https://www.newsweek.com/nuclear-fusion ... ia-1733238
Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough Confirmed: California Team Achieved Ignition
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.
Hmmmm. First of all, that article make it sound like no other fusion effort in the world has managed to fuse deuterium and tritium. But that’s not true. In fact, back in 2014 even LLNL was reporting that they had generated through fusion reactions more energy than what was deposited into the fuel. Of course, what Newsweek was trying to report is LLNL’s progress in achieving ignition.
Here's what Newsweek says LLNL achieved a year ago: “In this latest milestone at the LLNL, researchers recorded an energy yield of more than 1.3 megajoules (MJ) during only a few nanoseconds.” That’s true. In fact, LLNL reported (https://annual.llnl.gov/fy-2021/thresho ... ition-2021
) in 2021 that the “fusion yield was 25 times more than the record set in 2018.” The LLNL article noted that “ignition occurs when the fusion energy produced exceeds the amount of laser energy delivered to the target chamber. The measure fusion yield was about 70 percent of that goal.
So Newsweek is wrong to claim that ignition was achieve. Maybe Newsweek’s *science* reporter didn’t actually read the reports that LLNL produced because nearly every other news outlet did and reported that LLNL was on the “threshold” of ignition. Maybe Newsweek’s science guy doesn’t understand the mean of threshold? In any case, they are still a long way from building an economically viable commercial fusion power plant by this means. Remember that as far as a commercial fusion power plant breaking even, there are large energy loses to produce the electricity delivered to the NIF. Now once a power plant is in operation, presumably it will supply it own power. But there are also loses converting that electricity to laser beams. In fact, this CNBC article (https://www.cnbc.com/2021/08/17/lawrenc ... usion.html
) quotes Omar Hurricane, chief scientist for LLNL’s inertial-confinement fusion program, saying “The bottom line is that very little energy ever makes it into the fusion fuel as compared to the electricity we used to charge the laser.” Plus there will be large energy losses when converting the heat that the fusion produces back into electricity. In short, they are a long way from building an economically viable commercial fusion power plant.
In fact, this article in Nature (https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586- ... 240a1c0e0d
) noted that repeated attempts to replicate the August 8 experiment produced at most only 50% as much output energy. It states “for many, the failure to reproduce last August’s experiment underscores researchers’ inability to understand, engineer and predict experiments at these energies with precision.” As a result, some researchers have suggested that it’s time to rethink the National Ignition Facility’s design. “I think they should call it a success and stop,” says Stephen Bodner, a physicist who formerly headed the laser-fusion programme at the US Naval Research Laboratory in Washington DC. “Bodner says the NIF is a technological dead end, and that it is time to prepare for a next-generation laser that could open the door to fusion energy.” In other words, give us more money. Lots of it. And clearly things aren’t quite as rosy as Newsweek and a few other media outlet’s portrayed. Oh … and by the way, the NIF opened in 2009 with a promise to achieve ignition in 2012. Here it is a decade after that deadline and they still haven’t met that goal. The Nature article also confirms that the August 8th shot “didn’t meet the NAS definition of ignition.” So Newsweek article title is wrong … nothing more than hype.
One final point. The real reason LLNL pursues this is for weapons development. That’s their charter. And the Nature article says that “Omar Hurricane, chief scientist for Livermore’s inertial-confinement fusion programme, has advocated pressing forwards with the existing experimental design to probe this energy regime, rather than stepping back to regroup. … snip … For his part, Hurricane … snip … maintains that the device is now operating in a crucial fusion regime that will be useful for understanding and predicting the reliability of nuclear weapons.” So let’s not be deceived by a Newsweek article touting the promise of no carbon, fusion power plants that are just around the corner thank’s to LLNL’s “breakthrough”. Just saying …