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Major breakthrough in nuclear fusion technology

Nuclear fusion is a clean, potentially limitless form of energy which produces minimal radioactive waste and researchers have now announced a huge breakthrough with the technology.

Scientists have been working on developing the process, which has only ever been carried out in experiments, for decades.

Earlier this week, researchers from the California-based National Ignition Facility announced they had produced more energy than what they had put in for the first time.

The sun with a corona mass ejection

LLNL director Dr Kim Budil said: ‘This is a historic achievement… over the past 60 years thousands of people have contributed to this endeavour and it took real vision to get us here.’

Nuclear fusion generates power by using heat from nuclear fusion reactions, copying processes that power the sun which releases huge amounts of energy.

It’s thought the process could revolutionise clean energy, as it produces no greenhouse gas emissions and could be a significantly effective form of power. One kilogram of fusion fuel can provide the same amount of energy as 10m kilograms of a fossil fuel.

However, nuclear fusion is still a long way off being commercially viable, as the amount of energy was only enough to boil a few kettles.

A significant amount of further funding will also be required, as this experiment alone cost $3.5bn, with more investment needed for the process to be perfected and improved.

To create the energy, a small amount of hydrogen in a capsule the size of a peppercorn is fired with 192 giant lasers which compress and heats the fuel to temperatures hotter than the surface of the sun. The capsule then begins to implode in on itself, reaching speeds of 400km per second.

In this experiment, there was an input of 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of laser energy which created 3.15 MJ of fusion energy.

Challenges remain in reducing costs and increasing the amount of energy produced, as well as working out how to release the energy as heat.

Photo by NASA

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