For decades, scientists have sought to create clean energy from nuclear fusion – the process that powers the sun. If this can be employed in nuclear reactors on a huge scale, it could produce an almost unlimited supply of energy without radioactive waste. A lofty, if perhaps unlikely, ambition. Or so it seemed until last month, when scientists made what was instantly hailed as the most significant breakthrough in nuclear fusion for the last 50 years – demonstrating for the first time ‘fusion ignition’, the point at which fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining. Nuclear fusion requires temperatures to be maintained at more than 100 million degrees Celsius. It also needs a reactor capable of producing more energy than is pumped into it to start and contain the fusion reaction – something that has remained out of reach for years. The latest experiments, carried out by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, involved focusing a laser light generated by the National Ignition Facility on to a target capsule of fuel about 5mm wide. This produced a hotspot the diameter of a human hair. The experiment produced temperatures several times hotter than the centre of the sun for 100 trillionths of a second, while the pressure placed on the fuel pellet was twice that inside a star. In a nutshell: Potentially limitless zero carbon energy, if scientists can pull it off.
iNews 25th Oct 2021 read more »