“Researchers at the National Ignition Facility in Livermore, California, home of the world’s most powerful laser, announced on Tuesday that they crossed the critical threshold in their pursuit of fusion power: getting more energy out of the reaction than they put in.
This is 1) a massive scientific advancement, and 2) still a long, long (long) way off from harnessing fusion, the reaction that powers the sun, as a viable source of abundant clean energy. On December 5, the team fired 192 laser beams at a tiny fuel pellet, producing slightly more energy than the lasers put in, “about 2 megajoules in, about 3 megajoules out,” said Marvin Adams, deputy administrator for defense programs at the National Nuclear Security Administration, at a press conference Tuesday.
To make fusion something that could actually produce electricity for the power grid, it can’t just inch over the ignition finish line; it has to blow past it. This announcement is an important incremental advance, but the breakthrough doesn’t go far enough to be of practical use. Because NIF itself is a research laboratory, its technology is not intended to produce power. So designing a fusion reactor to harness this new approach will be its own engineering challenge.”