ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — For the first time in history, scientists at the Livermore National Laser Laboratory managed to produce a net gain of energy from a nuclear fusion reaction. In simpler terms more energy was released then was put in.
For more on what nuclear fusion is, we spoke with Dr. Christopher Deeney, the Director of the Laser Energetics Lab at the University of Rochester who has been involved in research regarding nuclear fusion for over 20 years.
“It’s using the process that exists in stars, where you take two light atoms […] Deuterium and Tritium which are isotopes of hydrogen, you force them together, they fuse together, create a new particle,” said Dr. Deeney. “Helium for example that is maybe, less mass of what you started with […] and that extra mass is turned into energy and then that’s what you would ultimately used, to power a fusion reactor in the future.”
The National Ignition Facility or NIF, at the Livermore National Laser Laboratory, uses high powered lasers to initiate the reaction of the two elements. In this case, the reaction produced more energy than was output by the laser, giving the experiment the net gain being celebrated today. But this only brings another issue to light.
“NIF [National Ignition Facility] started with something like 400 megajoules of electrical energy in its capacitor banks, and it produced three megajoules,” Dr. Deeney said. “By no stretch of the imagination is that a winning economic, you know, energy producing process.”
More to the point, to make this a working reactor, the lasers need to be able to use the energy being put in them more efficiently. Some of the work to improve the lasers is being done right here in Rochester at L3 Harris in their Precision Optics department.
“We’ve been talking to them about this for many years on what would we do once they achieve ignition so this is the start of ramping up,” said Dr. Ted Mooney, a Manager in the Precision Optics Department. “Because without the optics that are sitting at the end that can survive the laser energy all the other efforts that they’re doing to try to get the energy up would not be of use,”
As for when we can expect Fusion technology to become a part of our lives, Dr. Deeney put it best: “You know a Mr. Fusion Device isn’t going to be in your car or on the grid tomorrow that is for sure.”
Despite the current limitations and other issues with the technology, this is still a major leap forward in the field after well over half a century of research with more developments likely to come in the near future.