Timothy Gardner reports:
WASHINGTON, Dec 12 (Reuters) – The U.S. Department of Energy on Tuesday will announce that scientists at a national lab have made a breakthrough on fusion, the process that powers the sun and stars that one day could provide a cheap source of electricity, three sources with knowledge of the matter said.
The scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have achieved a net energy gain for the first time, in a fusion experiment using lasers, one of the people said.
Running an electric power plant off fusion presents tough hurdles however, such as how to contain the heat economically and to keep lasers firing consistently. Other methods of fusion use magnets instead of lasers.See Reuters for the complete article.
Thoughts on fusion energy
Eric Hedin writes:
Fusion energy development has focused on either inertial confinement fusion (reported on in the article) or magnetic confinement fusion (such as in ITER).
In either case, it takes energy to bring about the release of nuclear fusion energy. The milestone reported on in the Reuters link is that the inertial confinement fusion experiment at LLL has produced more fusion energy than it took to power the “shot.”
Inertial confinement fusion works by concentrating numerous powerful laser beams on a small target fuel pellet composed of deuterium or a deuterium-tritium mix (frozen isotopes of hydrogen). The laser beams heat and compress the fuel pellet until the conditions for nuclear fusion occur, and that releases the nuclear energy “stored” in the pellet. There’s no violation of energy conservation.
Fusion occurs in the cores of stars due to the heat and density resulting from the enormous gravitational compression of the stellar gases (mostly hydrogen and helium). We can’t use gravitational compression in reactors on earth, since it requires a star-sized mass to attain sufficient heating and compression due to gravity.
Fossil fuels have served humanity’s energy needs remarkably well, and with a theistic worldview, we can be thankful for the foresight that went into preparing them and making them available to us. But fossil fuels are limited and non-renewable on relevant timescales for human needs.
Nuclear fusion energy, currently progressing in its development, would provide energy for an almost unlimited time frame, since the fuel is based on the naturally occurring isotope of hydrogen, deuterium. The tritium can be made in an ongoing fashion within the reactor itself. It needs to be made, since tritium has a relatively short half-life of 12.3 years.
Fusion energy reactors of either design would be much safer and cleaner than any currently existing nuclear fission reactors. Fusion reactors could not fail in any catastrophic manner leading to “meltdown” or any sort of a runaway nuclear reaction. Could fusion energy be God’s design for supplying humanity’s energy needs in a future era?