Is the dream of the merger finally here?
In recent days, scientists who study fusion – the reaction that powers the sun – have been emailing each other about a milestone in their field.
The discussion sped up on Sunday when the Financial Times published a story saying scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California had achieved ignition, a state in which more energy was produced in an experiment than laser beams. had not put there.
Then on Monday, the Federal Department of Energy announced that it would present a “major scientific breakthrough” made at the laboratory.
Here’s what you need to know about fusion power and the announcement slated for Tuesday.
When is the announcement and how can I watch it?
At 10 a.m. Eastern on Tuesday, Jennifer Granholm, the Secretary of Energy, and other federal officials will make an announcement in Washington, DC. You can watch it on the Department of Energy’s website or in the embedded video player above.
What is Merger?
Fusion is the thermonuclear reaction that lights up the sun and other stars – the fusion of hydrogen atoms into helium. The mass of helium is slightly less than that of the original hydrogen atoms. Thus, by Einstein’s iconic equation E=mc², this difference in mass is converted into an explosion of energy.
Where was the experiment conducted?
It took place at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which plays a key role in the development and maintenance of the United States’ arsenal of nuclear weapons. Among its many initiatives is the National Ignition Facility, or NIF.
The primary purpose of the NIF, built at a cost of $3.5 billion, is to conduct experiments that help the United States maintain its nuclear weapons without nuclear test explosions. Proponents said it could also advance fusion research, potentially leading to viable commercial power plants.
Last year, Livermore scientists reported a major jump, a burst of energy – 10 quadrillion watts of power – that was 70% of the energy of the laser light hitting the hydrogen target.
But the burst – essentially a miniature hydrogen bomb – only lasted 100 trillionths of a second.
What are the possibilities of fusion energy?
Fusion that could be produced in a controlled way on Earth could mean an energy source that does not produce greenhouse gases like coal and oil, or long-lived hazardous radioactive waste like current nuclear power plants.
But laser experiments at the NIF are nowhere near practical enough to generate electricity like a commercial power plant does.
Nevertheless, successful experiments could pave the way for the development of technologies that can be used outside of a laboratory.