US scientists have hailed a landmark achievement in nuclear fusion that could one day transform energy production.
The National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California announced it had overcome a key obstacle to advancing fusion techniques.
The laboratory's lasers input 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy to their target, which in turn produced 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output. While the amount is small, it is the first occasion on which a fusion experiment produced more energy than was put into it.
LLNL director Dr. Kim Budil stated: “Crossing this threshold is the vision that has driven 60 years of dedicated pursuit.”
The achievement represents a breakthrough that has taken decades and could potentially pave the way for limitless clean energy. Fusion involves pairing atoms and forcing them together, producing more energy than nuclear fission but requiring massive amounts of energy for low return.
President Biden’s energy secretary Jennifer M. Granholm applauded the scientific advance saying: “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.”
Unusually, the breakthrough has been praised on both sides of the increasingly divided American political scene. Its potential to replace fossil sources, secure domestic energy supply, create a carbon-neutral economy and boost defence potential has enabled support for an ambitious research programme to build on the success.
The US Senate Majority leader, Democrat Charles Schumer commented: “This astonishing scientific advance puts us on the precipice of a future no longer reliant on fossil fuels but instead powered by new clean fusion energy.
“I’m also proud to announce that I’ve helped to secure the highest-ever authorization of over $624 million this year in the National Defence Authorization Act for the ICF program to build on this amazing breakthrough.”
The UK Atomic Weapons Establishment was among the international partners in the nuclear fusion project.
See below to hear the US Government announcement of the breakthrough.