An article by Paul Rincon on the BBC News web site is reporting a breakthrough in the quest to develop a working fusion reactor at the National Ignition Facilty (NIF) in Livermore, California. It appears that the BBC has been given some information from someone at the facility, because there has been no announcement from NIF itself. This is the key section of the article:
The BBC understands that during an experiment in late September, the amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel – the first time this had been achieved at any fusion facility in the world.
This is a step short of the lab’s stated goal of “ignition”, where nuclear fusion generates as much energy as the lasers supply. This is because known “inefficiencies” in different parts of the system mean not all the energy supplied through the laser is delivered to the fuel.
The process used at NIF involves focusing powerful laser beams on pellets of hydrogen isotopes to create a controlled micro-explosion. If confirmed, this will surely be considered an important milestone and a significant achievement for those working in the field — as well as those who have been supporters of fusion as an energy solution.
Proponents of ‘cold fusion’ (a term coined to distinguish nuclear reactions achievable at room temperature from the traditional ‘hot’ fusion processes like those carried out at the NIF) have long argued that there is an easier and much cheaper way to achieve nuclear reactions that produce excess energy. Fusion projects around the world have consumed billions of government funded dollars over many years, and while many hope one day fusion will be able to supply an inexhaustible amount of energy to the world, future projections of working fusion plants are still decades away. Perhaps this new success will generate some new excitement for fusion.