back to article US Dept of Energy set to reveal fusion breakthrough

The US Department of Energy (DoE) is expected to announce a major milestone in the ongoing effort to generate clean power through nuclear fusion. According to reports in The Financial Times, The Washington Post, and Bloomberg, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is said to be scheduled to speak at a press conference on Tuesday …

  1. redpawn

    Only Twenty Years Away...

    as always, yet a tremendous achievement. Hats off to the entire scientific and technical crew!

    1. Wade Burchette

      Re: Only Twenty Years Away...

      Meanwhile, the technology for reliable and proven fission energy is already here. But every time one is proposed, a vocal minority believe the lies about it and protest it until it is cancelled. We need more nuclear fission power plants until fusion goes from 20 years away to a production reactor being built right now.

      1. Elongated Muskrat

        Re: Only Twenty Years Away...

        Whilst the issue with fission are often massively overblown, it's still far from perfect. The TCO is high, you still have to deal with high-level waste (which usually involves hiding it and pretending it doesn't exist for tens of thousands of years) and also the much larger quantities of medium and low-level waste (such as the rubber gloves used to handle something that has been near something that has been near something inside the reactor).

        Oh, and the fact that, as we can see with current world events, if you have a militaristic neighbour who doesn't care about their own people, you could end up with a big radiological problem if someone tries to blow it up or hit it with loads of rockets.

        1. Filippo Silver badge

          Re: Only Twenty Years Away...

          That is all true, but you should consider the realistic alternatives. Currently, it looks like that is "keep burning fossil fuels, and pray fission and/or mega-scale renewables come through quickly enough".

          Now, I can't live in an irradiated area, but I can't live underwater either. Or in a place that gets multiple hurricanes per season. Or with regular worldwide crop failures.

          And I'm not really a religious type, so the way we all seem to be counting on the other bit gets me nervous. Much more nervous than having a nuke next door.

          1. Elongated Muskrat

            Re: Only Twenty Years Away...

            Oh, I'm by no means saying the alternatives are better, and things like coal are way, way worse, but we must be careful not to paint an overly-rosy picture of nuclear power, because it only gives the detractors ammunition, and some of those are very well funded by the fossil fuel lobby.

            Specifically, we need to be honest about the TCO, and not dismiss the decommissioning costs as an externality.

            Personally, I'm pro-nuclear, but with caveats, such as not building lots of fast breeder reactors to make plutonium for bombs whilst claiming that they are primarily for energy generation. That's probably wishful thinking, because it relies on the existence of honest politicians, or, actually even worse, it relies on the non-existence of dishonest ones.

          2. JoeCool Bronze badge

            The three Rs

            Everyone always seems to skip past "reduce" right ot "replace".

            There IS the solution of reducing energy usage. That's an outcome of carbon pricing, and a lesson of COVID 19.

            1. Filippo Silver badge

              Re: The three Rs

              Technically, that is an easy solution.

              Politically, it's extremely hard, probably unfeasible.

              Both of these aspects must be given serious consideration. The fact that almost everyone considers only one of these and disregards the other as an irrelevancy is a large part of why we ended up in the current situation.

              Also, if anything, COVID19 has taught us that reducing energy usage won't happen. That was a major global event the likes of which is only rarely seen... and the impact on CO2 emissions has still been well short of what we'd need to fix the climate, and it bounced right back a minute after the lockdowns ended, and governments all over the world then felt justified in ramping up fossil fuel usage to prop up the economy, concerns on emissions falling far behind.

              I believe we'll have a World War well before we can agree on reducing energy usage.

            2. LybsterRoy Silver badge

              Re: The three Rs

              OK, I'll reduce my energy use during the summer months - I won't put the heating on - its your turn to reduce in winter when I do put my heating on.

              COVID demonstrated how to reduce net energy use by locking almost the whole population up.

        2. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: Only Twenty Years Away...

          Only because you conveniently ignore the mega tonnes of waste which the fossil fuel industry simply doesn't bother controlling at all.

          1. Elongated Muskrat

            Re: Only Twenty Years Away...

            I'm not ignoring it at all (read my other posts on this same article).

            Just because I'm pointing out the imperfections in one method of power generation, don't infer that I'm endorsing others that are much worse. The implication there was not intended.

            I'd much rather we got all of our power from the cleanest sources we can. I can't help but wonder whether we'd all be using clean and efficient geothermal energy if the same amount of money had been pumped into solving the technical issues with deep-bore geothermal as has been into nuclear. But you can't make big explosions out of hot rocks, entirely coincidentally as a by-product, of course.

            1. John Robson Silver badge

              Re: Only Twenty Years Away...

              Everything is a compromise...

              Yes - deep bore GeoThermal is a really interesting option, particularly with some of the recent developments in plasma drilling meaning that you could reasonably drill a borehole pretty much anywhere (i.e. in the grounds of a current power station) and use the steam in the existing turbines.

              But the whole "Oh noes we might have to store waste for a while" is really not a problem we need to care about.

              Because it's a solved issue, and the amount of waste is trivial.

              If we classified coal waste in the same was as nuclear waste then much of it would likely be low level nuclear waste (because the heavy elements in the coal get concentrated by burning). I believe oil and gas have lower levels of such contaminants.

              If we treated FF waste at all then it would suddenly get rather more expensive than anything else (it pretty much already is)

          2. LybsterRoy Silver badge

            Re: Only Twenty Years Away...

            and the environmental damage caused by the renewables industry.

        3. blackcat Bronze badge

          Re: Only Twenty Years Away...

          "also the much larger quantities of medium and low-level waste (such as the rubber gloves used to handle something that has been near something that has been near something inside the reactor)."

          Not too much different with fusion. Unless you are fusing He3 you get high energy neutrons from a fusion reaction which activate the reactor and containment in the exact same way as the neutrons from a fission reactor. If you've not had a fuel leak (and the vast majority of fission reactors don't) then the result is a similarly neutron bombarded and slightly radioactive containment and shielding in both cases.

        4. Jaybus

          Re: Only Twenty Years Away...

          The spent fuel rods still contain about 90% of their energy potential. One person's nuclear waste is another person's very expensive fuel for a next-generation reactor.

      2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Re: Only Twenty Years Away...

        Safe, reliable and clean fission is somehow, also, always 20 years away… Add to that the manifold problems of integrating nuclear and renewables into a grid. But generation is, at best, half the problem. Consumption is at least a big a problem but is getting less cash thrown at it than many of the boondoggles the industry is waving around: the cheapest energy is the stuff you don't generate.

  2. Winkypop Silver badge

    In related news…

    Full Self Driving Fusion Drive coming next Summer.

    1. lglethal Silver badge

      Re: In related news…

      Your Name is Elon Musk and I claim my $8/non-IOS based Blue Tick.

  3. Empire of the Pussycat

    Not even close

    As I believe they are basing the >1 gain on the energy delivered to the target. Rather than the total energy needed to actually generate the beams, which is far higher.

    Net result, they used far more energy than that produced in the fusion reaction.

    Good for fusion research, but it's not going to help with practical fusion power generation.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Not even close

      Also, hardly a sustained output capability. This is a tiny burst of energy for very, very small fractions of a second.

      Probably makes Fusion Power about twenty years away.

      Now where have I heard that before?

      1. Elongated Muskrat

        Re: Not even close

        I'll sit up and listen when someone can demonstrate a fusion reactor that not only produces Q well over 1, but can also capture the released energy, turn it into useful work, and do it repeatedly, and frequently, over a period of years, without having to be rebuilt each time. There's a number of very large technical obstacles to overcome between making a tiny capsule go pop more brightly than the lasers pumping it and something that pumps hydrogen isotopes in and electricity out.

        Tiny steps, though, and all that...

        1. Graham Cobb Silver badge

          Re: Not even close

          I'm sitting up and listening today - the press conference should be about to start. This is an important - in fact vital - step towards the things you are asking for.

          Of course there is a massive amount of engineering to do, along, I assume, with a fair bit more pure science. But this would be the best news of progress for a long time.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Most likely a nothingburger

            Or more kindly another small but individually meaningless milestone on the way to a realistically achievable and important goal.

            The only consequential parts of the announcement will be in the details of the changes of what they did since the last test, and any new physics processes they uncovered, not the power output. The ignition facility is useless for actual power generation, and never will be.

            The reason I expect nothing significant from this is the way they announced it. If there was a major breakthrough they would have at least teased it's nature a bit. "Breakthrough in plasma field physics yields new questions on early universe" or some such. Instead I expect they will talk about changes to beam focusing or how they packed their target with .7% less obtainium or changed the shape to a bi-cone instead of an oblate spheroid and it increased yield by a factor of x% where x<100.

            They announce something like this when they have nothing else to announce with enough sizzle to pack a room with science journalists. This isn't going to be the confirmation of the next Higgs equivalent discovery. They just took one more step up a 50' ladder.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Yup, a nothingburger

              They made important but incremental improvements in laser efficiency and hohlraum design yielding a significant improvement over previous test series but yield no new breakthroughs. The results are more akin to breaking the temperature record for one city on the second Tuesday of the month than a major breakthrough, and the breathless reports about the future of fusion power generation are unjustified.

              This was not, and can not result in meaningful power generation, and "ignition" was announced and achieved already in the same facility, now they are just playing word games for suckers. There are other test beds like the newer tokamaks and stellarator designs that are going to push the envelope in regard to actual power generation, and if they succeed will amount to the first time that fusion is closer than multiple decades away. Teasing out the details of how the reactions work in a more controlled environment is still useful and important, but we need to focus time and energy on how to operate a continuous system and extract energy from it in parallel to the other lines of research if we want to crack it for subsequent generations.

              The Ignition lab is doing important work, work that should be upgraded and funded to allow new advances to be made. These press releases don't do the facility or the researchers credit sadly. More inexcusable is that fact is glosses over the actual achievements that were made and the parts of the teams responsible for those incremental advancements. Those people deserve recognition and credit, and they don't seem to be getting their due here, or in the broader press.

    2. jmch Silver badge

      Re: Not even close

      "Net result, they used far more energy than that produced in the fusion reaction."

      I'm sure they will explain shortly, less than 7 hours to wait as of now.

      As to whether it's a true net positive I'm not sure that's even very relevant, as mentioned in the article that is more of a symbolic than a real milestone. What's important is that progress is being made and there is a clear path to take to make it deliver useful, consumable energy.

      At least seems like it's moved from always being 30 years in the future to always being 20 years in the future. Who knows? Many times a technology that has been 'nearly there' for many many years suddenly achieves a 'critical mass' sudden breakthrough.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Not even close

        "At least seems like it's moved from always being 30 years in the future to always being 20 years in the future."

        It moved from 50 to 30 with the wide-spread adoption of general purpose user programmable computers. Late '50s. Ish.

        30 to 20 happened when the boffins stopped carrying sliderules and started carrying programmable pocket calculators. We've been stuck on '20 years" since the HP-35 was new. That was 1972, for you youngsters.

        Unfortunately, since the early '70s the Safety Nazis have increased in numbers faster than the technology ... I suspect that we are now back in the 30 year range. This morning's news conference suggested this was optimistic, in fact, when one of 'em said "another couple decades in the lab before we can start building a RealWorld example" (paraphrased).

        That's 20 years before we can start building. And at a guess, the first large-scale plant will take at least 15 years (probably longer ... government project) from breaking ground to commissioning ... Well, do the math. Not before 2060ish. 40ish years.

        We need copious new fission plants, and we need them operational 30 years ago, if not sooner. Everything else is whistling past the graveyard.

    3. Jellied Eel Silver badge

      Re: Not even close

      Good for fusion research, but it's not going to help with practical fusion power generation.

      But it's a start. It also has to convert theory into practice, ie convert the fusion energy into something that we can power X households. We're short of that due to the current light winds, overcast skys and frost on the solar panels.. But let's ask a fusion expert-

      "Before people get too excited about [the] nuclear fusion announcement, Q>1 (more energy out than in) was anticipated long ago," said Michael E. Mann...

      ...I'd be more excited about an announcement that [the] US is ending fossil fuel subsidies."

      Or not. Let's ask rent-a-quote. The climate 'expert' who gave the world the infamous Hockey Stick, and helps promote the useless 'renewables' lobby. But he can be very quotable, one of my favorites being this one-

      While paleoclimatologists are attempting to update many important proxy records to the present, this is a costly, and labor-intensive activity, often requiring expensive field campaigns that involve traveling with heavy equipment to difficult-to-reach locations (such as high-elevation or remote polar sites). For historical reasons, many of the important records were obtained in the 1970s and 1980s and have yet to be updated.

      The great Mann has often been out of touch with reality, and I don't think ever did any field work. He simply sat in his cosy office and pre-screened samples that others had collected to create his wooden thermometers. Reality is-

      Pete Holzmann (Mr Pete), who lives in Colorado Springs, agreed with this satire and this led to what I’ll call the Starbucks Hypothesis: could a climate scientist have a Starbucks in the morning, collect tree rings through the day and still be home for dinner?...

      ...Altogether (and primarily through the efforts of Pete and Leslie), our project collected 64 cores from 36 different trees at 5 different locations on Mount Almagre. 17 Graybill trees were identified, of which 8 were re-sampled. All the cores are currently at a dendrochronological laboratory, where sample preparation and scanning steps have been completed. Cross-dating is now taking place.

      Which is a great article (along with the follow-up) in explaining the science of wooden thermometers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Not even close

        And your point is???

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Not even close

          And your point is???

          Making a whooshing noise as it goes over your head? Michael Mann is not a physicist, energy expert, or based on the example I gave, a very credible scientist. So why choose a quote from someone who's clearly got no relevant experience, and constantly pushes his own political agenda?

          It's common in climate science to dismiss atmospheric physicists like say, Lindzen, Spencer or Christy by saying 'they're not climate scientists'. Mann is not an expert in fusion.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Not even close

            Nor did he claim to be. Neither was what he said in any way wrong. Q=1 was anticipated - it has been the objective of this scientific run at NIF for a few years now. Nor is it particularly important for climate impact, as everyone knows you need at *least* Q=10 to have a feasible product. That provides essential color to the article that while this is an important breakthrough for high energy physics, it isn't relevant to the climate crisis or our society's response to it. Something like limiting subsidies of fossil fuels would. Given both NIF and fossil fuel subsidies are funded from the public purse that's a perfectly valid comparison.

            >It's common in climate science to dismiss atmospheric physicists like say, Lindzen, Spencer or Christy

            It's way more common to describe them as cranks, contrarians and/or in the pay of oil companies, or at the very least on the far fringes of scientific consensus.

            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

              Re: Not even close

              It's way more common to describe them as cranks, contrarians and/or in the pay of oil companies, or at the very least on the far fringes of scientific consensus.

              My point entirely. Mann is not an expert in this field, so why quote him? He rose to fame on the back of his 'Hockey Stick', which was assembled from some very bad science. He, along with some other climate 'experts' then got into the PR business with via a website called 'RealClimate'. Despite being IT pros, they needed the help of Fenton Communications to create that site. Fenton has been famous for astroturfing, and helping out a chap by the name of Gore.

              So despite Mann being on the far fringes of fusion research, energy, or energy policy, he regularly gets wheeled out as an 'expert'. If you're in the pay of the environmental lobby, you're good. If you've every done research for an oil company, you're bad. Given the interests he tends to promote, it's unsuprising he denigrates competitors like nuclear fission or fusion.

              Current events in the UK should demonstrate to even our dumbest politicians that 'renewables' are useless, and we should instead be investing heavily in as much nuclear generation and research as we can. Fusion's still a way off being practical, but has enormous potential. Wind is a technological and economic dead end, just as our ancestors discovered when we switched from sail to steam.

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Not even close

                > Mann is not an expert in this field, so why quote him?

                Because he's an expert on climate science and science communications, which makes him more than qualified to explain that while this is a significant breakthrough for high-energy physics, headlines about "infinite, free energy" will have absolutely no impact on the climate crisis in our lifetimes and people who care about that should get excited about other things. Given the public at large associate energy production almost exclusively with the climate crisis and given the environment is consistently the 3rd or 4th most important issue for the public on any given day, including that kind of quote from someone not directly attached to the field to provide broader context is responsible journalism. El Reg should be commended for doing so.

                >He rose to fame on the back of his 'Hockey Stick', which was assembled from some very bad science.

                While these are very obviously sincerely held opinions, unfortunately what you're posting is just top-to-bottom nonsense. MBH99 was a ground-breaking piece of statistical analysis. It has been reproduced - with some inevitable modifications - by something like 40 different high-quality follow up studies across the last two decades. It was and is high quality science published through the normal mechanisms, subjected to a suitable level of rigor and verified time and time and time again by others in the field. Even the most crank-riddled inquisition into the "issue" (e.g. the nonsense instigated by noted lunatic Inhofe) has found no basis for accusations of fraud, misconduct or malfeasance. You don't just get to say "it's bad science" and call it a day. Try being more specific than just throwing accusations of fraud at people and barely-connected companies based on half-true timelines.

                >...Wind is a technological and economic dead end

                Again, as with everything else you've posted, while I've got no doubt you sincerely believe this, you don't just get to make this kind of statement, slap your balls and feel good about yourself. It simply isn't true, it is completely contrary to every piece of evidence on the table and is a - I'd suggest deliberate - misrepresentation of the economics of renewable energy sources. This is what we call crankery.

                1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                  Re: Not even close

                  MBH99 was a ground-breaking piece of statistical analysis. It has been reproduced - with some inevitable modifications

                  So it hasn't really been reproduced, has it? Sure, it was ground breaking in that it broke a bunch of statistical norms. Especially the way it hid the decline, and especially after cherry-picking proxies that demonstrated the desired characteristics.

                  It simply isn't true, it is completely contrary to every piece of evidence on the table and is a - I'd suggest deliberate - misrepresentation of the economics of renewable energy sources. This is what we call crankery.

                  'We'? But evidence I can do, even though it should be right in front of your nose-


                  No wind, no electricity. Sun being filtered by overcast skies, and snow or frost, no electricity. Solar is even better evidence-


                  minimum: 0.001 GW maximum: 1.185 GW average: 0.157 GW

                  Versus a demand of 44GW. Nuclear (fission or fusion) doesn't have this problem as it's pretty much entirely weather independent. So given your deliberate misrepresentations of facts that should be patently obvious.. Who should people be trusting? It certainly doesn't look like it should be the pro-renewables, anti-nuclear neo-luddites like yourself.

                  1. Anonymous Coward
                    Anonymous Coward

                    Re: Not even close

                    You (incorrectly) accuse someone of cherry picking then decide to cherry pick literally just today's data from just the North of Europe to try and make a point about the economics of wind and solar and their role in reversing the climate crisis. Thanks for letting us know you're not serious about this.

                    1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                      Re: Not even close

                      Thanks for letting us know you're not serious about this.

                      'Us'? But your use of ad homs and strawmen suggest to me that you're familiar with the climate 'debate'. As is moving the goalposts. Or again, cherrypicking. Do you actually know where the samples used in MBH99 came from? So how representative those would be at determining 'global' temperatures. Your word of the day is 'teleconnections'. A concept copied by James Cameron in Avatar to explain how trees share climate data.

                      But I picked the UK because that's currently where I am, and where 70m or so people are experiencing energy poverty and high inflation, largely thanks to energy policy and investment in 'renewables'. If you knew anything about the weather (not climate), you'd know current conditions are due to a blocking high pressure system covering pretty much the whole UK, and extending into mainland Europe. You'd also know that these conditions are common in both summer and winter, just winter tends to be more serious because cold weather kills more people. You may also have noticed the UK's having a few strikes due to a cost of living crisis, again driven by rapidly escalating energy costs.

                      So bascially an abject energy policy failure driven by the 'renewables' blob that convinced our gullible people that solar works under low cloud, and windmills generate electricity when there's no wind.

                      Nuclear doesn't have this problem, as long as you have cooling. The UK is ideally placed for this, until our seas freeze. But then we'd have bigger problems. If we'd invested in nuclear instead of wasting money on 'renewables', we'd have cheaper energy, lower inflation and we'd make a ton of money exporting our energy to the EU. Instead, climate 'experts' demanded we waste our money on generating capacity that's inherently vulnerable to the weather 'extremes' they've been predicting.

                      Oh, and in an unusual situation, some praise where praise is due-


                      Prof Jeremy P. Chittenden, professor of plasma physics

                      Prof Gianluca Gregori, Professor of Physics at the University of Oxford

                      Not a tweet from the Ringmaster of the Tree Ring Circus..

                      1. jake Silver badge

                        Re: Not even close

                        Careful, Mr. Eel. Religions don't like their toes stepped on. They might declare you a heretic.

                        I'm sure you are shaking in your boots.

                        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                          Re: Not even close

                          They might declare you a heretic.

                          Heretics have more fun!

                          I'm sure you are shaking in your boots.

                          I blame the negative Global Warming. But the mention of MBH made me realise I've been studying climate science for around 25yrs now, and also the Hockey Team's pivotal role as science communicators. Many climate sceptics became that way because we saw something that pegged our bs meters. Dr Judith Curry dared to engage with sceptics to understand us better, and many said it was the concept of wooden thermometers, and the re-invention of history. Then came Climategate and the peek behind the curtain. She then got branded a heretic by her peers.

                          Then there's been the strange way the climate 'scientists' have hijacked energy policy. As always, xkcd highligts the issue-


                          But then there's a big cross-over betwen believers in Global Warming, the 'need' to decarbonise, and ignorance around nuclear energy. So we've been wasting billions on 'renewables', not building reactors.

                          1. LybsterRoy Silver badge

                            Re: Not even close

                            Living in the north of Scotland I and a fellow dog walker were discussing this morning how fortuitous it was that the catastrophe was renamed from "Global Warming" to "Climate Change". No matter what the climate has changed - OK - right?

                            1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                              Re: Not even close

                              Living in the north of Scotland I and a fellow dog walker were discussing this morning how fortuitous it was that the catastrophe was renamed from "Global Warming" to "Climate Change".

                              That had to happen when the 'Pause' was noticed. Despite more CO2, there's been a significant divergence between predictions and reality. So reality is obviously wrong. The longer that continues, the more obvious it should be that CO2 isn't really a problem, and in fact has benefits like the 'greening of the Earth'. There's also been a shift from demanding we prevent 2C warming to preventing 1.5C. That's because if CO2 sensitivity is low, we're never going to get there at current run rates. 1.5C is fractionally higher than natural variability, especially after the Little Ice Age.

                              But that may also be a real problem. Back in the '70s we had the 'Ice Age' scare, which was probably a little premature. Further back, we had the Maunder Minimum, which was a long period of reduced solar activity. That correlated with a long, cold period. We may now be entering the Eddy Minimum and the same may occur. Or not, because it's one of those effect exceeds cause problems. There is variability in solar activity/output, but perhaps not enough to explain temperature variations.

                              Kinda bad for Scotland, especially an independent Scotland. Lowlanders have been busily plastering the landscape with windmills and shutting down the oil & gas industry. I'm guessing those windmills are spinning much, much slower than the SNP, especially as heating demand is high.

                              Meanwhile, nuclear is weather independent because it's always a good time to go fission. I think Scotland also has some uranium deposits in the Shetlands or Orkneys. Hopefully soon our dear leaders will realise the futility of wind, zero-carbon nuclear, and keep investing in fusion research.

                          2. jake Silver badge

                            Re: Not even close

                            "So we've been wasting billions on 'renewables', not building reactors."

                            As I said, whistling past the graveyard.

                            So-called "renewables" might give the greenaholics a warm, fuzzy feeling ... but it won't keep their kids warm on a winter night, every winter night, long-term. We need to start building fission plants, now. Today. Before it is too late.

                      2. WageSlave5678

                        Re: Not even close

                        As usual folks are digging etaphorical trenches & lobbing mortars, trying to prove right/wrong, rather than exploring a real debate.

                        Point is: until Fusion Utopia is reached ( in only 20 - 40 years? Yeah...) we need a diverse mix of energy sources suitable to our location. If you live in a sunny desert then Solar is a no-brainer. But in messy-weathered UK we need a sensible mix. Renewables are cheap when they work, but we also need capacity to dial up when it's cloudy & windless, hence not *all* Renewables, but also not all Fission. Nuclear is a useful source to use when we must, & it's a damn shame our political twits kept kicking that can down the road.

                        That said, I'm very glad we have a decent renewables section, too.

                2. LybsterRoy Silver badge

                  Re: Not even close

                  -- Because he's an expert on climate science and science communications --

                  or to use the short form of that description - he's a fortune teller - and not a very good one.

    4. Combat Epistomologist

      Re: Not even close

      Exactly. Sure, they got, what, 3.12MJ out from 2.05MJ of laser energy delivered to the hohlraum ... but it took over 300MJ to generate those laser beams. This is only over break-even by an exceedingly narrow definition. OVERALL, they achieved 1% efficiency. (Which, *in context*, isn't bad.)

      But the thing that has to be remembered is that the Livermore fusion research center is the national Ignition Facility, and it is not intended for the purpose of developing practical fusion power. It's not even intended to do RESEARCH towards fusion power. The *purpose* of the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore is fundamentally to validate that the mathematics used in SIMULATED testing of fusion warheads — because the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty prohibits *actually* testing them — actually represents the reality of what happens in a fusion reaction with sufficient accuracy to make those simulated tests usefully more reliable than a couple of nuclear weapons engineers doodling on a napkin, nodding to each other, and saying, "Sure, looks good to me."

      The gripping hand is, while technical ignition is a definite milestone (at last) for the national Ignition Facility, it is disingenuous at best for the US Department of Energy to suggest that this actually represents any kind of progress towards any kind of practical fusion power development. It is scarcely even RELEVANT to fusion power generation. That's not what the NIF is for in the first place.

  4. Richard 12 Silver badge

    Might now be 20 years away

    From starting to design the first commercial plant.

    Which will take fifteen years to build, because that's how long first plants take.

    JET hit net positive a while ago, so I guess both inertial and magnetic confinement are now "proven".

    I still haven't understood how they're intending to get the energy out, or to refuel while the reaction is running.

    1. claimed

      Re: Might now be 20 years away

      Same as nuclear, have some water pipes nearby.

      Drop shit in, make it go boom gently, heat up water, turn turbine, drop more shit in, make it go boom gently.

      In theory you can slow burn a tokamak, and a laser with a pellet - have lots of pellets near each other to go boom within some time frame, could make a cartridge that you then 'reload', and if you are smart, maybe more like a conveyor belt than a cartridge to just keep on booming, like a rail gun.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Might now be 20 years away

        This is easier said than done. Each shot at the NIF if Q=1 is going to yield about 2MJ. A modern fission reactor yields about 4500MWt. If we're generous and make Q=10 for the ICF side at 20MJ a pulse you need over 200 pulses per second to get comparable output to a fission reactor. That is many orders of magnitude faster than anything anyone has even considered. It takes days to prep a NIF shot.

        The massive elephant in the room is NIF really consumes hundreds of megajoules per shot. They count energy into the target, not energy to power the lasers that shoot the target.

        1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

          Re: Might now be 20 years away

          The massive elephant in the room is NIF really consumes hundreds of megajoules per shot. They count energy into the target, not energy to power the lasers that shoot the target.

          The other slight snag is if the fuel pellets are tritium, or it's just aneutronic fusion. Availability and cost of tritium currently being a bit of an issue. Then again, there are some projects looking at neutron wrangling, and ways to slow down fast neutrons and steal their energy. But that's also a non-trivial challenge.

        2. claimed

          Re: Might now be 20 years away

          We're all talking hypothetical, of course, but beam splitters exist, and the possibility of using more than one laser if rate to fire is limiting.... and if you get more out than you put in (and can sell that margin), over time nobody cares what the activation energy is for getting the thing going

          I took the original question at face value, and will not be attempting to draw up blueprints!

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Re: Might now be 20 years away

            We're all talking hypothetical, of course, but beam splitters exist..

            Beam splitters that can survive being twatted by megajoule lasers without converting into a brief, but glorious existence as a small blob of plasma are somewhat tricky. Optic components used in long-haul transmission lasers don't use anywhere near that power level, and quite happily explode or weld themselves together, if given the chance.

          2. Chris Roberts

            Re: Might now be 20 years away

            You need to get enough extra out that you can sell to cover the construction, maintenance, EoL and running costs. If it is inefficient it will be too expensive and just another tidal or wave power dream.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Good point, but that is why lasers aren't being considered for ongoing power generation

          The most they would contribute in an actual generation facility would be as part of a cold startup, as it appears much more practical to scale something like a stellarator to the point where it's reaction can be self sustaining (with the input of fuel of course).

          These experiments are more likely to yield breakthroughs in physics than breakthroughs in power generation. That's fine, especially if they can make those discoveries in a controlled environment and use them to make the subsequent generations of scalable reactors more efficient.

    2. Lars Silver badge

      Re: Might now be 20 years away

      @Richard 12

      "JET hit net positive a while ago".

      Any link to that, and quite frankly I doubt it unless of course it's some sort of sales talk.

      Lots of unnecessary pessimism about this topic among all comments. It will be just one step at a time and it will take years.

      1. hammarbtyp

        Re: Might now be 20 years away

        No, I'm pretty sure Jet is Q < 1

        but to be fair it was not designed to be a continuous power generation device, more a test bed for the physics and engineering required

        If Q > 1 has been achieved then this is an important step, but not the end of the journey. I think it has been answered that fusion is feasible, but there are still many questions on which is the best approach for a commercial power generation station is. That is what the next experiments will answer

        P.S: Q > 1 has already been achieved on earth on November 1st, 1952 on Enewetak atoll (see icon), however it is not considered a viable sustainable power source due to a few significant side effects )

        P.P.S Q > 1 was 1st achieved 13 billion 600 million years ago. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move

      2. JacobZ

        Re: Might now be 20 years away

        "Lots of unnecessary pessimism about this topic among all comments. It will be just one step at a time and it will take years."

        ITYM "necessary pessimism" since we all agree that this just one step and it will take years. By contrast, the mainstream press is going gaga over this, wildly overstating it's significance - it's a milestone, not a breakthrough - so realistic pushback (not cynicism) is entirely appropriate.

  5. Felonmarmer


    Is that measurable output, or capturable output? If Q=1.1 and it has an energy conversion efficiency of 80% to electricity it's not worth doing right now.

    With my cynical hat on, this announcement looks like good timing with the energy crisis to make sure there's no budget cuts in this area of research.

    With my optimistic hat on, it's a step towards limitless clean energy.

    With my pesimistic hat on, that limitless energy will produce so much waste heat that you might as well be burning coal.

    I need a new hat.

    1. Elongated Muskrat

      Re: Q>1

      I was with you until you started talking about waste heat, because in power generation, heat is the thing you are after, and it is only "waste heat" once you have extracted useful work from it (e.g. via a turbine) and the remaining temperature difference is too low to get any more meaningful use out of it (there's a reason the laws of thermodynamics are called the laws of thermodynamics, and it's tied up with the industrial revolution and the drive to make steam engines efficient).

      So-called "waste heat" from power generation is something you get from any generation method, and it's not the problem we have from coal. Coal has a number of very significant issues from the simple greenhouse emissions, to production of sulphur dioxide and toxic ash, and also radioactive fallout (what, you thought coal was pure carbon? How sweet).

      If a method of power generation is "clean" and safe enough, there's no reason why it can't be interspersed with other buildings, where that heat can be put to good use as district heating in commercial and residential properties.

      In other words, if we're worrying about what to do with the waste heat, we've probably already cracked the problem of getting enough of it to generate power.

      1. Felonmarmer

        Re: Q>1

        I was thinking of the waste heat from using that limitless energy rather than creating it. The loss in conversion to electricity will be mainly heat during creation and most of that could be used for something else, but when it comes to using that power, every electrical device will generate heat and wheres the reason for efficiency when it's limitless.

        That's my pessimistic hat talking, the optomistic hat reckons they'll solve that problem by doing it all in orbit, or on Mars where we'll need that heat.

      2. Chris Roberts

        Re: Q>1

        From what I have read conventional plants can extract useful work from steam to the point that it is too cool to usefully be used for heating homes.

  6. Lordrobot

    Cold Fusion PR

    If there was a real story behind this, which there isn't, Peer Review would come first and Cold FUSION PR would come never. We are somehow expected to believe that these US Gov labs are at the forefront of technology. That's just not the case. For example, the trillion-dollar medical lab and research system of the US Government has never produced a cure for a single disease no a drug of any kind that cures any disease. A big fat nothing.

    During the great Government Human Genome lunacy, the Government had a plan that would take 40 years. That's a lot of long lunches. Forced through funding cuts and mismanagement, the government had to go to the private sector where physicists applied algorithms to sequence DNA over a Government scientist's lunch hour.

    Cold Fusion was a fiasco. It was the first time that a research group went public without Peer Review and analysis. And the Bromide public went wild over it with even greater enthusiasm than Ivermectin.

    Enjoy your Cold Fusion II propaganda... Looks like Lawrence Liverspots needs more funding...

    1. Elongated Muskrat

      Re: Cold Fusion PR

      I'm pretty sure this is very, very hot fusion, and nothing at all to do with the miniscule, and irreproducible effects reported by Fleischmann and Pons.

      Anyway, the whole "X is a waste of money therefore Y is a waste of money", where the only connection between X and Y is tenuous at best, isn't exactly a strong demonstration of causal reasoning.

      tl;dr: you're talking bollocks, mate.

      1. Elongated Muskrat

        Re: Cold Fusion PR

        I'll just add, vagaries of US politics aside, that the whole "research is a waste of money because some research produces no results" argument is as tired as the day is long.

        If we don't do research, much of which isn't targeted at producing specific results (because then it wouldn't be research, it would be manufacturing), and much of which doesn't produce any useful results (because research is, by definition, a process of discovery), then we don't advance. Someone else will do that research, though, and beat us to the punch when it does turn up something useful. Society advances as a result of new discoveries and inventions. If that wasn't the case, then you wouldn't be reading this comment on a computer screen of some sort, you'd probably be out throwing rocks at mammoths, hoping a sabre-toothed cat doesn't eat you today.

    2. Wyrdness

      Re: Cold Fusion PR

      Nearly 300 posts since joining in June, almost all of which have been downvoted for not making sense. Methinks that Lordrobot is a ChatGPT or similar.

      1. Elongated Muskrat

        Re: Cold Fusion PR

        ChatGPT is QAnon AICMFP

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Cold Fusion PR

          Nah. ChatGPT is far more lucid and logical than QAnon.

          The source code is far less messy, too.

  7. werdsmith Silver badge

    If fusion power were to become available as a true self sustaining process with excess energy out and it was scaled up to provide a source of energy to the world, this could have a massive destabilising effect. The order of things with all this money being funneled toward oil producers would dwindle and some parts of the world would become more volatile as a result. It would be like a pole reversal in the Earth's magnetic field.

    Some forethought and careful planning required.

    1. Elongated Muskrat

      Certainly, Western democracies would stop having to pretend to be friends with certain Middle-Eastern autocracies.

      1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

        Certainly, Western democracies would stop having to pretend to be friends with certain Middle-Eastern autocracies.

        Unlikely. Something the idiots like 'Just Stop Oil' forget is the huge range of petrochemical products that we currently rely on, not just the fractions we burn for energy. It's much the same with the anti-nuclear idiots who don't understand the amount of useful isotopes created by nuclear alchemists inside reactors.

        Sure, alternatives are available, but when they're the product, rather than a by-product, they often tend to end up being a lot more expensive.

        1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

          Once we have Q > 1, whether it's for fusion or renewables, we can make all the hydrocarbons we need.

          1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

            Once we have Q > 1, whether it's for fusion or renewables, we can make all the hydrocarbons we need.

            Not really, and if we have electricity that's too cheap to meter, why would we bother using processes like Sabatier or Fischer-Tropsch to make hydrocarbon fuels? It's all the other stuff that's currently pretty much a byproduct of the petrochemical industry, even important byproducts like helium. We'd need a whole slew of processes running to synthesise, rather than simply extract and refine. Same with some of the isotopes used in medicine and industry. We could make those with particle accelerators, or we could just load samples into a fuel rod and let them bath in surplus neutrons in a (mostly) conventional reactor.

            1. Excused Boots

              Although you aren’t actually wrong, it’s the time required that’s an issue. Yes you can, theoretically make any element you like in an accelerator or via neutron capture, but this is a slow and not very controlled process. Plus you can’t create complex molecules like this, you might get the raw elements but then you need to do a lot of chemistry to produce what you want.

              Or, you use the fact that nature has already made long chain hydrocarbons for you in the form of crude oil just don’t waste it by burning it (yes I know, you don’t burn crude oil directly, but bear with me on this).

              1. Jellied Eel Silver badge

                Plus you can’t create complex molecules like this, you might get the raw elements but then you need to do a lot of chemistry to produce what you want.

                Yep. I'm certainly not a chemist, and having read the great 'Things I'll never work with', I'm not sure I want to be. I'd rather educate myself via channels like Extractions&Ire or NileRed. In which I learned that simple 'tar' isn't a simple thing. Which is why the anti-oil mob puzzle me. Currently a lot of petrochemical processes are effectively subsidised by flogging the energy bits. If that's no longer possible, a lot of things will get a lot more expensive, or just become unavailable. That seems to be happening with the shortage of diesel. Nobody would willingly invest in a new refinery when the politicians and their useful idiots are determined to end fossil fuels. Despite them being a far cheaper and more efficient store of energy than batteries.

                1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

                  Being against oil doesn't mean that one is for batteries: electric vehicles powered by fuel cells may be the future, until then I'd like to see more synfuel being used as a way to reduce our dependency on foreign supplies and a better use of excess renewable power.

                  1. Elongated Muskrat

                    I have to say, that I'm hoping that we will eventually get to the point where we have reasonably efficient processes (probably via clever catalysis or bioreactors) to produce synthetic fuels as a drop-in replacement for hydrocarbons, with the feedstocks being carbon dioxide and water (plus energy). Then the problem turns into one of providing the energy, which can be from renewables, or nuclear, or fusion if it ever works, or whatever. From a greenhouse gas point of view, that is then neutral, the fuel is simply a high-density energy carrier.

                    Things like hydrogen have real problems: hydrogen likes to quantum tunnel through things, so a tank that will happily hold natural gas may leak hydrogen like a sieve, and hydrogen is not only explosive over a wide range of concentrations, but is odourless and burns withy an invisible (to the human eye) flame. Those are significant safety barriers to overcome. Fuel cells still need fuel (really they can be seen as slow combustion that provides electricity over heat).

                    If we can find a path to easily synthesise hydrocarbons, for example, propane and butane for gas burning appliances, and longer chains such as heptane and octane for liquid-burning engines, then existing supply lines and technologies can be used. Technologies which have already had well over a century of refinement and efficiency gains. We don't reinvent the wheel if we don't need to.

                    edit- a quick google show that such chemical reactions driven by sunlight are currently at about 1%, producing methane and ethylene. That's a start. For comparison, photosynthesis in plants is about 11% efficient.

                    Electrochemical redox reactions producing hydrocarbons from CO2 and water look to be about 13% efficient, which is promising.

                    Both of these are from research papers published in 2019, so this is very much cutting-edge stuff at the moment.

            2. Charlie Clark Silver badge

              Not really, and if we have electricity that's too cheap to meter, why would we bother using processes like Sabatier or Fischer-Tropsch to make hydrocarbon fuels?

              Because, as nature demonstrates, they're excellent way to store energy in large quantities. Imagine something like a 5 KW domestic storage / fuel cell unit.

        2. Excused Boots

          Indeed, crude oil is probably far too valuable to be wasted by burning it! Even if fusion power were suddenly globally available tomorrow, there would still be a strong demand for oil as the basis for chemical processes.

          But this will all be a slow transition, the invention of the first steam engine did not mean that all horse or man-powered devices were obsolete the same day, OK, yes well, technically I suppose they were obsolete, but demand for them carried on for some time - because it takes a while for new technology to work its way round.

          So what has been achieved, a fusion process has put out more energy than was put in? Yes OK we all knew that this was possible (there is a good example of this some 150 million Km away), but this is the first time it has been done, deliberately, artificially, here, on Earth, by humans.

          Making it useful, ie large scale energy production is still, what 30 years away! It is quite possible that the inertial confinement process will prove to be a dead end for technical or mechanical reasons, let’s see what ITER does when completed. There is plenty of time for established industries to gradually change and evolve.

          I’m not generally a big optimist, but I do feel that when humans or ‘society’ really, really puts their minds to doing something, we really can achieve remarkable results.

      2. happyuk

        Labelling sovereign nations as "autocracies" is just cultural arrogance. It's the presumption you see, that somehow your westernized values are superior to traditional Middle Eastern ones.

        The same con-trick the English have pulled on other nations for centuries: we're better than you.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Perhaps we can just talk about health and safety on building sites and work out which countries are objectively better/worse instead?

        2. Elongated Muskrat

          If it has one person in charge at the top, and the population has no recourse to removing them (usually done via a public vote, but sometimes via Madame Guillotine) it's an autocracy. Merits or otherwise of such a system aside, just because you don't like the word, that doesn't mean that's not its meaning.

          Don't make me point you to a dictionary.

    2. oiseau Silver badge

      ... with all this money being funneled toward oil producers would dwindle ...

      ... like a pole reversal in the Earth's magnetic field.

      Indeed ...

      Which is exactly the reason why we do not have a solution to all this yet and probably will not have it for the longest while.

      There's still an unimaginable amount of money to be made from oil and an equal amount to be lost (or not made) by the transnational corporations who control oil, from production onwards, if a suitable energy production method were to be achieved.

      Not to mention the unfathomable geopolitical consequences that such a discovery would have for the likes of Chevron, Total, Shell, Exxon, BP, etc. which would lose their power/value overnight and that all the scaffolding built during the last 100 years to back them up would crumble.

      Or is anyone daft enough to think it has not already been found and properly shelved?


      1. chivo243 Silver badge

        The cost of energy will never go down... even if they can produce it faster that politicians produce hot air, someone will find a way to keep the price high...

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    This is important, but bear in mind two key and so-far underreported facts. The first is the science. NIF are measuring energy input to the target vs energy out, not energy input to the system vs energy out. Overall efficiency is still going to be nowhere near 1: as mentioned the real target is Q>10, not Q>1.

    The other is the "reactor" and what it does. This isn't a steady state reactor like the toruses at JET or ITER are meant to be. This monster of a facility shoots a 1.5km long, megajoule class laser beam at a millimetre-sized capsule. That's because this place is not designed for fusion power research. It is designed as a nuclear weapons research facility to enable the US to study what makes things go bang without making things go bang. Its very occasional press releases in the civilian domain are mostly PR.

    The techniques being developed there have no path to being practically exploited to generate electrical power, nor were they ever designed to. Some of the fundamental science will, but this isn't the overwhelming breakthrough many of the headlines are making out, unless you're in weapons development at Los Alamos.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Similarly a hand grenade is Q>1 if you don't count the energy to make the explosive.

    2. Elongated Muskrat

      Actually, looking at the numbers (Q being around 3MJ, and the energy used to pump the lasers around 300MJ), Q needs to be around 100 to break even, not 10.

      What this has demonstrated is that you can get nuclear fusion to "ignite" using big ol' lasers, as well as by other methods (magnetic confinement, or siting your fuel on top of a fission bomb and using the energy output from that to ignite it).

      It's an important proof-of-concept, but I can't see it ever becoming practical, due to the sheer amount of energy loss from pumping and discharging the lasers. Even if you can achieve Q = 1000 or something crazy like that, that sort of energy density is going to be very hard to deal with, because for every MJ you deliver to the target, you have 100 MJ being lost to the environment that you need to deal with. You might be able to "catch#" some of it by hooking up turbines to the outside of the lasers, but that really does sound ick.

      So, basically, all we need now is a load of massive lasers that operate with 100% efficiency, and beam confinement that doesn't leak anything into the environment. Physics is not on your side in those hopes.

  9. dazzzler

    Baby steps....

  10. hammarbtyp

    Required XKCD link

  11. breakfast Silver badge

    Imagine what this might mean for the people of the world:

    They'd have enough helium to last them forever.

    1. Pierre 1970

      Re: Imagine what this might mean for the people of the world:

      Just imagine all the world talking and singing in high pitched voices for centuries .... In you face, Maria Carey!

      1. Ken Shabby

        Re: Imagine what this might mean for the people of the world:

        All I want for Christmas is Joules..

  12. Mike 137 Silver badge

    "Fusion has the potential to provide an energy source that is virtually inexhaustible and environmentally benign, producing no combustion products or greenhouse gasses"

    This seems a rather limited defintion of 'environmentally benign'. Surely there will be other potential environmental effects than just those of 'combustion products or greenhouse gasses'.

  13. IJD

    2.5MJ fusion energy out for 2MJ laser energy in sounds like a good deal, doesn't it?

    Shame about the 200MJ needed to power the lasers though... :-(

    1. Crypto Monad Silver badge

      If the BBC is to believed, it's 3.15 MJ out for 2.05MJ in.

      That converts easily to the units that your home electricity meter uses (kWh): 0.88 units out, for 0.57 units in.

      Apparently they can fire this experiment once per day. I bet you a billion dollars their electricity meter goes up by a lot more than 0.57 units every day :-)

      20 years to an operational, commercially viable fusion reactor? Not a chance.

      OTOH, we have this huge operational fusion reactor 93 million miles away. The technology to convert its power into electricity is with us now, cheaper and more efficient than ever before.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        >I bet you a billion dollars their electricity meter goes up by a lot more than 0.57 units every day :-)

        Safe bet. NIF consumes 330MJ per shot, give or take a bit.

  14. happyuk

    Two groups may have an issue with the ramifications of this, even if a practicable working version is a long way off: the oil industry (obviously) and the ongoing fraud that is renewables.

  15. DenTheMan

    Just round the corner...

    Whether it is now less than 20 years away, the layman does not quite know.

    Thinking positive, it will no doubt get there faster than Tesla Full Self Driving.

  16. Bartholomew Bronze badge

    scary stuff

    From BBC news "And although the experiment got more energy out than the laser put in, this did not include the energy needed to make the lasers work - which was far greater that the amount of energy the hydrogen produced."

    From the video 2 megajoules in, 3 megajoules out.

    But watching the video, after hearing Mark Adams the deputy administrator for defence programs talk, it almost sounds like a pure fusion weapon might be on the horizon. Basically why demolish a city when you can just exterminate all life with a "clean" neutron bomb.

    1. Bartholomew Bronze badge

      Re: scary stuff

      The lasers require 300 megajoules of energy (from the wall socket) to drive 2 megajoules of laser energy!

      1. Elongated Muskrat

        Re: scary stuff

        This is because the target for those lasers only contains enough hydrogen to produce that much energy when it fuses. More hydrogen = more energy out, once it has ignited.

        1. Bartholomew Bronze badge

          Re: scary stuff

          That really does depend on if the energy required for full ignition is linear or exponential. The volume of a sphere is (4*π*r^3)/3. Either way it is still progress towards a fusion engine. But it is the key component for a "totally clean" neutron bomb (everything will be highly radioactive for a very short period and then because all the inorganic property is fully preserved new people can move in).

          "Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory director Harold Brown and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev both described neutron bombs as a "capitalist bomb", because it was designed to destroy people while preserving property."

          1. Elongated Muskrat

            Re: scary stuff

            I'm likening nuclear fusion (possibly wrongly) here to lighting a fire; you only need to light one corner of a bonfire for the whole thing to go up, and presumably, if you can get fusion "going", you only need to ignite enough to initiate the reaction, and the heat is then enough to ignite the rest of the mass. The physics, of course, is almost certainly far from being this simple, but I'm kind-of wondering out loud if the general principle applies.

  17. Lars Silver badge

    WATCH LIVE: Energy Department announces major breakthrough in fusion energy research

  18. boris9k3

    wet blanket there is no energy unicorn

    Lots of headlines that nuclear fusion is the solution to our energy needs. Dont believe the media stories.. see

    ...... "However, while the fusion reactions may have produced more than 3 megajoules of energy — more than was delivered to the target — NIF’s 192 lasers consumed 322 megajoules of energy in the process....." Be your own information editor look out for what you believe.

    There is no energy unicorn... yet.

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