optics assembly during routine maintenance at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility.
NIF Target Area operators inspect a final optics assembly during routine maintenance at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility. (Jason Laurea/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility have made history by successfully producing a nuclear fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain, a breakthrough hailed by US officials as a “landmark achievement” and a “milestone for the future of clean energy.”

Here are key things to know about today’s announcement — and possible next steps:

What is nuclear fusion and why does it matter? Nuclear fusion is a man-made process that replicates the same energy that powers the sun. Nuclear fusion happens when two or more atoms are fused into one larger one, a process that generates a massive amount of energy as heat.

Scientists around the world have been studying nuclear fusion for decades, hoping to recreate it with a new source that provides limitless, carbon-free energy – without the nuclear waste created by current nuclear reactors. Fusion projects mainly use the elements deuterium and tritium – both of which are isotopes of hydrogen.

The deuterium from a glass of water, with a little tritium added, could power a house for a year. Tritium is rarer and more challenging to obtain, although it can be synthetically made.

“Unlike coal, you only need a small amount of hydrogen, and it is the most abundant thing found in the universe,” Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct and a former chief energy technologist at Lawrence Livermore, told CNN. “Hydrogen is found in water so the stuff that generates this energy is wildly unlimited and it is clean.”

Why was today’s announcement significant? This is the first time scientists have ever successfully produced this, instead of breaking even as past experiments have done.

While there’s many more steps until this can be commercially viable, it’s essential for scientists to show that they can create more energy than they started with. Otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense for it to be developed.

“This is very important because from an energy perspective, it can’t be an energy source if you’re not getting out more energy than you’re putting in,” Friedmann told CNN. “Prior breakthroughs have been important but it’s not the same thing as generating energy that could one day be used on a larger scale.”

What are the next steps? Scientists and experts now need to figure out how to produce much more energy from nuclear fusion on a much larger scale.

At the same time, they need to figure out how to eventually reduce the cost of nuclear fusion so that it can be used commercially.

Scientists will also need harvest the energy produced by fusion and transfer it to the power grid as electricity. It will take years – and possibly decades – before fusion can be able to produce unlimited amounts of clean energy, and scientists are on a race against the clock to fight climate change.15 hr 41 min ago

Energy secretary says nuclear fusion breakthrough could help achieve zero-carbon emission power

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm said the history-making accomplishment in nuclear fusion that was announced on Tuesday “essentially unlocked a whole new source of clean energy.” 

For the first time, US scientists produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy they used to power the experiment, resulting in a “net energy gain.”

“More energy came out of these reactions than put into it,” she explained about the breakthrough.

“If we could get this scale, this will be an amazing endeavor of … achieving the goal of zero-carbon emission power,” she said on CNN.

Granholm said the private sector is “very interested” in this development as well, and she referenced President Joe Biden’s 10-year goal of getting to a commercial fusion reactor.

“We have a goal of getting to net-zero energy by 2050, so that would be within that time frame. But now that this breakthrough has happened, the scientists can go to work on improving the process,” she said. 

As the climate crisis continues, Granholm also said that the onus is not just on the United States or on a specific type of clean energy.

“We have a lot more work to make sure it’s not just the United States, it’s other countries as well. So our example, both in the the fusion example — as well as in all of these other of the technologies and policies — are being looked at very seriously by other countries who also want to do their part,” she said.17 hr 31 min ago

Laboratory director says it will take “probably decades” before nuclear fusion energy is commercialized

Kim Budil, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, said there are still “significant hurdles” to overcome with the nuclear fusion technology before commercialization will be possible.

She pointed out that today’s announcement is marking one fusion ignition event, and that to “realize commercial fusion energy” you will need to “do many, many things” — including producing “many many fusion ignition events per minute” while having a “robust system of drivers to enable that.”

On the timeline for commercialization, Budil said, “probably decades; not six decades, not five decades – which is what we used to say.”

“I think it’s moving into the foreground — and probably with concerted effort and investment, a few decades of research on the underlying technologies could put us in a position to build a power plant,” she added.

A team of scientists at Budil’s laboratory in California made history on Dec. 5 after successfully producing a nuclear fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain, according to US Department of Energy officials.17 hr 17 min ago

There will be further “breakthroughs” and “setbacks” going forward, nuclear security official says

Jill Hruby, under secretary for the Nuclear Security and National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) administrator, said that “going forward,” this work will have further “breakthroughs” and “setbacks.”

Hruby added that their work is focused on “promoting national security” while “pushing towards … a clean energy future.”

She said that today’s “unprecedented’ announcement confirms what she and others have been saying for decades, which is that there isn’t a “more dedicated or talented group of scientists” working today.17 hr 33 min ago

Biden science adviser says generations of scientists “never lost sight of this goal” with nuclear fusion

Arati Prabhakar delivers remarks during a press conference on Tuesday.
Arati Prabhakar delivers remarks during a press conference on Tuesday. (US Department of Energy)

Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and science adviser to President Joe Biden, said the nuclear fusion breakthrough announced on Tuesday is a “scientific milestone” and also an “engineering marvel.”

Prabhakar spoke about how as a 19-year-old student, she spent three months at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California working on its nuclear fusion project.

“They never lost sight of this goal,” Prabhakar said.

Prabhakar reflected on the generations of scientists who got to this point with nuclear fusion.

“It took not just one generation but generations of people pursuing this goal. It’s a scientific milestone. … It’s also an engineering marvel beyond belief,” she said.

“It’s a century since we figured out it was fusion that was going on in our sun and all the other stars. And in that century, it took so many different kinds of advances that ultimately came together to the point that we could replicate that fusion activity in a laboratory,” she added.17 hr 54 min ago

Why a net gain in energy matters

From CNN’s Ella Nilsen

We are still a very long way from having fusion power the electric grid, never mind one power plant itself. The US project, while groundbreaking, only produced enough energy to boil about 2.5 gallons of water, Tony Roulstone, a fusion expert from the University of Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, told CNN. 

That may not seem like much, but the experiment is still hugely significant because scientists demonstrated that they can actually create more energy than they started with. While there’s many more steps until this can be commercially viable, that is a major hurdle to cross with nuclear fusion, experts say. 

“This is very important because from an energy perspective, it can’t be an energy source if you’re not getting out more energy than you’re putting in,” Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct and a former chief energy technologist at Lawrence Livermore, told CNN on Monday. “Prior breakthroughs have been important but it’s not the same thing as generating energy that could one day be used on a larger scale.” 

Past fusion experiments including one in the United Kingdom have generated more energy but have not had nearly as big of an energy gain. For instance, earlier this year, UK scientists generated a record-setting 59 megajoules of energy – about 20 times as the US-based project. Even so, the UK project only showed an energy gain of less than one megajoule. 

There’s still many years and a long way to go to make the project commercially viable. Neither the US or UK-based projects “have the hardware and steps in place to convert fusion neutrons to electricity,” Anne White, head of MIT’s Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, told CNN.  

But Roulstone pointed out that big ambitious nuclear energy projects have to start somewhere: In 1942, scientists in Chicago ran the first fission nuclear reactor for just 5 minutes in its first run; 15 years later, the first US-based nuclear power plant went online in Pennsylvania.  16 hr 28 min ago

US energy secretary: Scientists replicated conditions “only found in the stars and sun”

US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm speaks during a press conference on Tuesday.
US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm speaks during a press conference on Tuesday. (US Department of Energy)

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said Tuesday morning that the nuclear fusion experiment conducted by US scientists replicated “certain conditions that are only found in the stars and sun.”

“Ignition allows us to replicate for the first time certain conditions that are only found in the stars and sun. This milestone moves us one significant step closer to the possibility of zero-carbon abundant fusion energy powering our society,” she said.

Granholm continued: “This is what it looks like for America to lead, and we’re just getting started.”

“If we can advance fusion energy, we could use it to produce clean electricity, transportation fuels, power, heavy industry and so much more.”17 hr 21 min ago

Energy officials announce nuclear fusion breakthrough

From CNN’s Ella Nilsen

A color-enhanced image of the inside of a NIF preamplifier support structure.
A color-enhanced image of the inside of a NIF preamplifier support structure. (Damien Jemison/Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory)

US Department of Energy officials announced a history-making accomplishment in nuclear fusion Tuesday: For the first time, US scientists produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to power the experiment.  

A so-called “net energy gain” is a major milestone in a decades-long attempt to source clean, limitless energy from nuclear fusion – the reaction that happens when two or more atoms are fused together. The experiment put in 2.05 megajoules of energy to the target and resulted in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output – generating more than 50% more energy than was put in. It’s the first time an experiment resulted in a meaningful gain of energy.

“This monumental scientific breakthrough is a milestone for the future of clean energy,” said Democratic Sen. Alex Padilla of California.

The breakthrough was made by a team of scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility in California on Dec. 5 – a facility the size of a sports stadium and equipped with 192 lasers.  

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm called the breakthrough a “landmark achievement” in a statement. 

In the statement, Granholm said scientists at Livermore and other national labs do work that will help the US “solve humanity’s most complex and pressing problems, like providing clean power to combat climate change and maintaining a nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing.” 

The director of Livermore, Dr. Kim Budil, called scientists’ attempts to realize fusion ignition in the lab “one of the most significant scientific challenges ever tackled by humanity” and cheered the work of her lab’s scientists. 

“Achieving it is a triumph of science, engineering, and most of all, people,” Budil said in a statement. “Crossing this threshold is the vision that has driven 60 years of dedicated pursuit. These are the problems that the U.S. national laboratories were created to solve.” 

18 hr 35 min ago

How nuclear fusion power could eventually turn the lights on in your house

From CNN’s Ella Nilsen and René Marsh

US scientists at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have successfully produced a nuclear fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain, a source familiar with the project confirmed to CNN.

This is the first time scientists have ever successfully produced a nuclear fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain, instead of breaking even as past experiments have done.

While there’s many more steps until this can be commercially viable, it’s essential for scientists to show that they can create more energy than they started with. Otherwise, it doesn’t make much sense for it to be developed.

“This is very important because from an energy perspective, it can’t be an energy source if you’re not getting out more energy than you’re putting in,” Julio Friedmann, chief scientist at Carbon Direct and a former chief energy technologist at Lawrence Livermore, told CNN. “Prior breakthroughs have been important but it’s not the same thing as generating energy that could one day be used on a larger scale.”

Here’s what you need to know about this new form of nuclear energy that could eventually turn on your lights and help end dependence on fossil fuels:

Nuclear fusion: How long until this breakthrough discovery can power your house | CNN

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Nuclear fusion: How long until this breakthrough discovery can power your house | CNN

18 hr 40 min ago

Everything you need to know about nuclear fusion — and how it works

From CNN’s Ella Nilsen and René Marsh

The National Ignition Facility's target chamber at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is where the magic happens -- temperatures of 100 million degrees and pressures extreme enough to compress the target to densities up to 100 times the density of lead are created there.
The National Ignition Facility’s target chamber at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California is where the magic happens — temperatures of 100 million degrees and pressures extreme enough to compress the target to densities up to 100 times the density of lead are created there. (Damien Jemison/LLNL)

Nuclear fusion happens when two or more atoms are fused into one larger one, a process that generates a massive amount of energy as heat — something scientists hope to be able to harness to supply power grids with clean energy across the world.

Scientists have been inching toward the breakthrough. In February, UK scientists announced they had more than doubled the previous record for generating and sustaining nuclear fusion.

In a huge donut-shaped machine called a tokamak outfitted with giant magnets, scientists working near Oxford were able to generate a record-breaking amount of sustained energy. Even so, it only lasted 5 seconds.

Here’s how it works: The heat sustained by the process of fusing the atoms together holds the key to helping produce energy.

As CNN reported earlier this year, the process of fusion creates helium and neutrons – which are lighter in mass than the parts from which they were originally made.

The missing mass then converts to an enormous amount of energy. The neutrons, which are able to escape the plasma, then hit a “blanket” lining the walls of the tokamak, and their kinetic energy transfers as heat. This heat can then be used to warm water, create steam and power turbines to generate power.

The machine that generates the reaction has to undergo serious heat. The plasma needs to reach at least 150 million degrees Celsius, 10 times hotter than the core of the sun.

The big challenge of harnessing fusion energy is sustaining it long enough so that it can power electric grids and heating systems around the globe.18 hr 36 min ago

What to expect from today’s announcement on nuclear fusion

From CNN’s Ella Nilsen and René Marsh

An aerial photo shows the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where scientists have successfully produced a nuclear fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain, a source tells CNN.
An aerial photo shows the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, where scientists have successfully produced a nuclear fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain, a source tells CNN. (National Nuclear Security Administration/Handout/Reuters/File)

For the first time ever, US scientists at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California successfully produced a nuclear fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain, a source familiar with the project confirmed to CNN.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will make an announcement Tuesday on a “major scientific breakthrough,” the department announced over the weekend.

Why it matters: The result of the experiment is a massive step in a decades-long quest to unleash an infinite source of clean energy that could help end dependence on fossil fuels. Researchers have for decades attempted to recreate nuclear fusion – replicating the fusion that powers the sun.

Nuclear fusion happens when two or more atoms are fused into one larger one, a process that generates a massive amount of energy as heat. That heat can be used to warm water, create steam and turn turbines to generate power.

Fusion promises a virtually limitless form of energy that, unlike fossil fuels, emits zero greenhouse gases and, unlike the nuclear fission power used today, produces no long-life radioactive waste. Mastering it could literally save humanity from climate change.

CNN’s Boštjan Videmšek contributed to this report.19 hr 7 min ago

Nuclear fusion has been an international project for decades — born from the Cold War

From CNN’s Boštjan Videmšek

Countries began seeking fusion energy in the 1930s, building all sorts of machines over decades. Most recently, 35 countries are collaborating on the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project, based in France.

It is run by seven main members — China, the United States, the European Union, Russia, India, Japan and South Korea — and leaders have worked hard to keep geopolitics out of the research. Its main objective is to prove fusion can be utilized commercially. If it can, the world will have no use for fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas, the main drivers of the human-made climate crisis.

But it was the tokamak, created in the Soviet Union, that proved most successful in the quest for nuclear fusion. In 1968, Soviet researchers made a huge fusion breakthrough — they were able to achieve the high temperatures required and contain the plasma for a sustained period, which had never been done before.

Russia has also provided some of the most critical elements of the ITER. So far, since the start of Russia’s war in Ukraine, its involvement in the project hasn’t changed in any way, said ITER’s head of communications, Laban Coblentz.

Russia has been cut out of a number of other international scientific projects in the fallout of its war, but the European Commission has explicitly made an exception for ITER in its sanctions.

“ITER is really a child of the Cold War,” Coblentz said. “It’s a deliberate collaboration by countries that are ideologically unaligned who simply share a common goal for a better future.”

Geopolitics has always played a role in ITER: Finding the right location for it took years and involved more than a decade of technical studies, political bargaining and diplomatic fine-tuning. France’s Saint-Paul-lez-Durance was finally made the official site in 2005 at a meeting in Moscow, and the agreement on construction was signed in Paris a year after.

As diplomacy and technology fell in step, building began. In 2010, the foundations were laid, and in 2014, the first construction machines were switched on.18 hr 26 min ago

Harnessing the sun: How fusion could help humans solve the climate crisis

From CNN’s Boštjan Videmšek

For decades, those working on nuclear fusion have been trying to use their machines to essentially replicate the sun. The sun is a perpetual fusion factory, made up of a gigantic burning ball of plasma. It fuses several hundred tons of hydrogen into helium each second.

Since 1973, global energy usage has more than doubled. By the end of the century, it might actually triple. Seventy percent of all carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere are created through humans’ energy consumption. And 80% of all the energy we consume is derived from fossil fuels.

Now, the Earth is barreling toward levels of warming that translate into more frequent and deadly heat waves, famine-inducing droughts, wildfires, floods and rising sea levels. The impacts of the climate crisis are getting harder and harder to reverse as entire ecosystems reach tipping points and more human lives are put on the line.

The world is now scrambling to rapidly decarbonize and speed up its transition from planet-baking fossil fuels to renewable energy like solar, wind and hydropower. Some countries are banking on nuclear fission energy, which is low-carbon but comes with a small, but not negligible, risk of disaster, storage problems for radioactive waste and a high cost.

Unlike the nuclear fission power used today, nuclear fusion produces no radioactive waste — which means it could be the first step toward reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and creating a limitless clean energy source at a time humans are facing a climate crisis.

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