The experiment, which took place on August 8 at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California, was “enabled by the concentration of laser light,” at no less than 192, “a lead-sized target of prey,” a press release explains.
Its effect was “creating a hot spot equal to the diameter of a hair, generating more than 10 quadrillion watts from melting, for 100 trillionths of a second”.
This is eight times more energy than previous experiments conducted in the spring.
Nuclear fusion is regarded by its proponents as the energy of tomorrow, particularly because it produces very little waste and no greenhouse gases.
It differs from fission, a technique currently used in nuclear power plants, which involves breaking the bonds of heavy atomic nuclei to recover energy.
Fusion is the opposite process: We “marry” two lighter atomic nuclei to form a heavier one. In this case two isotopes (nuclear variations) of hydrogen give rise to helium.
This is the process that works in stars including our Sun.
According to the press release, “this breakthrough puts the researchers very close to the ignition threshold,” that is, the moment when the energy produced exceeds the energy that causes the reaction.
Preparations are already underway to reproduce this experiment, which will take “several months,” informs the press release, which specifies that the detailed data will be published in a scientific journal.
“This result is a landmark breakthrough for inertial confinement fusion research,” said Kim Budil, director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, on which the NIF depends.
“The NIF teams have done an extraordinary job,” commented Professor Steven Rose, co-director of the Research Center in this area at Imperial College London. “This is the most significant advance in inertial fusion since its inception in 1972.”
“Turning this concept to a source of renewable electrical energy would probably be a lengthy process and would involve overcoming significant technical challenges”, though Jeremy Chittenden, co-director of the same center in London, enraged.
In France, the International Iter project also aims to control the production of energy from the fusion of hydrogen. Reactor assembly started a year earlier in Bouches-du-Rhne.
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