If the world ran on nuclear fusion, the Earth could provide us with the resources to meet current energy demands for billions of years. So it’s no wonder that scientists have spent 60 years pouring billions of dollars into developing the technology.
Commercial viability is still a long way off for fusion, but Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers announced today that they have reached a long-sought milestone: the fuel used to create fusion in their reactor is capable of producing more energy than required to initiate fusion. They published their work in Nature today.
Unlike fission, which works by splitting atoms and is used in nuclear power plants, fusion works by joining two atoms together. When the atoms’ nuclei fuse, they release an incredible amount of energy. We experience this process every day via the Sun, which, deep at its core, contains a natural fusion reactor. The energy it produces is powerful enough to create the light and heat that make life here on Earth possible.
The Livermore reactor is complex. The fusion process begins with 192 lasers, which heat a cylinder (pictured above) that measures just 1 centimeter across to millions of degrees. Nestled inside of the cylinder is a tiny...