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Scientists ever closer to the ‘holy grail’ of clean energy

September 14, 2023

In December last year, the US Department of Energy announced that scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory had carried out a nuclear fusion reaction that generated more energy than they had used. The achievement, unprecedented worldwide, was celebrated as a game-changer for the future of clean energy. Now, The Washington Post revealed that the breakthrough has been repeated, with an even greater scope.

The Holy Grail

Nuclear fusion is described as the “Holy Grail” of energy production, as it could mean an almost unlimited source of clean energy. It is the process that powers the Sun, responsible for its heat and light, and other stars. According to the BBC, it works by joining pairs of light atoms and forcing them together, releasing a lot of energy.

It is the opposite of nuclear fission, where heavy atoms separate. Fission is the technology currently used in nuclear power plants, but the process also produces a large amount of waste that emits radiation for a long time.

How close?

Scientists say the new results are an important milestone for science, pursued for decades, but there is still a long way to go before fusion provides electricity to homes. “With concerted effort and investment, a few decades of research into the underlying technologies could put us in a position to build a power plant,” said LLNL director Kim Budil in an interview with the BBC.

One of the main obstacles, according to her, is reducing costs in conjunction with increasing the scale of energy production. The first experiment was only able to produce enough energy to boil 15 to 20 kettles and cost US$3.5 billion.

Source: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory | The Washington Post | BBC News