On 13 December 2022, the US Department of Energy announced that researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the US succeeded in achieving a positive energy balance in the laser fusion process, meaning that more energy of 3.15 MJ was obtained for the first time than was put in by the 2.05 MJ lasers initiating the process.
This is a ground-breaking scientific achievement. It represents a milestone in research work on inertial fusion, where, with the application of powerful laser beams, fusion fuel can be compressed with sufficient precision to maximise the efficiency of the fusion process.
"Monday, 5 December 2022, was an important day in science, (…) During experiments, 192 high energy lasers converge on a target about the size of a peppercorn heating a capsule of deuterium and tritium to over 3 million degrees Celsius and briefly simulating the conditions of a star," Dr Jill Hruby, Under Secretary for Nuclear Security of the U.S. Department of Energy, said at a press conference. "We have taken the first tentative steps towards a clean energy source that can revolutionise the world," she added.
For laser fusion to have practical applications, it is necessary to build more efficient lasers with higher repetition rates so that the interaction with the fuel ball can occur more frequently. The development of new technologies also plays a key role. The road to building a fusion power plant is still quite complicated and scientists still have a lot of work ahead of them. However, the latest experiment shows that it is possible to build it precisely on the basis of inertial fusion powered by lasers.
"A small step has now been taken towards harnessing nature and achieving pure 'star' energy, based on inertial nuclear fusion. Just as the Apollo programme developed in the USA between 1966 and 1972 propelled various fields of science and technology, and it was a success for all mankind when Neil Armstrong took his first step on the moon in 1969, now the result obtained at the NIF will hopefully become the flywheel for the fact that it is possible and worthwhile to follow this development to make nuclear fusion a source of energy for future generations.", Dr. Marcin Rosiński, Head of the Department of Laser Plasma Physics and Applications at the IPPLM, commented the achieved results.
On the occasion of the announcement of success at the NIF, we must not forget about fusion energy developed in the concept with magnetic plasma confinement. In February 2022, it was announced that a record was achieved on the JET tokamak, in which the IPPLM researchers had their contribution as well.