Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Fusion, The Energy of the Future Forever

By which I mean, it always seems to recede into the future: Jazz Shaw at Haut Hair, Breakthrough: Ignition confirmed at California fusion reactor

Without bogging us down in too many technical details, suffice it to say that this is a big deal. Or at least it might be at some point. Scientists and engineers have been working on a way to build a workable fusion reactor for decades. A fusion reactor is quite different than the fission nuclear reactors you see around the world today. But there are enormous challenges involved in taking the fusion process from the hypothetical realm and creating a functional reactor capable of producing electricity for our energy grid. One problem is the fact that early experimental models required more energy to operate than they would be capable of producing. The other great challenge involved getting the tritium that fuels the fusion reaction to initially ignite and create a sustainable reaction. (Tritium or hydrogen-3 is a rare and radioactive isotope of hydrogen.) That latter hurdle has now officially been achieved. It actually happened a little more than a year ago, but it’s now been confirmed. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory National Ignition Facility in California successfully ignited the hydrogen fusion reaction last August. (Newsweek)
A major breakthrough in nuclear fusion has been confirmed a year after it was achieved at a laboratory in California.

Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL’s) National Ignition Facility (NIF) recorded the first case of ignition on August 8, 2021, the results of which have now been published in three peer-reviewed papers.

Nuclear fusion is the process that powers the Sun and other stars: heavy hydrogen atoms collide with enough force that they fuse together to form a helium atom, releasing large amounts of energy as a by-product. Once the hydrogen plasma “ignites”, the fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining, with the fusions themselves producing enough power to maintain the temperature without external heating.
If we can get this technology working on a large scale, most of the current debates over energy policy will go out the window in a generation.

It seems to me that we've been told that fusion power was 20 years away since I was in elementary school, (hint, a very long time ago). I'm glad to hear they made progress, but I've heard this (or something very much like it) several times before.

In a somewhat related story, John Sexton (also at Haut Hair) reports that, showing a lick of sense for a change, Gov. Newsom proposes keeping Diablo Canyon nuclear plant open until 2035.

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