Breakthrough on Nuclear Fusion

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Scientists made a major breakthrough in the quest for the ultimate energy source: fusion. Reports from the National Ignition Facility (NIF) indicate that scientists generated more power out than was put in, a long sought after goal for the development of fusion. The NIF uses giant lasers to shoot a fuel pellet made up of hydrogen. Unlike conventional nuclear power that uses energy from splitting atoms, fusion energy forces atoms to fuse together, with energy as a byproduct.

Fusion energy has been seen as the Holy Grail for energy. It theoretically could provide the world with endless amounts of clean baseload energy. The fuel source – hydrogen isotopes – would be limitless and available to all countries. It would not have the long-lived radioactive byproducts that nuclear fission experiences. And there is a negligible chance of a meltdown issue, as there isn't a runaway chain reaction like with fission.

But fusion is really difficult to do. Located within the Lawrence Livermore National Lab (LLNL), the NIF has been working on fusion for years, but progress has been frustratingly slow. The problem has been that when shooting the 2 millimeterwide fuel pellet, it wouldn't crush symmetrically. This limited how much energy the scientists could realistically achieve. In 2012 Congress narrowed the NIF's mission, a rebuke for failing to achieve its much-hyped goals of reaching "ignition," the point at which the fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining.

The latest progress at the NIF is significant, but the point at which fusion can become a realistic power source remains decades away. Fusion scientists and engineers are confident they can build a practical power plant sometime in the future, but the economics are highly uncertain. One of the main obstacles to future progress will be budget constraints, although after years of suffering budget cuts, Congress increased the fusion 2014 budget by $100 million.

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  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 5:37 PM, jameswmakepeace wrote:

    If ever an article was written by an interest group that is scared of what fusion energy will bring, this has to be it !

    Fusion energy will not only be clean, safe and dependable for the truly long term (which fossil fuels are not) but, when it is mastered, (which is close to happening, it will rapidly change the geopolitical map of our world and the outlook for mankind and every other living creature on our earth.

    How crudely this article attempts to dismiss laser driven inertial confinement fusion as it approaches full proof of principle at the Livermore Laboratory !

    The 2012 amendment to the NIF mission was not a rebuke, it was a recognition that the narrowly imposed "deadline" of September 2012 for achievement of "breakeven" was nothing more than an accountant's artificial "line in the sand", drawn with no more understanding of the scientific realities than any government accountant could be expected to have of the intricacies of nuclear physics.

    Exactly one year after that "deadline" expired, the National Ignition Facility lasers achieved exactly what had been intended and delivered scientific proof of principle, from which point the challenge is now being taken up, to raise the energy output to commercially viable levels.

    Further laser shots have already achieved very significant increases along this path and it must now be recognised that laser fusion is close to achieving what is termed "first ignition" of a fully burning plasma in controlled fusion driven by lasers.

    The goals are not "much hyped" as the article states... the goals are absolutely clear... to achieve commercially viable fusion, first on an experimental basis and subsequently with a prototype power plant which can prove that commercially meaningful energy can be fed to the grid.

    It is also rash to state that "the economics are highly uncertain"... once the physics has been conquered, the refinement of this process will make the economics very clear indeed.

    Little wonder that the fossil fuel industry is scared of fusion energy... Rightly so !

    Fusion will change the way we generate energy on our planet, giving our terribly-damaged environment a desperately needed break (just in time) from the ravages of two centuries' intensive burning of fossil fuels.

    Those in the energy business who are smart enough to invest earliest in laser fusion energy will reap the rewards, while those who cling to the old ways and try to pretend this advance isn't happening will wish they had been a little more courageous and savvy when the opportunity was staring them in the face.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 6:41 PM, stockanal45 wrote:

    Jameswmakepeace, where do you get your information about fusion energy? I would like to learn more about it.

  • Report this Comment On February 16, 2014, at 11:18 PM, bigfoot wrote:

    Ignition? Go to Bikin Atoll.

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 12:17 AM, predfern wrote:

    Breeder reactors are a much better bet since they already exist and are a proven technology. The Argonne breeder worked flawlessly for 30 years because it used double walled tubes for the sodium coolant and a conservative reactor design. Extracting uranium from seawater will give us plenty of energy for 2 billion years at which time the sun will gobble us up. Thorium molten salt reactors are OK but have much less breeding. Breeder reactors can use the nuclear waste from current reactors and with reprocessing the small amount of waste left over is only radioactive for a few hundred years. Yucca mountain is obsolete. If you want fusion then mining the moon for Helium 3 is the way to go. It involves a much safer and more efficient fusion reaction and produces the usual Helium 4 that we use here on earth for industrial processes as a by product.

  • Report this Comment On February 17, 2014, at 5:13 PM, PackofCardsJK wrote:

    In terms of small cap pure plays, NIF is a government facility so there's no opportunity to invest in them.

    There are a few private companies pursuing Nuclear Fusion such as General Fusion

    http://www.generalfusion.com/

    But it's a private company and it's not yet listed on the stock market.

    Oh well maybe some time in the future some publicly listed fusion companies might appear...

  • Report this Comment On February 18, 2014, at 2:43 AM, buckfinster wrote:

    Fusion researchers have been lying to the public for scores of years; each time saying that they're only 15 years away from break-even or ignition. They're really just a bunch of welfare queens in white coats to like to keep the money flowing ... and they've really never produced anything of value for mankind. Super frauds is what they are.

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