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When will nuclear fusion be practical enough to power your home?

When will nuclear fusion be practical enough to power your home?

When will nuclear fusion be practical enough to power your home?

The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has provided this diagram, which shows laser beams entering the hohlraum capsule from both ends and striking a target pellet inside. With the help of the beams, the target is compressed and heated to fusion temperatures. (From the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via AP)
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The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has produced this diagram, which shows laser beams entering the hohlraum capsule from both ends and striking a target pellet within. With the help of the beams, the target is compressed and heated to fusion temperatures. (From the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via AP)
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The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has produced this diagram, which shows laser beams entering the hohlraum capsule from both ends and striking a target pellet within. With the help of the beams, the target is compressed and heated to fusion temperatures. (From the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via AP)
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CNN \s —
U.S. researchers at the National Ignition Facility at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have, according to a CNN source familiar with the project, created the first-ever nuclear fusion event with a net energy gain.

Here’s the lowdown on a promising new nuclear energy source that could one day power your home and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels.

Why does understanding nuclear fusion even matter?
Man-made nuclear fusion produces the same kind of energy that drives the sun. The process of nuclear fusion, in which two or more atoms join together to form a single bigger one, releases a tremendous quantity of energy in the form of heat.

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Nuclear fusion has been studied by scientists for decades in the hopes of recreating it with a new source that gives unlimited, carbon-free energy without the nuclear waste created by today’s nuclear reactors. Deuterium and tritium, two isotopes of hydrogen, are the primary materials used in fusion efforts.

A year’s worth of electricity might be generated from the deuterium and tritium in a single glass of water. Although it is possible to synthesize tritium, the element is more difficult to obtain due to its rarity and scarcity.

A former top energy technologist at Lawrence Livermore and current chief scientist at Carbon Direct, Julio Friedmann, told CNN that hydrogen is the most plentiful substance in the universe and that only a little amount is needed. Since hydrogen is naturally occurring in water, the source material for this clean, abundant energy is virtually limitless.

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Just what sets fusion apart from nuclear fission?
Some images associated with nuclear power include cooling towers and mushroom clouds. However, fusion is totally unique.

In contrast to fusion, which joins atoms together, fission splits an already-existing atom into two or more smaller atoms. Energy from nuclear fission is used to run nuclear reactors all around the world today. Similar to fusion, atom splitting can be utilized to create energy by harnessing the resulting heat.

The U.S. Energy Department recognizes nuclear power as a clean, emission-free alternative to fossil fuels. However, it risks producing radioactive waste that is volatile and must be stored in a secure location. Meltdowns at nuclear power plants are extremely unusual but have had catastrophic consequences in the past, such as at the Fukushima and Chernobyl plants.

The fuels utilized in nuclear fusion are depleted far more quickly than those in fission, hence the process is safer.

How might you use nuclear fusion power to power your home’s electricity?
There are two primary methods for producing nuclear fusion, however they both achieve the same goal. To generate energy, it is necessary to fuse atoms together, which generates a great deal of heat. Similar to how nuclear fission generates energy, that heat may be utilized to heat water, create steam, and turn turbines to produce electricity.

The biggest obstacle to using fusion energy to power electric networks and heating systems worldwide is keeping it going for long enough. Although the recent US accomplishment is significant, it is still a long way from producing enough energy to power even one power plant, let alone hundreds.

The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has produced this diagram, which shows laser beams entering the hohlraum capsule from both ends and striking a target pellet within. With the help of the beams, the target is compressed and heated to fusion temperatures. (From the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via AP)
The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has produced this diagram, which shows laser beams entering the hohlraum capsule from both ends and striking a target pellet within. With the help of the beams, the target is compressed and heated to fusion temperatures. (From the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory via AP)
According to Jeremy Chittenden, co-director of Imperial College London’s Centre for Inertial Fusion Studies, “that’s about what it takes to boil 10 kettles of water.” “We need to make a higher gain in energy – we need it to be substantially more” so that “it can be turned into a power station.”

What makes the Department of Energy’s upcoming announcement about a fusion reaction resulting in a net energy gain so noteworthy?
This is the first time that scientists have managed to create a nuclear fusion process that results in a net energy gain, rather than just maintaining the status quo.

While there is still a long way to go before this is commercially viable, it is crucial that researchers demonstrate that they can generate additional energy. In that case, its creation would be counterproductive.

If you’re not receiving more energy out of it than you put into it, then it can’t be considered an energy source, as Friedmann said to CNN. “Previous achievements were crucial, but they are not the same as producing energy that could be used on a greater scale in the future.”

Where exactly does the fusion occur?
The United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe are all home to a number of active fusion research and development programs. The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor is located in the south of France and is a joint effort of 35 countries, the most prominent of which are China, the United States, the European Union, Russia, India, Japan, and South Korea.

Major research is being conducted in the three-football-field-wide National Ignition Facility at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

At the west entrance of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, on Monday, December 12, 2022. A source familiar with the research who asked to remain anonymous said that scientists at the San Francisco-area lab managed to create a fusion reaction that produced more energy than it used. Picture by David Paul Morris/Bloomberg for Getty Images.
At the west entrance of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, on Monday, December 12, 2022. A source familiar with the research who asked to remain anonymous said that scientists at the San Francisco-area lab managed to create a fusion reaction that produced more energy than it used. By David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images
Fusion energy is produced at the National Ignition Facility by a process called thermonuclear inertial fusion. In practice, US researchers shoot hydrogen fuel pellets into an array of nearly 200 lasers 50 times per second, producing a sequence of extraordinarily quick, repetitive explosions. The neutrons and alpha particles are converted into heat after their energy has been removed.

Scientists in the UK and the ITER project in France are using tokamaks, which are large, donut-shaped machines loaded with massive magnets, to achieve the same goal. To form plasma, a tokamak’s interior temperature is raised exponentially when fuel is introduced and the magnets are activated.

The plasma temperature must be at least 150,000,000°C, or 10 times hotter than the sun’s core. Once outside the plasma, the neutrons strike a “blanket” along the tokamak’s walls, transferring their kinetic energy as heat.

Where do we go from here?
The next step is for scientists and specialists to figure out how to scale up nuclear fusion power production to a point where it can generate vastly more energy.

But scientists also need to figure out how to make nuclear fusion cheaper in the long run so that it can be used in the commercial sector.

According to Chittenden, “right now we’re investing a great amount of time and money for every trial we undertake.” As in, “We need to cut the price by a lot.”

Researchers will also have to figure out how to convert the fusion reactor’s output into usable electricity for the grid. Scientists are in a race against time to combat climate change, as it will be years, if not decades, before fusion can provide endless amounts of renewable energy.

For the next twenty to thirty years, this “will not contribute appreciably to climate abatement,” as Friedmann put it. The difference between striking a match and constructing a gas turbine is as great as that, the speaker said.