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US confirms major step towards clean and inexhaustible energy with nuclear fusion: ‘We have simulated a star’

The dream of nuclear fusion, a clean, inexhaustible and cheap form of energy, is closer today. As reported by the US press this weekend, this Tuesday US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm confirmed a “major scientific breakthrough”: a team from California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has achieved the first breakthrough. So-called “ignition”: the fusion of atomic nuclei produces more energy than the reaction is worth.

A “brief simulation of the star” was made possible, US Undersecretary for Nuclear Security, Jill Hruby, summed up. This advance “will go down in the history books,” Granholm summed up. Now, for the first time since the goal began in the 1950s, net energy gains have been achieved. However, the advance has not yet been published in any scientific journal, so there is no independent confirmation of it.

“This happened after 60 years of experimentation,” said Jill Hruby, to emphasize the long scientific path followed to date. “It came from the accumulated work that was done before. and the tireless efforts of hundreds of people.”

The LLNL researchers used 2.1 megajoules to cause nuclear fusion and would have received 2.5 megajoules: a net gain of 0.4 megajoules. In recent days there was even talk of 3 megajoules, which would increase the net profit to 0.9 megajoules.

“Inflammation is the first step,” the LLNL scientists explained. From here, “much needs to be done to commercialize this energy,” they added. Among them, you have to get a lot of ignition and “result” material per minute to be able to do this. “It will take a decade of investment, but I don’t think it will be six or five,” he predicted.

For several days, information about these results collected letters from researchers specializing in nuclear physics from half the world (the milestone will be reached on December 5). Now this has been confirmed at a press conference that has caused huge international anticipation.

This progress was evaluated by the Biden administration as a great success for science projects funded by public money. The announcement puts the US at the top of a race in which the great powers compete.

An important milestone was realized in the LLNL infrastructure called “National Ignition Facility” (NIF, in English acronym). With $3.5 billion in federal funds, nuclear weapons are tested at this compound, among other areas.

“little sun”

Nuclear fusion is the same process by which the Sun and other stars generate energy. It mainly consists of fusion of nuclei of atoms of light elements. In the case of the Sun and the LLNL experiment, hydrogen atoms or their isotopes: deuterium and tritium.

The solar radiation that reaches the earth in the form of light and heat comes from this process of nuclear fusion. In the case of the Sun, this fusion of the nuclei of hydrogen atoms turns them into helium. The mass of helium is less than hydrogen atoms, therefore, following Einstein’s famous equation that shows the equivalence between mass and energy (E=mc²), the mass of hydrogen that is formed as a result of its fusion into helium is converted into energy.

Until now, and for decades, causing nuclear fusion on Earth required physical conditions that consumed more energy than the reaction produced. Experts consulted by the media in recent days agree on the milestones, but warn that there is still a long way to go before nuclear fusion energy can be used in a controlled manner and supply electricity to the grid.

Unlike fossil fuels, nuclear fusion does not produce greenhouse gases; It also produces no radioactive waste. To date, and under the conditions of nuclear fusion, the only viable nuclear energy is based on the opposite process: division of nuclei (word division is from the same family as a crack).

energy division This is achieved by splitting the nuclei of atoms of heavy elements such as uranium and plutonium. It is a dirty source of energy because it produces radioactive waste that is harmful to life and is dangerous because it is produced in nuclear plants subject to accidents such as Chernobyl or Fukushima, although it does not emit greenhouse gases (such as CO2) when it is consumed.

laser fusion

It takes a lot of energy to fuse hydrogen nuclei to get them close enough to turn into plasma (a kind of electrically charged gas). In a breakthrough confirmed today, researchers have heated atoms by exposing hydrogen isotope particles to one of the world’s largest laser beams: this causes them to explode as plasma, making them denser. This is where the merger takes place. Therefore, this process, in which high temperature plays an important role, is also called thermonuclear fusion.

In addition to the method used in the United States, an international megaproject consisting of 35 countries is working on a thermonuclear alternative to lasers called magnetic fusion. In this method, it is the magnetic field that traps the electrically charged particles in the plasma.

The device that generates this magnetic field has a toroidal shape. It is called a tokamak and was invented by Soviet engineers in the 50s. That’s exactly it ITER, an international experimental reactor, the construction of which began in 2013 in Kadara (France) and which is expected to be completed by 2025. China, the European Union, the United States, Russia, India, Japan and South Korea, among other countries, are collaborating on this project. . The budget taken exceeds 22,000 million euros, mostly state money.

Source: El Diario





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