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Fusion… not twenty years away after all

At the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, it appears they have finally managed to achieve a meaningful breakthrough.

What just happened?
Researchers at the NIF have announced that, for the first time, they have managed to do just that. The team used 2.1MJ of energy to heat the fuel with lasers, releasing 2.5MJ of energy.

Is that a lot of energy?
No, not really. The difference – 0.4MJ – is about 0.1kWh. That’s about enough energy to boil a kettle to make a few cups of tea.

The first flight at Kitty Hawk was about 180 feet, but it proved it would be done.

39 comments to Fusion… not twenty years away after all

  • Steven R


    The one good thing about Climate Change nonsense is the extracted resources (oil, coal, natural gas) types won’t be able to simply sweep this under the rug and pretend it never happened. The move for a cleaner world with better energy generation all but requires fusion. We won’t live to see it reach maturity and widespread usage, but our grandchildren might.

  • Mr Ed

    They had a saying in Brazil: Brazil is the country of the future, and always will be.

    More energy out than in is a start, but instant sunshine isn’t easy. And this lab is in California.

    When they can makes cups of hot tea with it, that’s when it will be exciting.

  • Russell Weatherly

    Could it be that the story is fiction? Given that it’s released by the DOE, they may want to be known for something other than employing a freakish, prancing luggage thief.

  • johnson phiz

    Maybe it will blow up and the solve the whole California problem.

  • Allen

    It’s just more snake oil.

  • Michael

    What has Greta had to say about this?

  • thefat tomato

    February 2022 in the UK: 59 megajoules from 58, 1.7% net gain
    December 2022 in the USA: 3.15 megajoules from 2.05, 53.6 % net gain
    I am on the optimistic kitty hawk side of the debate

  • tr

    Energy that doesn’t kill birds? Ban it!

  • bobby b

    Waiting to see someone reproduce this. My faith in “science” has been sorely tested of late.

  • Paul Marks

    I think this is good news.

    How soon fusion reactors will be about, I do not know – but I certainly hope that this is a step in the right direction.

  • Zerren Yeoville

    Will this purported breakthrough end up going the way of other purported breakthroughs, such as ‘cold fusion’ and ‘fossils in Martian meteorites’ that caused brief excitement back in the 90s?

    Moreover, given the political and economic power that, under a cloak of environmentalism, stems from controlling access to energy resources and seeking to ration and limit their use, can we be sure that heaven and earth will not be moved by vested interests in an attempt to stifle it, if it is for real? The idea that the masses don’t actually need to put up with freezing in barely-heated homes or having their travel opportunities severely minimized to ‘save the planet’ is very unlikely to be welcomed in some regrettably influential quarters, despite the fake smiles they may put on for the TV cameras…. #JustStopFusion #FusionRebellion

  • Mr Ed

    The proper question is not whether fusion can work, (assuming that the answer is ‘yes, we can’), but whether or not it would be economic. It is von Mises’ inescapable calculation problem that may be the ultimate question.

  • Steven R

    Economic may not be a consideration in the long run. If enough people, for right or wrong, demand that coal, natural gas, or oil based electrical systems be phased out in favor of fusion, then it will happen. Of course, if it does and their electric bill skyrockets (and so does everything downstream of power), c’est la vie, but economic realities may take a back seat to feelings.

  • Enrico Fermi’s Chicago Pile 1 in it’s initial configuration had a tiny output, about enough to light a single light bulb in December 1942. By July 1944 the X-10 Reactor was generating 4,000 kW on a sustained basis.

    Sure, we’re not comparing apples with oranges, but being able to deliver orders of magnitude changes in generating capacity between initial pilot and next stage is very likely.

    The only question is how long it will take to get to the next stage? and can it be achieved by enhancement of the existing technology or are new technologies required.

    I doubt we’ll see widespread use of fusion power generation in my lifetime or probably even my daughters, but it will happen simply because bird choppers and solar panels can only give us an unreliable supply and we need something like fusion to deliver that consistent base load.

    If it can be used for the peakiness of demand power generation then better still, but it’s early days yet. Depends upon initiation costs and fire up speed.

  • tfourier

    Ah yes, net plus energy from a fusion reactor. I remember the first time I read that press release. In the early 1980’s.

    I remember having an argument with a science teacher in secondary school on this very subject, would have been mid 1970’s, who claimed fusion was going to be clean, cheap and limitless source of energy. I pointed out that the same claims were made in the 1940’s and 1950’s for fission.

    Plus, in all fusion reactors is nt there a very intense gamma ray flux due to the fusion process? And what does an intense gamma ray flux do to the containment vessel and its contents…

    Lots of high grade nuclear waste.

    So just another pointless Big Science research project that goes nowhere. Decade in, decade out. Like so much High Energy Physics research. But always a good cover for military related research.

  • Subotai Bahadur

    I am not a physicist, nor do I play one on TV. However, I think it is still a bit too early to get too enthused, if any enthusiasm is warranted.

    From what I have encountered reading, yes they got more out than in . . . if you just count the energy of the lasers into the test device.

    However, every time you convert from one form of energy to another; in this case from electrical to laser, to eventually x-ray, to heat; there are inefficiencies. When you take those into account, and noting that the original electricity had to be generated somewhere and gotten to the lab which introduces even more inefficiencies; from what I understand only that very last stage showed more out than in. Taken as a whole process, it was still more in than out. It is a good thing, but we are a long, long way from generating power.

    Now, toss in non-physics factors. Environmentalists will do anything to keep cheap and available power off line. Just in regulatory delays, they will fight tooth and nail. Expect decades, after the scientific side is proven. I have no doubt that one of their grounds for trying to ban it will be that it will offend Mother Gaia if mere humans use the same power source that stars use. We are looking at generations AFTER the science is conquered before it will be approved, and they only have to win once to functionally shut it down.

    Now, look at the status of our culture, society, and economy. Over there in Britain it is cold and going to get colder. Y’all are running out of energy right smartly. As are we. Both of these are inflicted upon us by those who govern us. [I will leave for later discussion whether that governance is with our consent.]

    Here we have destroyed our internal supply chains, destroyed our energy industry [especially petro-chemical], and pretty much everything [trains, trucks, etc.] moves by diesel. Which we in the industrialize West are deliberately ceasing to produce. It is going to be cold, hungry, and dark out soon.

    Short form, fusion power is generations away, and in a matter of a very few years I rather expect that we will no longer have the infrastructure to produce what we will need to install it, or to use the electricity generated.

    I admit that in the last few months I have become far more pessimistic about the future. But you cannot ignore reality. Civilizations both rise and fall.

    Subotai Bahadur

  • Tim the Coder

    Two questions.
    1. Was the 2.1 MJ input the laser pulse, or the electrical power that went into making the laser pulse. I suspect a 100:1 ratio between the two.
    Even if it was the laser pulse power, that’s 2.1MJ in, of high grade power, and 2.5MJ out, of lower-grade thermal power. So (at best) 40% conversion to electrical power means you are still way short of break-even.

    2. How do you make the tritium? This experiment used tritium made beforehand in a high neutron-flux fission reactor powered by uranium. Loads of fission products and transuranic wastes.
    In theory, you can make the tritium as-you-go from lithium, by absorbing the 14.4 Mev fusion neutron. one atom of tritium per neutron, one neutron per tritium fused…But you need 100% neutron efficiency to make this work…..or you need a neutron multiplier. So what is that multiplier?
    In an H-Bomb, the neutron multiplier is U-238. It is fissioned by the 14.4 Mev fusion neutron and creates 2 or 3 neutrons, to convert the lithium, and to keep the bang going. Most of the bang in an H-Bomb comes from the fissioning U-238, as was clear from the Lucky Dragon incident (or the de Groot paper).
    Again, loads of fission products and high level transuranic waste.

    So how does this ‘clean’ fusion process create the neutron multiplier?

    Is there a NIF budget in planning and approval?

  • Barbarus

    It’s my understanding that a mix of lithium-6 and lithium-7 can be used to produce sufficient tritium. Conveniently, that’s what natural lithium is – although it might turn out to be necessary to adjust the proportions. Where lithium-6 plus a neutron fissions into one helium and one tritium nucleus, lithium-7 plus a (high energy) neutron gives helium, tritium and another neutron.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    We here in Australia also have a fusion project, but this uses Hydrogen and Boron, fused together to make two Helium atoms, with energy left over. Or so the people in it claim.

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Watch as the Greens’ heads explode at the notion of cheap and reliable energy.

  • bobby b

    I’d more likely expect the Greens to celebrate this, claiming that “now that fusion is a reality, we can certainly go ahead and cancel the unneeded production of carbon-based fuels!”

  • Paul Marks

    bobby b – those who control Greens (the watermelons – the people who are “green on the outside and red on the inside”) would be filled with rage and hate (even more than they already are) is nuclear fusion becomes practical.

    Remember they do not give a damn about the environment – their objective is the destruction of the West.

    It is the same with the cultural “DEI” (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) agenda – I was accused, on this site, of holding that this Woke “Western social system” was worse than the People’s Republic of China, the person who made that accusation seemed unable to understand that DEI “Woke” Frankfurt School Marxism is NOT a social system – it is a WEAPON to destroy the West. The People’s Republic of China Communist Party Dictatorship, amongst many others, promotes this attack on the West – obviously it would not use this weapon against itself.

    No more than the People’s Republic of China Communist Party Dictatorship would use the “Green” agenda against itself.

    These things are not social systems (Western or otherwise) both Wokeism and Greenism are WEAPONS to undermine the West.

    If anyone still does not understand, I will try to use an illustration to explain.

    Imagine two people – one an evil person, the other someone the evil person is trying to destroy.

    There are two glasses of potassium cyanide in front of the targeted person – one is the DEI agenda and the other is Greenism (both part of the ESG – Environment and Social Governance agenda, Agenda 2030 and all that).

    The evil person keeps telling the targeted person – “drink up – drink these two glasses of liquid”.

    I jump up and say “Do not drink! – Do you not see, the person who is urging you to drink these glasses of liquid is NOT drinking this stuff themselves, it is POISON”.

    And then some “clever” person says “look Paul Marks hates the West – he thinks the People’s Republic of China is better”.

    It is not a “Western social system” – it (both the DEI and the Greenism) is poison, which I am urging the West to stop drinking.

  • GregWA

    Agree with those advising caution because:

    1) it’s DOE not industry (when industry invests without gov’t subsidies, I’ll get interested);

    2) the Kitty Hawk comparison is premature unless the Wright Bros had used a train to pull a glider (what Tim the Coder said about real energy/fuel in and it’s sources).

  • Myno

    Ditto caution. The physics and engineering of the LLNL experiment are REALLY hard to improve. There are all sorts of limits they are hard up against, and have been up against for decades. That they have managed to improve it this far is laudable, but they need at least another order of magnitude, when they are fighting for factors of 2.

  • It doesn’t matter if fusion works. The deep greens (tough they haven’t always been called that) do not want us to have energy. They don’t like coal, oil, gas, or fission. Every time a new source of energy comes along, they find it deeply wrong. They are tearing down dams. They are screaming down everything else. When fusion is ready for use, they’ll find something wrong with it.

    The Germans are cutting down thousand-year-old forest to make room for wind projects. If they can do that in the name of saving the Earth, they simply are not on the Earth’s side. https://wattsupwiththat.com/2022/05/29/swiss-daily-wind-park-destruction-of-1000-year-old-untouched-german-forest-exposes-absurdity-of-green-energies/ I suspect they won’t even convert the destroyed trees to biomass fuel.

  • The Pedant-General

    We have cheap, clean, carbon-free energy now and in fact have had since the 1950s. It’s called fission, it’s well understood and works at an industrial scale.

    Fusion is a still LONG way off from an engineering perspective and – as noted above – once the loons discover that you’ve got high energy neutrons and gamma radiation everywhere, they’ll do the same nonsense that has stunted our ability to deploy fission.

    My guess is indeed that they’re covering for the them/they baggage snaffler

  • Steven R

    We can’t have fission because the Watermelons saw The China Syndrome once.

    As far as the scientists fudging it, I tend to doubt it. Other scientists would be the first to cry “liar!” and the end goal is that sweet, sweet Nobel Prize in Physics.

    And maybe benefitting all mankind or something like that.

  • Fred the Fourth

    there’s plenty of reporting on the numbers from the NIF experiment, but roughly you’re looking at 400 MJ to power the laser array (housed in a building bigger than Parliament), yielding an infrared pulse of about 5 MJ, converted to UV with 50% efficiency, so about 2.1 MJ impinging on the target, yielding 2.5 MJ.

    The laser efficiency is terrible, even by laser standards, because they throw away everything along the amplification route that diverges at all from the exact pulse shape they want. That’s not really optional, since without a proper, very short, pulse, you don’t get the compression and heating needed. It’s a lot like the complex conventional explosives needed to compress a fission bomb core.

    The pulse, buy the way, is tiny. NIF produces pulses between about 1.5 and 35 picoseconds, which means all that energy is in a set of beams about a meter wide and 1 millimeter long, which then gets focused down to a bunch of pulses each about 1 cubic mm. Power delivery rate is around 500 terawatts.

    This idea’s been around since at least the 1970s, when I had an argument about it with my soon-to-be brother in law, a mere astrophysicist. My High School self had read an article in Scientific American, and was excited.

    NIF, by the way, is the third or fourth generation of big lasers at LLNL. They were designed and built to test concepts and materials related to thermonuclear bombs, since actually exploding those has been officially frowned on for decades.

    Last, they are using the equivalent of a solid Platinum 747 to transport a golf ball from Heathrow to Gatwick.

  • bobby b

    Paul Marks
    December 14, 2022 at 1:04 pm

    bobby b – those who control Greens (the watermelons – the people who are “green on the outside and red on the inside”) would be filled with rage and hate (even more than they already are) is nuclear fusion becomes practical.

    Paul, I agree. My point was that the Greens will jump on this news not because it is really happening, but because they can hold out yet another argument for stopping the drilling and pumping. Once they begin to think it will actually work, they’ll find a new reason to hate it. In short, what Ellen said.

  • bobby b

    US Secretary of Energy Granholm today assured us that energy generation from fusion will be a good thing, as the work force pursuing it will be “equitable … diverse and inclusive”.

    So it’s got that going for it.

    ( https://twitter.com/tomselliott/status/1603044487739088896 )

  • Sean

    The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect has me thinking this is a ‘wet road causes rain’ story. Or close enough to be indistinguishable from nonsense.

  • Disclaimer: I have worked on or adjacent to nuclear energy production in the past (Rancho Seco, Wolf Creek, Grand Gulf).

    However I’m not biased into going full nuclear for power production – as long as the cost of natural gas remains low, that is. It’s ROI.

    IMHO the inertial containment fusion using lasers makes for great press but no power plants. It might make a good spacecraft propulsion (a la Orion Starship). It does make for great weapon testing.

    The breakthroughs in thorium reactors is more noteworthy if you want actual power generation.

    “The China Syndrome” a fine drama, but has as much reality to nuclear power as “Freejack” or Pixar’s “Cars” does to F1 racing. The movie “Silkwood” was poorly done conspiracy trash.

  • TimRules!

    Yeah, but “no”: the devil is in the details (there’s a whole *lot* more power requirement than just the lasers themelves): Jennifer Granholm is full of sh*t (what else is new?).

  • Ellsworth butler

    any energy in the laser ,was generated with about a 60 percent
    prior loss..

  • Johnathan Pearce

    As the “sceptical environmentalist” Bjorn Lomborg has argued in several of his books, including this one, if we are going to spend taxpayers’ money on issues around global warming, or ask the public to sacrifice present and future economic goodies for some supposed benefit centuries ahead, surely it makes more sense to spend on things like R&D into new technologies rather than in policies that will only destroy wealth and create all kinds of harms?

    And as an aside, those environmentalists who are genuinely concerned about the planet, but who also value human life and flourishing, should be super-keen on things like fusion, carbon capture tech, etc. By studying reactions to such innovations, it becomes ever clearer to see which Greens are broadly benevolent towards their fellow humans, and those who seem to be embracing a cultish religion that craves Man’s destruction.

    I also recommend this video interview of fossil fuel champion Alex Epstein by Jordan Peterson. I like JP’s interviews: we get less of his weepy Canadian post-traumatic schtick and he lets the interviewee actually talk. See here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=eDWq7-eP5sE

  • Paul Marks

    The Pedant-General, and others, are correct – if this was really about C02 emissions then there would be nuclear fission plants being built in many parts of the West, with the passionate support of the “Greens”.

    Of course it is NOT really about C02 emissions – which is why they are against nuclear fission.

  • Nicholas (Unlicensed Joker) Gray

    Bobby b, ‘faith in science’? Isn’t science supposed to be about facts, not faith? Maybe you have created a new oxymoron!

  • willful

    I waiting for hyperdrive. “One requirement for ignition is that energy output should exceed the energy input from the laser, i.e., that gain (output divided by input) should be greater than 1. NIF’s laser input of 1.8 MJ is roughly the same as the kinetic energy of a 2-tonne truck traveling at 160 km/h (100 miles/h). The output of the reaction—14 kJ—is equivalent to the kinetic energy of a baseball traveling at half that speed. Numerically speaking, the gain is 0.0077. The experiment “is a good and necessary step, but there is a long way to go before you have energy for mankind,” Campbell says.”

  • bobby b

    But it was a step. A small one, but progress. Too bad that these are always reported as “we’re arrived!” moments when they’re not, because the announcements always end up disappointing those who think the next step is “now build the facility, free power for everybody!”

    You can overmarket things. Now, the next time another good step is made, peoples’ reactions will be skepticism.