Scientists overcome key barrier in route to nuclear fusion

A small amount of fusion energy was generated at a federal research facility in California.
By Brooks Hays  |  Feb. 12, 2014 at 4:36 PM
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LIVERMORE, Calif., Feb. 12 (UPI) -- Researchers say the giant laser at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Calif. has produced fusion energy. It's a small but unprecedented first step, scientists say, in the quest to replicate nuclear fusion -- the process that powers the sun.

"We've gotten more energy out of the fusion fuel than we put into the fusion fuel," Omar Hurricane, a researcher at the lab, told NPR.

The energy was created using a high powered laser, called the National Ignition Facility, or NIF, which focused 192 high powered beams on a tiny cell of nuclear fuel. The aim is to force the hydrogen atoms to fuse together and create helium atoms, a process in which mass is converted to energy.

Scientists believe nuclear fusion could be the key to an unlimited source of renewable energy. But in order for that to happen, scientists must figure out a way to get the ignition to happen, whereby the fusion of hydrogen atoms begins creating enough energy that nuclear reaction begins feeding on itself -- the self-sustaining process that keeps stars burning for billions of years.

Even though the fusion reaction created a surplus of energy, the overall experiment featured a net loss, as only about one percent of the laser's output was focused onto the fuel cell.

Scientists need to figure out a way to generate a hundred times more energy from the fusion reaction in order for it to become self-sufficient, like the center of the sun.

The details of the experiment are chronicled in the latest edition of Nature.

[NPR] [Nature]

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