US Scientists Just Repeated A Game-Changing Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough

hero nuclear fusion illustration
Toward the end of last year, the US Department of Energy (DOE) announced that scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) had achieved a major scientific breakthrough involving fusion ignition. In what was touted as the first controlled fusion experiment in history, scientists were able to produce more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it. Now, that remarkable breakthrough has been replicated again, but with a higher energy yield, according to an LLNL spokesperson.

target chamber
Target chamber located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The most recent experiment was carried out on July 30, 2023. It followed the same procedure as the one on December 5, 2022, which focused a laser on a target of fuel to fuse two light atoms into a denser one, and in turn, releasing energy.

Speaking about the first successful attempt, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm remarked, "This is a landmark achievement for the researchers and staff at the National Ignition Facility who have dedicated their careers to seeing fusion ignition become a reality, and this milestone will undoubtedly spark even more discovery."

The first experiment was able to surpass the fusion threshold by delivering 2.05 megajoules of energy to the target, which resulted in 3.15 megajoules of fusion energy output. While the results were very promising, the team said that many advanced science and technology developments are still needed to make the process affordable enough to power things such as homes and businesses. The DOE does say, however, there is a lot of momentum to drive rapid progress toward fusion commercialization.

LLNL built a series of increasingly powerful laser systems, which led to the creation of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world's largest and most energetic laser system. NIF is comparable to the size of a sports stadium and utilizes powerful laser beams in order to create temperatures and pressures likened to the cores of stars and giant planets, as well as inside exploding nuclear weapons.

Following the first fusion ignition experiment, US Representative Eric Swalwell remarked, "I am thrilled that NIF - the United States' most cutting-edge nuclear research facility - has achieved fusion ignition, potentially providing for a new clean and sustainable energy source in the future. This breakthrough will ensure the safety and reliability of our nuclear stockpile, open new frontiers in science, and enable progress toward new ways to power our homes and offices in future decades."