For the first time, an experimental fusion reactor in the US has broken even, providing more energy than is absorbed by the fuel.
Nuclear fusion is the power source of your dreams; providing cheap, safe and virtually limitless energy. Unfortunately, it is still just that: A dream. While experiments have successfully managed to create fusion reactions in a laboratory environment, they have all required more energy input than they provided as output.
The National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California however, have changed that. For the first time in human history, a fusion reactor has reached the break even point, providing more energy than is absorbed by the fuel. That is a landmark achievement, and if it can be confirmed, it’s the first steps towards fusion becoming a viable source of energy.
This doesn’t mean we’ll be seeing fusion power plants next year or anything; we’re still missing a bit. What remains is for the fuel to ignite proper and provide not just more energy than is absorbed by the fuel, but more than is required to run the whole reactor, lasers and all. That still hasn’t been achieved, but perhaps it’s within our grasp now.
Here’s how a fusion reaction works. Deuterium and Tritium are two heavy isotopes of hydrogen.
The reactor in question uses 192 beams from the world’s most powerful laser, concentrated on a small bit of hydrogen fuel. The beams heat and compress the hydrogen until the atoms begin fusing into helium. This is the same reaction that powers our sun, and every other star in the known universe; though those reactions get their heat and compression from the sheer mass of fuel compressing against itself.