In that moment, nuclear fusion finally came true. Scientists have been studying nuclear fusion for years in order to create energy on Earth comparable to that of a star, and recently a team of scientists in the United States has succeeded in “burning plasma” through high-powered laser light, which instantly allows nuclear fusion to produce more energy than the total input energy.
Nuclear fusion essentially simulates the reactions that occur in solar energy. The sun’s core, at about 27 million degrees Celsius, fuses about 620 million tons of hydrogen into 616 million tons of helium per second, converting 4 million tons of matter into energy, and to create these reactions on Earth requires a large amount of energy to start the process.
This achievement took place at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which has been open since 2009 and where scientists have been working on nuclear fusion technology to generate massive pressures and temperatures with 192 lasers emitting 1.9 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet energy, which is then shone onto a ring-space device (or ring-space device) the size of a ball bearing. The fuel capsule in the hohlraum, which is the size of a ball bearing, is imploded to create the opportunity to fuse atoms into helium and release enormous amounts of energy.
In this case, the fusion reaction at the National Ignition Facility successfully released 1.35 MJ of energy, the first time the fusion process has produced more energy than the total input energy.
LLNL physicist Alex Zylstra said that for decades nuclear fusion experiments have used extensive “external” heating systems to drive fusion reactions at high temperatures and pressures, but now we have reached a new milestone by allowing the fusion reaction to heat itself for the first time. According to the team, this is known as self-heating, where the nuclear fusion plasma heats itself and enters a burning plasma state when the energy it heats itself is greater than the external energy.
Now scientists are taking a small but crucial step forward in the National Ignition Facility. In this experiment, scientists first fine-tuned the device, including expanding the laser energy focused on the fuel, while changing the geometry of the target and the way energy is transmitted between laser beams, to create self-heating plasma by controlling the process of compressing and heating the fuel implosion in a new way.
LLNL physicist and lead author Annie Kritchey said we have achieved the first burning plasma state in a nuclear fusion research facility. Even though the plasma lasts only nanoseconds and it will take decades to achieve a sustained and stable nuclear fusion reaction, the team is finally taking an important step toward ignition and considers the fleeting self-heating plasma to be an important proof of concept.