American scientists have for the first time managed to create — and then strengthen — a level of nuclear power that was once only dreamed of.
Twice in under a year, federal researchers at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have been able to successfully trigger a fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain, or attaining more power than was used to fuel the experiment.
The results are an unprecedented “ignition” of the groundbreaking, carbon zero energy source that physicists have been attempting since World War II.
The shock success means that human beings are now a step closer to the power of the sun in the palm of our hands, to paraphrase Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock, who attempted and tragically failed to accomplish the feat in 2004’s “Spider-Man 2.”
As a power source, nuclear fusion far surpasses its controversial counterpart, nuclear fission. The latter results in extremely harmful waste and decay that lingers for thousands of years.
The Energy Department described the incredible milestone as “a major scientific breakthrough decades in the making.”
The laboratory first reached ignition in December of 2022 and again — even more powerfully — this July by shooting ultra-powered lasers into a centimeter-sized capsule “oven,” called a hohlraum.
The capsule contained variants of hydrogen gas called deuterium and tritium, which acted as fuel — like gasoline in a car — for the reaction.
The blasting lasers were converted to x-rays, which then transitioned the deuterium and tritium from gas to plasma. Plasma is known as the fourth state of matter, coming after solid, liquid and gas in terms of molecular expansion.
The extremely high temperatures and pressure contained within the hohlraum caused the contents, also known as nuclei, to fuse by way of implosion.
Similar experiments have been conducted throughout history, particularly in the creation of the hydrogen bomb, but more energy has always been used than gained — until now.
The hydrogen bomb was an advancement from the research conducted by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man who inspired Christopher Nolan’s “Oppenheimer.”
The film focuses on the titular character’s previous work creating the twice-used atomic bomb in the 1940s.
The December achievement “surpassed the fusion threshold” by yielding 3.15 megajoules from the 2.05 which powered the test — about a 150% increase from start to finish. The July follow up produced even more at 3.5MJ, the Financial Times reported, using preliminary data.
The Department of Energy also stated this “will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power.”
Fusion produces more carbon-free energy and has a substantially less impactful aftermath compared to fission — which notably powered nuclear plants like Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima.
The lab’s National Ignition Facility called the fusion ignitions an “exciting new scientific regime,” adding that “we plan on reporting those results at upcoming scientific conferences anDd in peer-reviewed publications.”