back to article Burning plasma signals step forward in race for nuclear fusion as researchers get bigger capsule for their 192-laser experiment

US scientists have succeeded in demonstrating self-heating plasma in a crucial step towards self-sustaining fusion energy. Researchers at National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have published a peer-reviewed paper describing how they achieved burning plasma — where the heat …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    >the researchers would not be drawn on what it might mean for practical fusion reactors

    Well that would largely be because the NIF and its work are primarily concerned with providing the ability to simulate nuclear weapon tests without the pesky business of setting off a nuclear bomb. The tiny percentage of their work that is unclassified and released as fusion-adjacent research via press release is PR.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    I have solved the problem

    Puny scientists, they only used 192 lasers.

    Witness the awesome power of this truly operational fusion reactor with 784 lasers !

    Right, I exit stage left . . .

    1. Jedit Silver badge

      "I exit stage left"

      ...and at the same time exit stage right, stage front, stage top...

      1. pavel.petrman

        Re: "I exit stage left"

        Things like these happen when the workers decide to fulfill the five year plan of energy production in under thirty milliseconds, just like the comrades at the V.I.Lenin electric plant did in 1986.

  3. TRT Silver badge

    ... demonstrating self-heating plasma ...

    After an accident involving a coffee cup, a laser beam, two elastic bands, a particle accelerator, a paper bag and a McDonalds Apple Pie.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: ... demonstrating self-heating plasma ...

      Don't forget the double sided sticky tape and empty washing up liquid bottle !

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: ... demonstrating self-heating plasma ...

        Those are the components of a purposeful construction... and indicators of science funding in the UK. Not that UK scientists should automatically get all the money they want - they do their best work when it's funded by what they can find down the back of the sofa in the coffee lounge.

      2. Ken Shabby

        Re: ... demonstrating self-heating plasma ...

        My vague memories have that as sticky-backed plastic. But I'll always remember Lulu.

    2. Scott Pedigo

      Re: ... demonstrating self-heating plasma ...

      Are you implying that if I stack enough McDonald's Apple Pies in a grid, I'll get an atomic pie-l?

    3. Chris G

      Re: ... demonstrating self-heating plasma ...

      McDonalds apple pies are a different branch of physics, they are powered by Zero Pip Radiation.

    4. jmch Silver badge

      Re: ... demonstrating self-heating plasma ...

      Surely you could use the McDonalds coffee as the plasma... it's certainly hot enough and definitely no use for anything else, ESPECIALLY drinking!

    5. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: ... demonstrating self-heating plasma ...

      all the other parts are stagecraft. You just need a freshly served apple pie

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nothing for power gen here

    Just assholes that want to annihilate everything

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Nothing for power gen here

      I'm betting you mispronounce it "nook-you-lar", too. :(

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Nothing for power gen here

        Like you voted for trump or bozo? Nothing wrong with peaceful "new clear" which this isn't. It's solely about burning people alive.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fusion was "30 years away" when they showed us the Tokomak at University of Saskatchewan on a school tour in 1981...

    Still, I do believe it will happen in my lifetime. Just not until near the end of it.

    1. Wellyboot Silver badge

      very very near the end if you're unlucky

      1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      I think that all subsequent tokomaks (and similar developments) have discovered new problems (and new solutions) since then, particularly about just how difficult it actually is to try and control large volumes of plasma, which is why things like laser containment have been tried in the first place.

      And, while it's clear we're still a long way from any kind of commercial power plant, we do now understand a lot more about the whole area: fewer unknown unknowns, if you like.

      ITER is aiming to be ready by the end of 2025, and while the timeframe might slip, the things we learn when things don't (quite) work as expected, do bring us forward.

      1. jmch Silver badge

        ITER is aiming to be ready by the end of 2025, and while the timeframe WILL slip, the things we learn when things don't (quite) work as expected, do bring us forward.


        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          The problem is that whilst every "failure" advances knowledge, it also means the politicians and "biznizmen" keep slashing funding because "it doesn't work"

          Pitching tokamaks, holoraums and stellerators as something other than "power" or weapons and actually getting funding would go a long way towards sustainably gettnig research continued

        2. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

          About ... 20 years apparently. :-(

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      fusion on this planet has been happening since 1932 - and with a net positive result (for short durations) occasionally since the 1950s

      It's long duration positive results without R(U)D that's the hard part

    4. Ken Shabby

      As a schoolboy in North Berks, as it was then, taken around Culham Laboratories 1969, they said 50 years then. I presume it still is.

  6. pavel.petrman

    Challenges of efficiency, scale and reliability

    The challenges of efficiency, scale and reliability need to be adressed before the other challenges may be tackled - namely relegating regulation and certification to operators, political consulting fees and taxing the hell ouf the whole works.

  7. jmch Silver badge


    "although the experiment had produced more energy than was hitting the target capsule, it was a long way short of producing the energy which went into the surrounding lasers"

    So the energy going into the lasers is much higher than the energy the lasers can push into the experiment capsule (ie laser inefficiency), but the reaction itself was producing more energy than was pushed into the capsule itself... surely that implies that they could have turned the lasers off and the reaction would continue until fuel ran out (or, indeed, that that's what happened but the excess fusion energy was less than the losses in the laser).

    That in turn implies that if they find a way to refuel 'on the fly', they could get a self-sustaining reaction (without any lasers or other external power sources) for as long as they can feed fuel in. That would indeed be a massive milestone!!

    Am I missing something?

    1. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Am I missing something?

      The lasers are also a containment grid. If you turn that off, then you get a Twinkie 35 feet long that explodes. Or something like that. It's been a while since I saw the documentary about it.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Am I missing something?

        As you say, there's some sudden thermal expansion if they get turned off or possibly even just flicker, the excess energy produced has to be enough to power the lasers needed to keep producing it with some left for sale.

        Once that level of reliable power has been achieved they can try for on the fly fuelling, then the whole process need to be scaled up to where the price of saleable power is measured in pennies per Kw/H.

        My guess is that in 50 years when Hinkley-D is designed it'll be fission not fusion but I'd like to be wrong.

      2. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

        Re: Am I missing something?

        "Twinkie 35 feet long"

        Perhaps they should try crossing the streams. You know, just to see what happens.

    2. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Self-sustaining?

      As someone else said the lasers are the containment

      It's one thing getting unity, or even a little above unity in the chamber. You need unity (or a little above it) from end to end - which translates to 100k:1 gains or more in the chamber

      Holoraum type systems are intended to be a series of small detonations (keep feeding in pellets and lasing the things) harvesting the average heat output, not continuous plasma devices

    3. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

      Re: Self-sustaining?

      Yes and no. What they've proven here is that it wrks. Think of this like the very first internal combustion engine that ever worked. It too only ran for a short time, but proved that the concept was sound. It took decades to go from that first single cylinder engine that barely made enough power to keep itself running to a Bugatti Veyron.

      I do wonder if maybe they need to change their process a bit, perhaps use the lasers as ignition only and use a magnetic containment system. But what do I know, I'm just a commentard. Progress takes time. Look at solar panels, they only started making more energy than it takes to produce the panel just a few years ago, when the efficiency of panels went over 20 percent. Now they're hitting almost 30 percent efficiency. When they double it again we may just need fusion for industry and spacecraft, not residential.

      1. Wellyboot Silver badge

        Re: Self-sustaining?

        or when it's dark.

  8. Sandstone

    Could It Be?

    Have we actually reached the singularity where commercial fusion power is "only 10 years away?"

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Could It Be?

      Peering into my crystal ball reveals that FPttH (Fusion Power to the Home) will become mainstream the year after the Year of The Linux Desktop.

      1. Jaybus

        Re: Could It Be?

        Why would the Year of the Linux Desktop come first?. It seems there have been actual gains in fusion power.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Budget blues?

    "You would need need to make the laser more efficient than the laser they used. I don't necessarily know if they could afford to do it, but I think we have the technologies that would enable us to do that. "

    So, err, a US Government security-related lab called the "National Ignition Facility", that probably has a mostly black-box budget, might not be able to afford these more efficient lasers? But let me guess - Google has a whole building full of them for making tea somewhere out in the California desert, and Amazon uses them to heat the toilet seats in their corporate campus. Yeah, the guys doing the actual hard science that benefit everyone are constrained by how much money Congress will give them for their projects, but the inflated Internet titans are only constrained by how quickly they can spend their billions...

  10. erikscott

    They'll be surprised to hear this.

    Re: Next to last paragraph. "North Carolina Fusion" is a soccer/football team. :-)

    Icon because of, well, you know.

  11. cookieMonster Silver badge

    The quickest way to get it

    Is to convince the yanks that the Russians/Chinese are developing a fusion bomb. Masses of power, no pesky radiation, so “safe” to use.

    We’ll have a working fusion reactor in 5 years.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge

      Re: The quickest way to get it

      I am 100% certain that the Russians and Chinese already have thermonuclear launch capability. In regard to the former, you may recall this little squabble from the 20th century called the Cold War.

    2. cookieMonster Silver badge

      Re: The quickest way to get it

      Geez … tough crowd in tonight.

      Can we have a bigger joke icon??

  12. Slx

    Nuclear Fusion, Limitless energy is just 10 years away ™

    Celebrating 90 years of research experiments.

    Since 1932

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