It took 192 lasers, operating in a high-security governmental structure the size of a football stadium, to create what is essentially a tiny star. The lasers were directed into a tiny container containing a hydrogen pellet roughly half the size of a BB.
Atomic particles in the gas fused together as the beams fired, releasing more energy than the lasers had put in. The achievement was made public in full on Tuesday at a news conference in Washington after it was accomplished for the first time ever on December 5 at a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory site in Northern California. In the decades-long attempt to harness nuclear fusion, an energy source that has the potential to produce large amounts of clean electricity, it symbolizes what officials say is an important milestone.
Using nuclear fusion, the energy source of the stars, to produce copious amounts of clean energy on Earth has been one of science's most difficult physical tasks for more than 60 years.
The significance is the fact that the reaction produced more energy than was used to create it. While the announcement from the Biden administration was optimistic, it also comes with the caution that it could be decades before this type of energy can be used to power America’s homes, factories, and vehicles.
Current nuclear reactors use fission, the act of splitting atoms. This creates nuclear waste that, in many cases, is highly radioactive and lethal. The struggle for those plants is to find someplace to store this deadly material, as it can remain lethal for hundreds of thousands of years.
A fusion reaction, on the other hand, is the dream that has been written about in science and science fiction for generations. A fusion reaction plant would, for example, take hydrogen atoms, fuse them, create energy we can use to power our homes, and leave us with helium as a by-product. Fusion is the reaction that’s occurring in stars every second.
Fusion created all the materials that the earth is made of and nearly everything else in the visible universe. Our solar system is made from dust and gasses left behind by an exploding star. As that material was ejected and cooled, it formed planets, moons, and everything in our world, including us.
If science can harness the power of fusion reactions, we can have a 100% clean, infinitely abundant source of electricity.
Photo by llnl.gov, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=137731
The Kentucky Daily