Department of Energy Reports Major Breakthrough in Fusion Energy Research

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) on Dec. 13 announced the achievement of fusion ignition at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), a development that DOE said is a “major scientific breakthrough decades in the making that will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power.”

DOE reported that on December 5, a team at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) conducted the first controlled fusion experiment in history to reach this milestone, also known as scientific energy breakeven, meaning it produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to drive it.

LLNL’s experiment surpassed the fusion threshold by delivering 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy to the target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output, demonstrating for the first time a most fundamental science basis for inertial fusion energy. 

DOE said that many advanced science and technology developments are still needed to achieve simple, affordable inertial fusion energy to power homes and businesses. DOE is in the process of restarting a broad-based, coordinated inertial fusion energy program in the U.S.

Fusion is the process by which two light nuclei combine to form a single heavier nucleus, releasing a large amount of energy.

In the 1960s, a group of scientists at LLNL hypothesized that lasers could be used to induce fusion in a laboratory setting. This idea became inertial confinement fusion, kicking off more than 60 years of research and development in lasers, optics, diagnostics, target fabrication, computer modeling and simulation, and experimental design.

To pursue this concept, LLNL built a series of increasingly powerful laser systems, leading to the creation of NIF, the world’s largest and most energetic laser system.

NIF, which is located at LLNL in Livermore, Calif., is the size of a sports stadium and uses laser beams to create temperatures and pressures like those in the cores of stars and giant planets, and inside exploding nuclear weapons.

Click here for a news conference held on Dec. 13 by Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm and other officials related to the announcement.