Scientists have moved a step closer to achieving sustainable nuclear fusion and almost limitless clean energy. U.S. researchers have achieved for the first time in the world the way to generated more energy from fusion reactions than they put into the nuclear fuel, in a small but crucial step along the road to harnessing fusion power.
Fusion energy has the potential to become a radical alternative power source, with zero carbon emissions and minimal waste, but the technical difficulties in demonstrating fusion in the lab have so far proved overwhelming. While existing nuclear reactors generate energy by splitting atoms into lighter particles, fusion reactors combine light atomic nuclei into heavier particles.
In their experiments, researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California used 192 laser beams to strike a tiny target containing a capsule less than a tenth of about 2 mm in diameter filled with fusion fuels deuterium and tritium, which are two isotopes of hydrogen. At very high temperatures, the nucleus of the deuterium and the nucleus of the tritium fuse, a neutron and an alpha particle emerge, and energy is released.
The researchers, led by physicist Omar Hurricane, described the achievement as important but said much more work is needed before fusion can become a viable energy source.
The experimental fusion reactor ITER, which is being built in France, is expected to be the first plant to produce more energy than it consumes. The project has faced delays of more than two years and overrun budgets, but is still an international flagship for fusion research.
[Credit – Guardian Newspapers & Raw Story Media]