The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) led by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm announced last December 13, 2022, that scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have achieved what is known as scientific energy breakeven. This breakthrough in national defense and clean power has been decades in the making. It will pave the way for future innovations. Scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) ignited the first controlled fusion experiment in history on December 5 to achieve this milestone, which is also known as scientific energy breakeven. This breakthrough, which produced more energy from fusion than the laser energy used to power it, will provide unprecedented assistance to support NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program and will give critical information about the potential of fusion energy, a clean energy source that would have a major impact on President Biden’s efforts to achieve a net-zero carbon economy.
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm said, “This is a significant achievement for the National Ignition Facility and its employees, who have dedicated their lives to seeing fusion ignition become a reality. This achievement will certainly spur even more research,” she said. “The Biden-Harris Administration supports our leading scientists, such as those at the National Ignition Facility, who can assist us in solving humanity’s most complicated and pressing issues, such as providing clean energy to fight climate change and maintaining a nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing.”
Fusion has been a theoretical field of study for over a century, but it has been a difficult journey from knowledge to action. Today’s achievement demonstrates what can be accomplished with dedication and perseverance,” said Arati Prabhakar, President Barack Obama’s chief science and technology advisor.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) thanks the remarkable scientists and staff at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the National Ignition Facility for making history on Monday, December 5, 2022. The Stockpile Stewardship Program has entered a new era thanks to their incredible work. We thank Congress for supporting the National Ignition Facility because their faith in innovative science has been critical to our mission. The nationwide laboratories of DOE and our international partners have demonstrated the importance of cooperation.”
According to LLNL Director Kim Budil, the pursuit of fusion ignition in the lab is one of humanity’s most important scientific challenges, and achieving it is a victory for science, engineering, and, most importantly, humanity. This has been the vision that has driven 60 years of continuous research, development, expansion of knowledge, and the development of new solutions to address the new issues. These are the issues that the U.S. national laboratories were created to handle.”
A future in which new clean fusion energy powers our lives, rather than fossil fuels, is imminent because of this remarkable scientific achievement, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer said. Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) is a groundbreaking technology developed by Lawrence Livermore National Labs and its partners in the U.S. that was jointly developed by the University of Rochester’s Laser Energetics Lab in New York. To make this clean energy future a reality, the Department of Energy-funded institutions, such as the Rochester Laser Lab, will have to double down on their cutting-edge research. As a result, I’m proud to announce that the National Defense Authorization Act has authorized $624 million for the ICF program this year, the highest ever.
“I applaud the team at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the National Ignition Facility for their historical achievement after more than a decade of scientific and technical innovation,” said U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (CA). “This is an exciting step in fusion and everyone at Lawrence Livermore and NIF should be proud of this landmark achievement.”
Today, we stand on the shoulders of decades of Livermore scientists to make an important step forward. We still have a long road ahead of us, but this is an important first step. I want to commend the U.S. Department of Energy and everyone who contributed to the creation of this promising breakthrough, which might help drive a brighter clean energy future for the United States and humanity. Senator Jack Reed (RI), Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.
“This significant scientific advance is a crucial step toward clean energy futures,” said California Senator Alex Padilla (LLNL). Fusion energy has the potential to be a game-changer in terms of clean energy innovation, and I’m pleased that California scientists continue to lead the way in developing environmentally friendly technologies. I commend the scientists at LLNL for their dedication to a clean energy future, and I look forward to working with them to ensure they have the resources and support they need to continue their important work.”
Representative Zoe Lofgren (CA-19) congratulated the National Ignition Facility (NIF) on its recent record-breaking performance. The experiment in August 2021 was especially impressive, she said, because NIF used a less spherically symmetrical target than in the experiment in March. Fusion energy commercialisation is now a reality, she said. We must fully fund and properly implement the fusion research provisions in the recent CHIPS and Science Act, as well as in future legislation. We created the Manhattan Project during World War II to achieve a speedy result. There are now even bigger challenges facing the world, so we must double down and accelerate our research to explore new pathways for clean and limitless energy. Fusion promises just that.
“It is great to see NIF, the United States’ most advanced nuclear research facility, has achieved fusion ignition, which might someday provide for a new clean and sustainable energy source. Fusion research at NIF will guarantee the safety and dependability of our nuclear stockpile, open new avenues of science, and enable us to power our homes and offices in the future in a variety of ways, including new science. I thank the scientists and researchers who worked so hard and dedicated themselves to this groundbreaking scientific accomplishment, and I will continue to push for NIF funding to support fusion research advancements.”
For the first time, LLNL demonstrated the scientific basis for inertial fusion energy (IFE) by delivering 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy to the target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output. In order to achieve simple, affordable IFE to power homes and businesses, DOE is currently restarting a large-scale, coordinated IFE programme in the United States. Many advanced science and technology innovations are still required to accomplish simple, affordable IFE. In addition to private-sector investment, much progress towards fusion commercialization is anticipated.
Scientists at LLNL theorized that lasers could be used to induce fusion in the 1960s. Fusion occurs when two light nuclei combine to form a single heavier nucleus, releasing a huge quantity of energy. In the ensuing decades, LLNL scientist John Nuckolls led the development of inertial confinement fusion, which has been researched and developed in lasers, optics, diagnostics, target manufacturing, computational modelling, and experimental planning.
NIF, the world’s most powerful and energetic laser system, was created as a result of LLNL’s endeavour to pursue this concept. NIF is a huge stadium-sized laser system located in Livermore, California that generates laser beams to replicate the conditions found in the cores of stars and giant planets as well as in exploding nuclear weapons.
The dedication of LLNL employees and countless collaborators at DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and the Nevada National Security Site; General Atomics; academic institutions such as the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University, as well as international partners such as the United Kingdom’s Atomic Weapons Establishment and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission were crucial to achieving ignition. Congressional and DOE stakeholders were also crucial in this regard.