back to article America's nuclear fusion 'breakthrough' is super-hot ... yet far from practical

Scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have achieved fusion ignition in a nuclear reactor, it was announced on Tuesday. The dream of generating relatively clean, fusion-based power has been pursued for decades. Now, the US Department of Energy and the LLNL believe they are a significant step closer to …

  1. nautica Silver badge
    Boffin

    Nuclear fusion reactors are very common. They're called 'stars'.

    From everything I read, the (approximate) numbers are like this---

    300 MW to pump a laser, which puts out 2 MW. This, in turn, is used to fuse hydrogen atoms, which process generates 3 MW.

    Total input = 302 MW.

    Total output = 3 MW.

    Efficiency (as they USED TO teach it) = total output ÷ total input = 3 ÷ 302 = 0.009934 ≅ 1%.

    Don't run out to buy any stock just yet.

    -------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    It appears that one could paraphrase what Richard Feynman said about quantum mechanics ("If you think you understand quantum mechanics...")...

    “If you think you understand nuclear fusion--as regards using it to produce “green energy” in the next 100 years or more (probably a LOT more)--you don’t understand nuclear fusion.

    1. Dr Paul Taylor

      units?

      MW or MJ?

      Why do so many people so often get their units wrong by a factor of time?

    2. Graham Cobb Silver badge

      Re: Nuclear fusion reactors are very common. They're called 'stars'.

      Sure. But it has been accepted for a long time now that the next milestone to be achieved would be a fusion reaction which produces more energy than is used to start it.

      Great achievement and on to the next ones!

    3. mIVQU#~(p,

      Re: Nuclear fusion reactors are very common. They're called 'stars'.

      Just place a whole lot of them in a circle

      1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

        Just place a whole lot of them in a circle

        You are a Remoaner and I claim my five Euros!

        1. Trigonoceps occipitalis

          Re: Just place a whole lot of them in a circle

          Oops! I mean £350 million per week.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Just place a whole lot of them in a circle

          As a "remoaner" I found that funny. A shame someone had to click a knee-jerk downvite :-)

    4. MarcoV

      Re: Nuclear fusion reactors are very common. They're called 'stars'.

      I only know the basic principles of fusion, but this is a lab experiment and the in/out numbers are there to prove that fusion happened. For a sustainable process the lasers might only be required to ignite (but you could keep it self sustaining after firing), the fuel might be a bigger problem than the 3MW of the lasers.

      Since you need to refine the fuel too. IIRC deuterium is rare (ppb in water) and tritium is nearly absent in nature.

      1. Blank Reg

        Re: Nuclear fusion reactors are very common. They're called 'stars'.

        Deuterium is less of a problem than tritium. I live not far from one of the largest tritium producers in the world, their yearly production is only a few kg.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Nuclear fusion reactors are very common. They're called 'stars'.

          Putting it in context - the world's entire annual production of tritium and deuterium isn't enough to keep ONE 1GW fusion reactor fed for a year

          This is one of the fundamental issues with fusion. Yes, duterium is in seawater (nordic hydro, etc) and you can make tritium from lithium but the former is expensive to extract and whilst 7% of all natural lithium is a candidate for tritium production the latter works out at $50,000 per GRAM

          (Also, heavy water is relatively dangerous. It turns out that many life processes rely heavily on quantum tunnelling of hydrogen protons and deuterium essentially "doesn't tunnel". This shuts down mitochondria, stops photosynthesis and prevents DNA unzipping, amongst other issues)

          Fusion is "the future" but we need to drastically cut carbon emissions NOW, not in 100 years, so waiting around for it to be ready isn't a viable strategy (If CO2 levels get too high then sea level rise or climate change is irrelevant - if raindwater gets acidic enough (carbonic acid) to start affecting plant life then a runaway process becomes unstoppable - this isn't theory, it's happened in Earth's past and took less than a decade to go from "oh shit" to "Dead Dave, everybody's dead. The entire planet's dead, Dave" (Gaspacho is optional)

          1. MarcoV

            Re: Nuclear fusion reactors are very common. They're called 'stars'.

            Deuterium is dangerous, iirc it influences the folding of proteins into alpha helixes and beta sheets, but IIRC since all hydrogen atoms are constantly exchanged, you need to have a really high percentage of deuterium in your body for ill effects. It was a bit of a organic chemistry coffee table joke, perfect murder where a wife fed the husband cabbage cooked in heavy water. (other practicalities aside). (Organic chemistry labs use deuterium for NMR purposes)

    5. phuzz Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Nuclear fusion reactors are very common. They're called 'stars'.

      Also, so far I've not seen any estimates of how much energy it took to create the fuel pellet.

      Even if it's just a case of compressing some gases into a small pellet, that still takes energy.

    6. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Nuclear fusion reactors are very common. They're called 'stars'.

      Don't forget that 3MJ output (not watts, joules) then has to heat a carrier substance (water or CO2) which then has to feed into a heat engine of some description

      In the end it's all just a fancy steam boiler driving a turbine (Yes,. I know about electric field direct generator ideas but they're pie in the sky until someone actually makes an actual working model) and the best you'll get out of one of those with 3MJ thermal energy in is about 1MJ of electrical energy out

      Once it's running continuously then you can start talking Watts (joules per second), but until then it's just an impulse - they still haven't managed to get two firing in a row, let alone the 50-100 times per second needed for power generation

      Hohlraums were theorised in the 1980s and first attempted in the 1990s. Taking this long to achieve ignition puts them vastly behind Stellerators or Tokamaks at a similar point of development and it's taken over 50 years to go from those achieving a pulse to running for a couple of seconds

      Fusion is like rocket science - the conceptual parts and theoretical physics is relatively easy, The ENGINEERING is where it gets difficult - and the more we discover about subatomic particle interactions the more we realise is still needed to discover. Thanks, Heisenberg!

  2. Adam Azarchs
    Boffin

    Laser ignition fusion

    Is not, and will probably never be, a practical source of energy. That's not what it's for. It's for simulating hydrogen bombs. If you want something with a sliver of a chance of eventually being viable as a power source, then you want magnetic confident (e.g. tokamak or stellarator). Or gravitational confinement (e.g. solar, but that's too practical to be fun to talk about).

    Aside from the engineering challenges, we're also running into a problem in that we're running out of tritium. The plan was supposed to be that we'd have working fusion reactors by now, that could produce enough neutrons to make enough tritium to keep the whole process sustainable. But we don't, yet, and the tritium made during nuclear weapons manufacturing is well past its half life by now. It's been pointed out that the sun's power density is comparable to that of a human (though it makes up for that with size); this is because the fusion reaction (mediated by the strong force) is rate limited by the dearth of neurons - combining a proton with an electron to make a neuron is a much, much slower reaction, mediated by the weak force. If you try making a human scale fusion reactor regular hydrogen, you won't get very far.

    1. Joe W Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Laser ignition fusion

      Yes and no. Gravity is one of the weaker forces, and thus electromagnetic confinement might solve the energy density problem. We'll see (maybe...). Exciting engineering and physics nonetheless.

    2. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: Laser ignition fusion

      Aside from the engineering challenges, we're also running into a problem in that we're running out of tritium.

      Tritium can be (and is) produced by stuffing a bunch of lithium in a nuclear reactor and letting them absorb neutrons.

      1. Irony Deficient

        Tritium can be (and is) produced by stuffing a bunch of lithium in a nuclear reactor …

        … and letting them absorb neutrons.

        There’s not enough 6Li available commercially to produce enough tritium to support fleets of fusion reactors fueled by deuterium and tritium. 7Li could be used to produce tritium, but because the 7Li reaction is endothermic, it would require much more energy to produce a given amount of tritium using 7Li vs. using 6Li.

        1. Alan Brown Silver badge

          Re: Tritium can be (and is) produced by stuffing a bunch of lithium in a nuclear reactor …

          There isn't enough to support ONE commercial fusion power reactor

          That might change but the easiest way to produce it involves molten salt nuclear reactors and those and a relatively easy heat (energy) source with very low waste output and were proven 55 years ago

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Laser ignition fusion

      If we listened to people like you in the 1800s, we'd still all be driving horse-drawn carriages....

      1. bazza Silver badge

        Re: Laser ignition fusion

        In the whole of the 1800s, we were all driving horse-drawn carriages... Or riding on the steam train, or a bicycle.

        There's several approaches to controlled fusion, but the laser compression approach does feel more like the Atmospheric Railway.

        1. Lars Silver badge
          Coat

          Re: Laser ignition fusion

          @bazza

          "In the whole of the 1800s, we were all driving horse-drawn carriages."

          Almost true but not completely true.

          "Carl Benz's 1886 Benz Patent-Motorwagen, which is widely regarded as the first internal combustion engine in a self-propelled automobile."

          And the bike, as we know it, did not "arrive" much earlier than in the early 1860s

          (to be a bit pedantic)

          1. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Laser ignition fusion

            paved roads as we know them now were originally something created for bicycles to use

            (Even the original non tar-sealed MacAdam surfacing)

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: we'd still all be driving horse-drawn carriages....

        rich bastard, I still have to foot it!

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: we'd still all be driving horse-drawn carriages....

          Me too. But on the bright side, I get to laugh a lot at the pump prices while I walk by! :)

      3. Tom 7

        Re: Laser ignition fusion

        And if we listened to the fusion mob we'd have vaporised all the carriages and still be working out how to get energy generated!

    4. meritamity

      Re: Laser ignition fusion

      "we're running out of tritium"

      We're not running out of Tritium. Last I heard, Japan has a surplus, and it is created both naturally and within nuclear (fission) reactors, from power companies to US submarines and aircraft carriers.

      Hydrogen atoms within the water that surrounds these reactors (and stored spent fuel) will absorb neutrons to create deuterium and tritium.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tritium#Production

      1. annodomini2

        Re: Laser ignition fusion

        There's enough tritium in the world to run 1 reactor for about 6m.

    5. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Laser ignition fusion

      You can use HE3 too. Apparently there's lots on the Moon. The US and others are making noises about moon-bases with permanent crews. Do these all mean something when taken together?

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Laser ignition fusion

        It will if cloning technology ends up being able to produce perfect adult replicas...

  3. jmch Silver badge

    Military priority

    My take from watching the live stream is that there was a lot of focus on the military side of this. They basically said - this shows our partners and potential enemies that we have significant technical prowess in fusion and that we are confident that we can make thermonuclear weapons work without needing to conduct full-scale weapons tests (and thus we can keep on being part of the nuclear weapons test ban and can push that ban on others). The energy part was a bit of an afterthought (which is pretty much the same way it's been in fusion reactors for 60 years - the priority isn't to produce energy, the priority is to provide fissile material, with the energy being a byproduct).

    From an energy point of view, as I mentioned in a post yesterday, the 'over unity' only in the pellet is mostly a symbolic milestone given that they are very far from end-to-end over unity. However (asking as a complete layman) do they need the lasers to be in continuous operation for the duration? For example (with totally made-up numbers) if they can ignite the reaction with 300 MW input laser power for 1ms and the reaction producing 3MW can be sustained for 0.5s, that's still getting more power out than put in. If the laser is only used for ignition that could work. If on the other hand, the laser power is needed to sustain the reaction and/or to provide containment, it makes practical generation far more difficult to achieve.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Military priority

      They basically said - this shows our partners and potential enemies ...

      But the point of the press release as it appears in domestic newspapers was associate this project with "green" science.

      It is presented, in the papers, as a major step forward in fundamental science towards the goal of fusion energy, not by accident,

      but because it is being "fed" by the researcher's publicists in their press releases to appear as such.

      1. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Military priority

        Hohlraums were originally envisaged as a way of making civil power, but the applicability for weapons simulation is what gets the bills paid

        Most of the R&D funding for ORNL's MRSE was provided as part of the Aircraft Nuclear Reactor Experiment. Nobody involved believed they could actually make a safe flyable nuclear reactor but it was a convenient cover story to get money for the research

    2. lglethal Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Military priority

      You raise a very interesting point about the actual energy used.

      I, for one, would actually be very interested to know the Energy (in Joules) used by the lasers, and how much energy (again in Joules) was released by the fusion.

      Using MW in this case is all well and good (and pretty standard), but Watts are an energy over time unit. So just as you say 300MW over 1ms is less energy then 3MW over 500ms.

      The fact they havent mentioned this at all though probably means that the numbers look even worse, when done in absolute energy terms. Still it would be interesting to know.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Military priority

        from the article:

        Although the results are worth celebrating, they still show nuclear fusion is very, very far from being a practical source of energy. The initial energy required to fire the laser beams was 322 megajoules, with just over 2 megajoules delivered to the fuel capsule to trigger its implosion.

        Comparing this with the 3.15 megajoules generated in the nuclear reaction, the overall energy produced by the NIF is still a net loss by quite a factor.

        1. lglethal Silver badge
          WTF?

          Re: Military priority

          Wait a second? Was the article edited after jmch and I commented? I could have sworn what I read said MW!?!?!?! Hence my comments.

          If not, that's a major reading failure from me (and jmch as well, i guess ;) ). But considering that two of us commented on MW, I'm going to go with an article change.

          Ok, good to have the numbers now. Question answered! ;)

          1. jmch Silver badge

            Re: Military priority

            "Wait a second? Was the article edited after jmch and I commented?"

            No, the article DID say MJ.

            I used MW as an example, but I also did say "made-up numbers".

            Nevertheless it is still interesting as a thought exercise - do they need the lasers on for ignition + all the time that the reaction is happening, or can they turn the lasers off at some point (or dial down the power) while the reaction continues to produce energy?

            1. Crypto Monad Silver badge

              Re: Military priority

              My reading is, it's not a continuous process at all. You have a laser *pulse*, pointing at a single target, which goes splat once and evaporates, and the whole thing is over.

              Turning this into a source of *power* would indeed require turning it into a continuous process - which in this case sounds like firing at a conveyor belt full of pellets.

              Commercial power output with this sort of technology? Almost certainly never, but "at least 50 years away" is still safe.

              For one thing, you need some massive technological breakthrough in laser efficiency - say 10 to 100 times better than today. However, lasers have been studied and developed heavily for many decades; huge breakthroughs here are unlikely. They also need to be able to cycle thousands of times faster than they can today, not to mention be much cheaper to build. Then you need to build these incredibly tiny precise tritium-containing targets in mass quantities really cheaply (and/or make them work on a much bigger scale), and have a way to deliver them rapidly into the target area with microscopic precision, whilst they vaporize. And you still need to wrap all this with neutron capture / heat exchanger type stuff, not to mention fully robotic remote maintenance because those pesky neutrons will make the whole reactor vessel highly radioactive. Those latter things are doable, but add greatly to the cost, and hence count against commercial viability.

              I think the article is right in its general drift. The main output from this research will be a better understanding of fusion bombs, and perhaps in 20-50 years the world will have a new type of H-bomb which doesn't need uranium or plutonium to trigger it. Whoopee doo :-(

              1. Anonymous Coward
                Anonymous Coward

                Re: Military priority

                >Turning this into a source of *power* would indeed require turning it into a continuous process

                You would need to do a shot ten times more efficient than this 2-300 times *per second* to reach parity of output with a modern nuclear fission reactor. Right now it does something like a shot once per day. The target that is shot is made of gold and tantalum. It's not a lot of gold, but start shooting hundreds of thousands of them per day and the costs add up. Research in 2012 projected it would cost in the region of a billion dollars a year in just materials for the targets when running something like the NIF for grid-scale generation.

                You could in theory use other materials - lead has been proposed - but you'd be largely back to the drawing board to re-solve a bunch of the challenges NIF has overcome to get to where it is today.

              2. Zolko Silver badge

                Re: Military priority

                You have a laser *pulse*, pointing at a single target, which goes splat once and evaporates, and the whole thing is over. Turning this into a source of *power* would indeed require ...

                ... to be able to somehow convert the energy of the small nuclear blast into electricity. Which you can't. The nuclear energy of a fission reactor is converted to electricity through the cooling fluid, *nothing* of the sort is here present.

              3. Ken Hagan Gold badge

                Re: Military priority

                "The main output from this research will be a better understanding of fusion bombs, and perhaps in 20-50 years the world will have a new type of H-bomb which doesn't need uranium or plutonium to trigger it. "

                A more likely outcome is that in 20-50 years time we'll have a new type of H-bomb that almost certainly works, despite never having been tested. If you are in the business of deterrence, that's a win. A modest one, perhaps, but a win.

            2. Alan Brown Silver badge

              Re: Military priority

              The principle is relatively simple - a hollow pellet full of deuterium/tritium is dropped into the chamber and as falls through the middle, hit with a synchronised pulse of lasers from all sides sufficiently powerful to collapse/vaporise the walls and drive up pressures/temperatures inside to sky high values, setting off a small fusion "explosion"

              It's somewhat akin to throwing a pea into the air and shooting it at the top of its arc

              To make a working power source, you need to rinse and repeat at least 50 times per second, accurately tracking where the pellets are (gas flow is goign to be turbulent and jostle the things around) and figure out a way of extracting the heat whilst containing stupidly high levels of radioactivity - the chamber walls are going to be bombarded with neutrons and that tends to make most materials which absorb them (except water and berylium) _very_ radioactive (including the business ends of the laser emitters)

              Fusion power may be "clean" but it's not going to be "waste free" or "non-radioactive"

    3. Alan Brown Silver badge

      Re: Military priority

      > (which is pretty much the same way it's been in fusion reactors for 60 years - the priority isn't to produce energy, the priority is to provide fissile material, with the energy being a byproduct).

      ITYM fissoin reactors

      This was the fundamental sin of the ORNL Molten Salt Reactor Experiment - if commercially adopted it would have broken civil nuclear power generation free from the shackles of being dependant on the waste products of weaponmaking(*), therefore would have meant that the "enrichment plants" would stop being dual-purpose and start being subject to nuclear limiitaion treaties

      (*) 3% enriched uranium is the WASTE product. The desireable substance from a mliitary point of view is depleted uranium - that's the feedstock for making weapons-grade plutonium. "Highly enriched uranium" is a conjurer's misdirection tactic for the most part - it costs so much that anyone wanting to make a bomb out of it would find it cheaper to simply _buy_ their enemy instead (it's far too radioactive to be used in an implosion weapon, as is plutonium made from uranium with natural levels of U235 - and uranium made from thorium (U233) has so much U232 in it that attempts to use it have always resulted in _decreased_ bomb yields to the point of verging on fizzling (see: operation teapot)

      At least China is still working on their MSR reactor, although they've been quiet since it fired up a year ago...

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ignition?

    It may seem pedantic, but I don't see how getting more energy out than went into the thing is considered to be ignition. It is, for sure, a necessary first step and a significant milestone, but the process ends there.

    I would expect "ignition" to mean that the extra energy output has been used to trigger another energy-generating action, leading to a sustained sequence of fusions.

    So far this seems like succesfully firing one (and only one) cylinder of an internal combustion engine.

    1. Umbracorn
      Boffin

      Re: Ignition?

      I am not a physicist, but - successfully firing one cylinder is the same as ignition in this case.

      The lasers created the plasma, providing the "spark", pumping a certain amount of energy into the system.

      "Ignition" is being used here in the same way as "over unity", the extra energy measured had to come from release of stored potential energy. Chemical reaction, ignition, in an internal combustion engine; nuclear fission, in this experiment.

      Minute quantities of fuel involved in this experiment.

      Doing useful work with the extra energy on a larger scale is left as an exercise for the steam power enthusiasts of the future.

      1. Andy The Hat Silver badge

        Re: Ignition?

        To continue the piston engine analogy, what they have done here is invent their version of a spark plug. We can do it big (H bomb) and small (this exteriment) but the primary and ongoing issues for fusion will be containment, "continuous" processing of fuel and energy extraction to do useful work (generation of steam or whatever). Very high energy pulses are notoriously difficult to control without blowing things up, the potential advantage of the Tok designs is the energy transfer is theoretically more controlled for sustained energy release without destroying the reaction vessel.

    2. Zolko Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: Ignition?

      What they in-effect did was to build a mini-hydrogen bomb that they ignited with lasers. As opposed to traditional large hydrogen-fusion bombs that are ignited with an atomic bomb. So yes, they did do "ignition" but not "energy production".

      This is worthless propaganda. Not even a – small – step in the right direction, this is purely emperialistic bombasting. Icon, obviously.

  5. prandeamus

    I'm sure there was a news story in the last year or so with a nuclear fusion reactor in UK/Europe with some level of net energy output. Can someone point me to an explainer as to the differences between that one, and this recent US announcement. Radio 4's Today program alluded to the European one being plasma confinement rather than lasers and pellets of hydrogen. Or something.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Me no expert on fusion.

      The British based research you remember was the reactor at Culham. Which I think was the final experiment from the progam. Theirs is an old project to make a scale model (one third scale?) of a big magnetically confined fusion reactor design that might eventually hopefully be used for generating electricity.

      They achieved a huge amount of power, but didn't achieve more than was put in. However their unit isn't supposed to. It's part of an international test program. The new reactor to replace it is the ITER reactor, that's been building in France for the last decade or so. The last test at Culham was to test concepts for that. ITER has billions in funding from Japan, USA, Canada and various European countries.

      This US experiment is about firing lasers at small capsules of fuel that give you tiny bursts of fusion. I don't know if it would be even feasible to build an electricity generating system round this concept, or if it's more about basic research. But I've been seeing lots of stories from various places about the idea, so it's clearly an area where a lot of research is happening. It has the advantage that you can do your testing at a much smaller scale than having to build a full size fusion plant, without even knowing if it's going to work. I make no pretence to understand the area of fusion research.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        > if it's more about basic research

        It's not even that. The NIF exists to facilitate nuclear weapons research. It lets the US do the kind of high-energy plasma research that historically you'd have to detonate a nuclear weapon to achieve. This lets them refine their nuclear weapons simulations, thus gaining an advantage within the bounds of the various test ban treaties.

        You wouldn't know it from most of the press coverage, but NIF themselves make no secret of this. The funding for the facility comes from the National Nuclear Security Agency whose remit principally covers maintaining and evolving the USA's nuclear weapons stockpile.

        This is front-and-centre of NIF's website: https://lasers.llnl.gov/about

        >NIF is a key element of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s science-based Stockpile Stewardship Program.

        It spends a small minority of its time doing civilian science. This ain't that. The UK operates a similar but much (much) smaller facility at AWE called Orion.

    2. Lars Silver badge
      Happy

      @prandeamus

      You are referring to this:

      The Joint European Torus, or JET, is an operational magnetically confined plasma physics experiment, located at Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, UK. Based on a tokamak design, the fusion research facility is a joint European project with a main purpose of opening the way to future nuclear fusion grid energy.

      On 21 December 2021, using deuterium-tritium fuel, JET produced 59 megajoules during a five second pulse, beating its previous 1997 record of 21.7 megajoules, with Q = 0.33.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_European_Torus

      1. prandeamus
  6. prandeamus

    Thanks for that.

    However, I am sure I remember/misremember some excited face-of-science (Dara O'Briain? Prof B Cox?) excitedly gabbling to camera that more power was coming out at the moment than went in. Maybe I had too much cheese and dreamed it, except that my other half made a similar comment only last night.

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
      Stop

      I must challenge the very premise of your post! It is not possible to have too much cheese!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I upvoted you as a life-long cheese lover. But then I'll need to downvote you, cause you _definitely_ can get too much cheese into your system (with or without alcohol), and the results are dramatically incompatible with head-stomach truce.

        1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge
          Happy

          The solution to the consumption of too much cheese is to slow down the cheese input rate by alternating it with port input.

          Obviously this can have its own downsides if continued for too long.

          Christmas planning is currently happening, and I am therefore expending a certain amount of my mental capacity at all times on determining the correct amounts of cheese, port and other (less important) items required to make the festive season go with a oh God, oh God, oh God how do I move from this sofa bang.

          Nobody mention Mr Creosote.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough Panel Discussion, 13/12/2022

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cmzep3YaRNI

  8. MrAptronym

    Science Press Releases are Dangerous

    Great reporting. This really is a very exciting breakthrough scientifically but seeing the reporting on the press release has been depressing, to the point that I don't think many of them actually paid attention or bothered to look into any background at all. I saw some stories that would go between reporting on the LLNL results and tokamak work as though they were the same tech.

    This was obviously not a design intended for any kind of energy production, and the way it is being sold as if that was its point in the news is just one more in a decades long list of fusion PR oversells. This isn't some pilot scale reactor for a power plant. Fusion power is a technology that would have tremendous upsides and I think is definitely worth pursuing aggressively, but decades of overpromising has caused nothing but trouble. Not only does it damage the public perception of these technologies by setting unrealistic goals, but I worry that people will ignore important and currently available sustainable power sources like solar and wind because they think that fusion power is magically going to solve all our energy woes by 2032.

    Again, this was great news, but the media blitz around it has been bad. Science by press release rarely seems to turn out well.

  9. aerogems Silver badge

    A very important first step

    This is a very important first step as they've finally proven that it can be done in a laboratory setting. That is always the first crucial step. Now the work begins on refining and improving upon the process to make it more practical. There may even be elements of this which could help other researchers working on different methods for achieving stable fusion reactions with net energy gains that could help them cross the same threshold.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Liberal chest beating

    What gets me is the Biden admin crowing like this is a major win and taking credit for what is a nothing experiment.

    If it is going to take decades to even begin to approach practical application then what the hell are we so excited about.

    I guess this is like announcing student loan forgiveness knowing it will never happen but it bought you the election and that's all the stupid people need to understand.

    1. MrAptronym

      Re: Liberal chest beating

      This experiment was an important piece of nuclear research, even if it was oversold. The research wasn't done for this publicity claim, that is just some side benefit for those in charge.

      I think it is always a bit sour when a politician lays claim on a scientific breakthrough like this. Obviously these projects exist on timescales far beyond political terms. That is not exactly what happened here though. The DoE claims credit here, and the DoE did indeed build the facility that performed this experiment. They control all the US' national labs (and nuclear research generally). While they may be lead by political appointees, the DoE is not a biden surogate. They get support from both parties fairly reliably, as they have deep ties to the military/defense industry.

      Still, these announcements can be seen as general advocacy for a political worldview that includes spending on basic research. It isn't a "nothing experiment" necessarily, it just isn't what it is being billed as. It was an important project, just not for anh utility as a fusion pilot plant.

      In any case, it usually takes a lot of work to actually produce usable technology. Not that Fusion is a sure thing, but tech like Lasers, LED lighting and lithium batteries had literal decades of research behind them before they ended up as household items. We should just make sure we are keeping the research in context, which the DoE hasn't been great on here. (And media has been worse on)

  11. IlGeller

    In principle, what happened (if it really happened) confirms Poincare's Reccurence Theorem — certain dynamical systems will, after a sufficiently time, return to a state arbitrarily close to (for continuous state systems), or exactly the same as (for discrete state systems), their initial state; there mine "the number of elements" is used from the point of view of my continustion of Einstein's Theory of Relativity on a quantitative basis. Apparently, heating literally decomposed the nucleons into smaller and smallest elements with their subsequent return to a certain molar volume, while electrons evaporation olnly is out of the question. The whole atoms are reduced to their elements, not only electrons deleted.

    I feel I can mention my continuation of Einstein, because this theory is proven by experiments with double slits and quantum entanglement, along with many others; which gives me the right to speak and be heard. The present thermonuclear experiment may (if it really was made) or proves the fundamental and the basis for my quantitative theory ergodical Theorem of Poincare.

  12. PeterM42
    Mushroom

    Oh really?

    Nuclear fusion has always been the energy source of the future.

    Still IS the energy source of the future,

    .And always will be the energy source of the future.

  13. IlGeller

    “Controlled synthesis" is a matter of days long gone, since the attempt to obtain energy was made on an erroneous basis. I'm well aware of how crazy I sound, because I'm the only one who understands what I'm talking about. However my words are confirmed by double-slit and quantum entanglement experiments, as well as the orbit of Mercury and the existence of “bias current". That's why I'm talking and demanding attention.

    The continuation of Einstein's Theory of Relativity, without distance-acceleration-speed-energy-geometry, based on Set Theory gives an idea that the existance of stars, black holes and atoms has its cause in the exit of points of the fourth kind into our Universe, where the accumulation points are the third, and the other two were described in detail by Newton; proof of which is the presence of light. Thus, the extraction of an unlimited amount of clean energy is possible, but not through the synthesis. This is the same energy which allows atoms exist for billions years.

  14. MonsieurTM

    So the Yanks finally catch up with a 24-year old achievement of JET: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-022-00391-1

    Well done. Bravo. You just need to get to 59MJ for 5 seconds to beat JET

    Certainly not a first for fusion nor impressive by current standards.

  15. IlGeller

    "The hohlraum holding the pellet of fusion fuel, a frozen mix of hydrogen isotopes".

    Quantitative theory, the basics of which — like its only axiom and both postulates — you can find on the Internet by searching for "Ilya Geller Quantitive theory" — will reveal that in a certain molar volume there is always only such a certain number of elements (molar mass); which is proved by the existence of the Avogadro number and the periodic table.

    So, hohlraum holding sets the volume for frozen elements, that is initially the volume that is smaller than for tritium and deuterium heated to a plasma state. Also, the heating with lasers destroys the nucleons of these two substances. After the heating tritium and deuterium, being decomposed into elements, are in the original volume of hohlraum (which is small) since its material did not have time to evaporate.

    Then everything goes according to the Poincare Reccurence Theorem: in a given volume, only such a number of elements forms only this particular substance. Judging by what is said in the article helium was formed. The extra matter, according again to the article, prowide some energy. Therefore if the results are replicated by many third parties, then we can say that both the ergodic Poincare Theorem and the Quantitative Theory have received another practical proof by experiment.

  16. renniks

    There's a bloody big fusion reactor 1AU away - all that's needed to harness its energy are solar panels & some battery storage.

    Concentrate on micro-generation rather than large scale power generation

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