May 31, 2023

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Why nuclear fusion achieved by American scientists represents a historic breakthrough

American researchers have achieved Historical progress in nuclear fusion As announced on Tuesday, this will make it possible to break the current dependence on fossil fuels, the main cause of the climate crisis, and revolutionize the production of clean and safe energy on the planet.

California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), which is affiliated to the US Department of Energy, announced the fact through its official Twitter account.

There, the experiment last week was said to have “produced more fusion energy than the laser energy used” to cause the reaction, a They arrived after decades of hard work with the aim of producing nuclear fusion.

The Department of Energy described the discovery as a “scientific breakthrough” that could lead to “advances in national security and a clean energy future.”

Scientists around the world have been working for decades to develop nuclear fusion A clean, abundant and secure source of energy It will allow humanity to break its dependence on fossil fuels.

Differences between fission and nuclear fusion

Currently, nuclear power plants use fission, which means splitting the nucleus of a heavy atom to generate energy. On the contrary, Nuclear fusion combines two hydrogen atoms to form a heavier helium atom, releasing large amounts of energy in the process.

This process The same happens within galaxiesIncluding the Sun and, to activate it on Earth, the help of high-powered lasers is necessary.

To achieve this historic feat, the LLNL team installed 192 lasers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) aimed at a cylinder that housed the light hydrogen atoms to be fused.

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In this way, the scientists used 2.05 megajoules of lasers to produce about 3.5 megajoules of energy, according to a report announcing the landmark breakthrough.

The result provides proof of physical principles described decades ago that fusion poses no risk of nuclear catastrophe, produces less radioactive waste and produces no greenhouse gases compared to coal or gas-fired power plants.

Technicians use an elevator to access the interior of the target chamber for inspection and maintenance at the National Ignition Facility (NIF).

Despite the historical progress of this feat in terms of nuclear fusion, There is still a long way to go before fusion becomes feasible on an industrial and commercial scale.

Perhaps “for decades,” Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory director Kim Puddle noted Tuesday, the challenges are technical because you can repeat the experiment several times a minute.

There are other nuclear fusion projects in the world, such as the so-called ITER, which is currently being developed in France and will use, instead of lasers, a technique called magnetic confinement: hydrogen atoms are heated in a large reactor, where they are controlled with the help of a magnetic field.