Researchers achieve milestone success with nuclear fusion, lightspeed space travel here we come

nuclear-fusion

According to a report by BBC, Scientists and researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in the U.S. managed to have surpassed a fundamental milestone on the way to the vital goal of attaining self-sustaining nuclear fusion. You might not have known this, but nuclear fusion is basically the process that powers the Sun.

Now, if researchers are able to harness the power of nuclear fusion, the human race could well be on its way to provide an unlimited and cheap source of energy. Furthermore, it may allow us to refrain from torturing the Earth for crude oil. You know what, we’d love if nuclear fusion could be used to power consumer vehicles and spacecraft’s, among other things.

According to the BBC report, in the experiment by NIF, the volume of energy released through the fusion feedback surpassed the amount of energy being sucked up by the fuel. While close to true fusion energy (outputting more energy than was input), the scientists weren’t able to get true fusion due to the energy consumed by the lasers used in the process.

This all happened during an experiment in late September and it is the first time this has ever happened in a fusion facility; hopefully the folks behind this had a chance to drink a few bottles of beer afterwards.

For over 50 years, researchers have tried to control nuclear fusion with constant failure after failure. NIF was expected to help provide a monumental breakthrough in the technology, and that appears to be what is on our hands. Of course, we aren’t physicists so we may be wrong — we can only tell you what we read. However, few will argue with me when I say this is the single most meaningful step for fusion to date. It also proves the National Ignition Facility is traveling on the path to eventual self-sustaining fusion. How eventual is eventual? Beats me.

It’s a pity the achievement has been announced during the government shutdown. It may not get the recognition it deserves, but maybe that doesn’t matter to the researchers and scientist at NIF.

[via BBC, image via Pakalert Press]

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16 comments

  1. etim

    I’m bummed that no one ever talks about developing betavoltaic energy technology.
    It’s basically just radioactive isotopes painted onto a photoelectric cell, using beta emissions instead of photons to produce electricity.
    You can buy small betavoltaic batteries, but they’re currently prohibitively expensive–but that’s because fed regs don’t allow the reuse/recycling of radioactive wastes.
    The power output of a single beta cell is miniscule, but with today’s tech, thin film cells could be stacked by the millions to make local, relatively small scale power plants.
    Not only is it clean and safe, with no risk of meltdowns and massive leaks–but could turn our toxic nuclear waste problem into a valuable natural resource.
    And the battery life would be measured in decades and not just hours.

  2. gundamman

    Problem is the inherent danger. How many spent fuel rods litter the US? I live 25 miles south of that joke Indian Point, there is not a spot in New Jersey where you are not in a danger zone of a nuclear plant. Problem is, an airplane does not have the power to cause thyroid cancer 25 year later. An airplane cannot turn to corium and melt through containment vessels. Nuclear is not the answer to our insatiable power thirst. We are being sold a bill of goods on the condition of Fuku, and it will only get worse. Chernobyl will leak for a few thousand more years… Half life of iodine 131 is 7 days, meaning at 50 to 60 days out it is harmless, yet the hotspots in Belarus see thyroid cancer 25 years out.

  3. Jimbo

    [@gundamman] @gundamman That indeed was a bad accident and reminded us what can go wrong when you don’t take all the variables into proper account. The answer is to learn from mistakes and not repeat them, plus to be more vigilant and safety/environment conscious when designing power plants.

    If we didn’t think like that we would have stopped flying in airplanes after the first few accidents.

  4. gundamman

    Yeah, just what we need, more energy of the nuclear kind we cannot control. Have we learned nothing of that ticking time bomb over in Japan that is billowing out 300 tons of radioactive water into the pacific each day?

  5. Jimbo

    @DoktorThomas
    As a retired Nuclear Engineer who did Master’s Degree research in Fusion in 1980, I can assure you that if we ever manage to overcome the engineering problems associated with this energy source it will indeed be ‘limitless’.

    Why will it be so? Because the fuel source is Deuterium which makes up about 0.03% of all water on earth.

    Doesn’t sound like much but if you do the math….you’ll see.
    Don’t get me wrong…Solar , Wind and all the other renewables are good too…

    When I was doing my research in 1980 I felt it would be 50 years (i.e. 2030) before this technology would be harnessed….perhaps my prediction will not be too far off.

  6. etim

    [@DoktorThomas™] “Coal generation is awesome, abundant and the garbage left over is all naturally occurring substances that integrate into the plant eco-system easily”
    That would be hilarious if people didn’t actually believe that bullshit.

    Unfortunately. the mercury, lead and other toxic heavy metals–including radioactive isotopes–that are released by coal’s extraction, processing, burning and disposal of byproducts ARE “naturally occurring substances that integrate into the plant eco-system easily” but I’ll be damned if I want them in MY ecosystem!!

  7. DoktorThomas™

    “the human race could well be on its way to provide an unlimited and cheap source of energy”

    The same false promise was made when the mad scientists and the energy companies were first pushing nuclear reactors for electric generation. They lied.

    What was not true then, it is not true now and it will never be true. The only cheap, viable unlimited energy source is solar. The average person is too lame to understand it.

    The ramification of the use of nuclear reactors (think Chernobyl) is a little cancer causing radiation contaminating the Earth in totem. (Radiation is lethal, in case you received a public education in the US). With this new technology you report, a little leakage could turn the Earth into a new sun … So, it is a very very hot ideal, but has no practical application whatsoever.

    Coal generation is awesome, abundant and the garbage left over is all naturally occurring substances that integrate into the plant eco-system easily. Everything the Jim Crow Party of Disappointment says about coal is a lie (just as everything else they say. Democrats = crooks and liars. Note: this is not advocacy for the other inept political party; they deserve equal punishment.)

    These other “new” technologies are planet killers. Which may have negative implications for every living thing on the planet. Imagine your cat glowing as you slowly cook from the inside out…

    FYI: The Jim Crow Party of Disappointment and their gestapo overseers of the Government Plantation support these deadly technologies. Stupidity is their only asset.

    I like technology, buy this is not a sustainable or intelligent development. ©2013 All rights reserved.