By Scott Pelley, CBS News • Jan 15, 2023
Inside the Nuclear Fusion Breakthrough That Could Be a Step to Unlimited Clean Energy in the Distant Future
Excitement spread in the news in early 2023 when breakthroughs were made regarding nuclear fusion. If nuclear fusion could be used for commercial power generation, it could create unlimited and carbon-free energy. However, this is just the beginning of the conversation and innovations.
Nuclear fusion itself is not a new discovery, in fact it was mastered decades ago. Fusion occurs when hydrogen atoms are forced to fuse together. The challenge lies in the intricacies of controlled fusion and harnessing this power to create useful and safe energy.
Modern nuclear power plants split atoms apart, but fusing them together is actually many times more powerful and produces less long-term radiation. However, transitioning from the first “ignition” to a functioning power plant is extremely difficult.
“So if you can get it hot enough, dense enough, fast enough, and hold it together long enough, the fusion reactions start to self-sustain,” explained Kim Budil, Director of The U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The Livermore Laboratory has been experimenting with nuclear fusion since opening in the 1990s and was able to successfully create about three units of energy in December 2022. These results speak to a bright future and are a major accomplishment, but many doubt we’re on track to meet President Biden’s goal for commercial fusion power in a decade.
Despite the hurdles, there are over 30 private companies currently working toward similar goals but it’s still unknown how soon fusion power will become a part of our country’s energy mix.