A “scientific breakthrough” in fusion energy development is expected from the Biden administration tomorrow. In front of more than half a century, people have poured billions of dollars into nuclear fusion research, hoping to create a source of abundant, clean energy.
The rough idea is this: if we develop technology that can replicate the way the sun generates energy in a controlled way, we can provide the world with energy that is free of greenhouse gas emissions and long-lived radioactive waste. But scientists have failed to initiate a fusion reaction that results in a net energy gain. It turns out that it takes a lot of heat energy to force atomic nuclei to “fuse” together.
People have poured billions of dollars into nuclear fusion research, hoping to create a source of abundant, clean energy
Sunday has the Financial times reported that researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were finally able to create a fusion reaction that resulted in a net energy gain. In other words, it produced more energy than it took to cause the reaction.
However, there are very few details about exactly what happened and how it was achieved. In an email to The edgethe national lab declined to confirm details reported by Financial times. “Our analysis is still ongoing, so we cannot provide details or confirmation at this time. We look forward to sharing more on Tuesday when that process is complete,” wrote Breanna Bishop, senior director of strategic communications at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The edge.
Hopefully we’ll learn more tomorrow during a livestream, heralded cryptically as an announcement of a “major scientific breakthrough” by the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The announcement will take place at a press conference in Washington, DC, at 10 a.m. ET. It will be streamed live at energy.gov/live. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and Arati Prabhakar, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, are expected to speak with officials from the National Nuclear Security Administration and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
Immediately after the press conference, there will be a panel discussion and Q&A with experts from the national laboratory. That discussion will also be streamed live at energy.gov/live and will begin at 10:30am ET.
Whatever is announced tomorrow, potential benefits of nuclear fusion in the real world are more than likely more than a decade away under the most optimistic scenario – if at all. It still looks very unlikely that we can count on fusion power in time to get us out of a climate crisis. But this is cool science, and one can dream.