Scientists achieve first nuclear fusion ignition

Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have achieved a significant milestone in clean energy production — the first known fusion reaction to achieve ignition.

According to an Engadget report, the net energy gain that resulted in the ignition wasn’t overly impressive at 3.15 megajoules — equivalent to around 450g of TNT. However, it was sufficient to achieve ignition.

Scientists directed 192 lasers at a cylinder filled with frozen hydrogen and surrounded by diamond, resulting in a burst of X-rays that hit a fuel pellet containing deuterium and tritium.

The resulting wave of neutron particles achieved 3.15 megajoules of output.

US secretary of energy, Jennifer Granholm, commended the scientists’ achievement.

“This is a landmark achievement for the researchers and staff at the National Ignition Facility who have dedicated their careers to seeing fusion ignition become a reality, and this milestone will undoubtedly spark even more discovery,” she said.

Scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) have been working towards the achievement for some time. In November 2022, they revealed that they recorded the biggest temperature and energy increase ever with a magnetised fusion experiment.

NIF senior scientist John Moody explained that the magnetic field acts as an insulator to prevent heat loss from “hotspots”.

Hotspots are created by shooting lasers at a tiny pellet of fuel made of heavier isotopes of hydrogen — such as deuterium and tritium.

“You have what we call the hot spot. It’s millions of degrees, and around it is just room temperature,” Moody said.

“All that heat wants to flow out because heat always goes from the hot to the cold and the magnetic field prevents that from happening.”

He explained that more fusion reactions occur as temperatures rise, resulting in improved reactivity.

At the time, the NIF had only gotten close to achieving ignition — the point at which fusion reactions become self-sustaining in plasmas — through its experiments.

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Scientists achieve first nuclear fusion ignition