It has been described as the “holy grail” of energy. But despite decades of research, scientists have hitherto failed to unlock nuclear fusion’s potential, and with it the promise of near-limitless, low-carbon energy. Until now.
On Tuesday, US researchers said they had overcome a major hurdle by producing more energy from a fusion experiment than they put in. This had never been done before. And while the amount of energy produced was only enough to power a kettle, it’s implications are huge, and will be felt way beyond California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where the experiment took place.
“This astonishing scientific advance puts us on the precipice of a future no longer reliant on fossil fuels, but instead powered by new clean fusion energy,” said Chuck Schumer, majority leader of the US Senate.
While existing nuclear plants employ fission (‘splitting the atom’) to produce energy, fusion harnesses the energy created when atoms are fused together. Unlike fission, fusion does not create a chain reaction and produces no dangerous long-term radioactive waste.
There’s a long way to go before the technology is commercially viable, but the future of energy looks brighter.
Image: Hal Gatewood