Nuclear fusion energy breakthrough

Barry White

Media reports today (including the BBC, The Guardian, Financial Times and New York Times) on a breakthrough in the journey to find a near limitless clean and safe of energy, having finally achieved a net gain from a nuclear fusion reaction.

The breakthrough was confirmed  at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California. However, experts say there is still some way to go before fusion powers homes, as the amount of energy they’ve generated in this experiment is tiny – just enough to boil a very few kettles.

Fusion is the thermonuclear reaction that powers the sun and other stars — the fusing of hydrogen atoms into helium. The mass of helium is slightly less than the original hydrogen atoms; thus, that difference in mass is converted into a burst of energy. Fusion that could be produced in a controlled fashion could mean an energy source that does not produce greenhouse gases or radioactive waste.

Fusion is the opposite of nuclear fission, where heavy atoms are split apart and is the technology used in nuclear power stations. Fission also produces a lot of waste that continues to give out radiation for decades. It can be dangerous and must be stored safely.

The National Ignition Facility in California is a $3.5bn (£2.85bn) experiment so it currently does not come cheap!

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