Climate-neutral, cheap energy that can be produced in masses: That sounds like science fiction – and yet it may be closer than you think. There are reports from the USA about a scientific milestone. The world will learn more on Tuesday.
According to media reports, scientists in the USA have made a historic breakthrough in the field of nuclear fusion. According to the newspapers “Financial Times” and “Washington Post”, researchers working on behalf of the US government have for the first time succeeded in nuclear fusion that produced more energy than was consumed. This result, based on preliminary data, would be a milestone on the way to development a new source of energy that could one day potentially generate huge amounts of electricity in a climate-neutral and safe manner.
The results obtained at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (California) are reportedly due to be officially presented on Tuesday at 4 p.m. (CET). The invitation states that US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm will announce a “major scientific breakthrough”.
Almost a year ago, advances in nuclear fusion were announced at the institute. A research team reported in the journal “Nature” at the beginning of the year that the ignition of the plasma was achieved. This ultimately results in the fusion reaction becoming self-sustaining. In the nuclear fusion reactor, the fuel is in the form of plasma – this state of aggregation is created when a gas is extremely heated.
Both nuclear power and nuclear fusion derive energy from the binding forces of atomic nuclei. With nuclear power, however, large atoms are split, radioactive waste is produced, among other things, and there is a risk of serious accidents. In nuclear fusion, on the other hand, small atomic nuclei are fused to form larger ones, i.e. fused. This technology is considered clean and safe. This generation of energy is similar to what happens in stars like the sun.
However, temperatures of several million degrees must be reached for nuclear fusion. This made it very difficult to use it technically – which is why there has never been a reactor that could produce more energy than was put into it to heat up the plasma.
For their experiments, the researchers in California used the world’s most powerful laser system to convert tiny amounts of heavy and superheavy hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) into a million-degree hot plasma. Many laser beams heat up the inside of a container a few millimeters in size.