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Nuclear Fusion Ignition Gets Closer and May Answer Global Demand for Energy

Transitioning personal transportation to electric vehicles is just part of the challenge that lies ahead. If we are not to use the energy contained in fossil fuels, we will have to harvest it elsewhere. Solar and wind are progressing at high speed, but some doubt they will be enough to supply the world’s needs. Nuclear energy would be clean if it were not for radioactive residues. That is why so many bet on nuclear fusion. Scientists from the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the U.S. may have helped us achieve that.
NIF Experiment Got Us Closer to Nuclear Fusion Ignition 1 photo
What these scientists seemingly managed to do on August 8 was to get closer to the ignition process in a lab. It was never accomplished before, and it is critical to do nuclear fusion work to generate energy.

Nuclear fusion is basically what the sun does to generate massive amounts of power. Instead of breaking atoms – a process called fission – to release energy, it joins them, generating even more. So far, no nuclear fusion experiment has managed to create ignition, which keeps the fusion process going.

The NIF used its laser machine (which is equivalent to three football fields) to focus laser lights into a fuel pellet. It is composed of heavy versions of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) and is no larger than a BB (0.18 inches, or 46 millimeters). They have managed to generate “more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second” and achieved “a yield of more than 1.3 megajoules (MJ).” That was the closest we ever got to fusion ignition."

The goal of such a massive discharge of laser lights into that tiny surface is to create plasma: a cloud of charged ions. To get there, the fuel pellet has to reach the same heat and pressure it would get at the center of the sun. If that happens, fusion reactions start by releasing “alpha” particles. They will hit the surrounding plasma, which will increase heat and pressure in it and ignite that plasma to release more “alpha” particles and so forth. The researchers hope that this makes fusion a self-sustaining reaction.

Although the experiment seems to have been very successful, it still has to be verified. If other researchers can reproduce these results, we’ll probably be closer to making our own private suns to generate clean energy.

However, some challenges remain. The experiment was not able to deliver more energy than the researchers had to spend to get closer to ignition. It will only be a feasible means to generate power when that happens. That’s what scientists all over the world are working hard to attain.

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