Why fusion ignition is being hailed as a major breakthrough in fusion – a nuclear physicist explains

American scientists have announced what they have called a major breakthrough in a long-elusive goal of creating energy from nuclear fusion. The US Department of Energy said on 13 December 2022 that for the first time – and after several decades of trying – scientists have managed to get more energy out of the process than they had to put in.
But just how significant is the development? And how far off is the long-sought dream of fusion providing abundant, clean energy? Carolyn Kuranz, an associate professor of nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan, who has worked at the facility that just broke the fusion record, helps explain this new result.
What happened in the fusion chamber?
Fusion is a nuclear reaction that combines two atoms to create one or more new atoms with slightly less total mass. The difference in mass is released as energy, as described by Einstein’s famous equation, E = mc2 , where energy equals mass times the speed of light squared. Since the speed of light is enormous, converting just a tiny amount of mass into energy – like what happens in fusion – produces a similarly enormous amount of energy.
Researchers at the US government’s National Ignition Facility in California have demonstrated, for the first time, what is known as “fusion ignition.” Ignition is when a fusion reaction produces more energy than is being put into the reaction from an outside source and becomes self-sustaining.
The technique used at the National Ignition Facility involved shooting 192 lasers at a 0.04-inch (1mm) pellet of fuel made of deuterium and tritium – two versions of the element hydrogen with extra neutrons – placed in a gold canister. When the lasers hit the canister, they produce X-rays that heat and compress the fuel pellet to about 20 times the density of lead and to more than five million degrees Fahrenheit (three million Celsius) – about 100 times hotter than the surface of the sun. If you can maintain these conditions for long enough, the fuel will fuse and release energy.
The fuel and canister get vaporised within a few billionths of a second during the experiment. Researchers then hope their equipment survived the heat and accurately measured the energy released by the fusion reaction.
So what did they accomplish?
To assess the success of a fusion experiment, physicists look at the ratio between the energy released from the process of fusion and the amount ...
14 Dec 2022 4AM English South Africa News · Daily News

Other recent episodes

SANDF to guard four Eskom power plants under threat of sabotage and vandalism

Presidency spokesperson Vincent Magwenya confirmed to Daily Maverick that President Cyril Ramaphosa had authorised the deployment of South African Defence Force troops ‘in response to the growing threat of sabotage, theft, vandalism and corruption at Eskom power stations’. Following requests by President Cyril Ramaphosa and Minister of Public Enterprises Pravin…
18 Dec 2022 1PM 3 min

Canadian company exploring for oil in Namibia in credibility battle

ReconAfrica, a start-up oil exploration company with interests in Namibia and Botswana, is fighting for survival as its auditors resign, a cash crunch looms and a New York court battle with disgruntled investors comes to a head. Descending upon Namibia’s environmentally sensitive Kavango East region in 2015 was the easy…
15 Dec 2022 2PM 18 min

Water scarcity in Western Cape towns persists despite recent heavy rains

Despite recent heavy rains, which caused flooding in parts of the Western Cape, some towns in the province are still at risk of running out of water. The head of the Western Cape Department of Water and Sanitation (DWS), Ntombizanele Bila-Mupariwa, on Thursday said dam levels within the Western Cape…
15 Dec 2022 1PM 6 min