Scientists Achieve Nuclear Fusion Energy Breakthrough in the US

In March, the White House held a summit to seek to accelerate commercial fusion efforts.

“Developing an economically attractive approach to fusion energy is a grand scientific and engineering challenge,” Tammy Ma, who leads an effort at Livermore to study the possibilities. “Without a doubt, it will be a monumental undertaking.”

Dr. Ma said that a report commissioned by the energy department to provide a framework for laser fusion energy research would come out soon.

“Such a program,” she said, “will inevitably require participation from across the community,” including academia, start-up companies and public utilities in addition to national laboratories like Livermore.

The results announced Tuesday will benefit the scientists working on the nuclear stockpile, the NIF’s primary purpose. By performing these nuclear reactions in a lab at a less destructive scale, scientists aim to replace the data they used to gather from underground nuclear bomb detonations, which the United States stopped in 1992.

The greater fusion output from the facility will produce more data “that allows us to maintain the confidence in our nuclear deterrent without the need for further underground testing,” Dr. Herrmann said. “The output, that 30,000 trillion watts of power, creates very extreme environments in itself” that more closely resemble an exploding nuclear weapon.

Riccardo Betti, chief scientist of the Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester, who was not involved with this particular Livermore experiment, said, “This is the goal, to demonstrate that one can ignite a thermonuclear fuel in the laboratory for the first time.”

“And this was done,” he added. “So this is a great result.”

Henry Fountain and Zach Montague contributed reporting.

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