Researchers at a lab owned by the U.S. government have passed a crucial milestone on the way to their ultimate goal of achieving self-sustaining nuclear fusion.
On Aug. 8, 2021, an experiment at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) made a significant step toward ignition, achieving a yield of more than 1.3 megajoules. Researchers said this advancement puts them at the threshold of fusion ignition, which is defined as a sustainable and never-ending powerful energy source.
The experiment was enabled by focusing laser light—the size of three football fields—onto a target which is the size of a BB (Baseball Bat?) that produces a hot-spot the diameter of a human hair, generating more than 10 quadrillion watts of fusion power for 100 trillionths of a second.
“These extraordinary results advance the science,” said Jill Hruby, DOE under secretary for Nuclear Security and administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration.
“Gaining experimental access to thermonuclear burn in the laboratory is the culmination of decades of scientific and technological work stretching across nearly 50 years,” said Los Alamos National Laboratory Director Thomas Mason. “This enables experiments that will check theory and simulation in the high energy density regime more rigorously than ever possible before and will enable fundamental achievements in applied science and engineering.”
Looking ahead, access to this new experimental model will inspire new avenues for research and provide the opportunity to create further benchmarks. Plans for repeat experiments are well underway, although it will take several months for them to be executed.