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USA: Nuclear Fusion Power Plants





In mid-December, all the international media covered the news of a breakthrough in the science of electricity: in the United States they managed to produce energy through nuclear fusion, producing more energy than needed to trigger the production process. Nuclear fusion, unlike nuclear fission - the process with which current nuclear power plants work - would produce energy without giving off C02 and above all without producing waste. Someone has already dubbed it 'the discovery of the century', even if it will take at least 30 years for its commercial use, due to enormous scientific and technological difficulties. Others, on the other hand, suspect that it is only speculative news and that therefore today the technique of nuclear fusion still cannot find a place among man's technologies. US Energy Secretary Jennifer M. Granholm said that "This is a scientific milestone" "It's just the beginning," she added at a press conference. The Department of Energy has thus confirmed what was anticipated by the American media: for the first time in history, scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have produced a greater quantity of energy from fusion than that which is consumed during the process, a known concept as "net energy gain".

"This is one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century," cheered Granholm, explaining that researchers have been working on this for decades. "This strengthens our national security and the fusion allows us to replicate conditions found only in the stars and the sun," added the US minister. "This milestone brings us significantly closer to the possibility of carbon-neutral fusion energy to power our society," concluded Granholm. The researchers achieved this very important milestone on December 5, 2022 using a nuclear fusion technology called "inertial confinement". The experiment took place by generating energy thanks to 192 laser beams in a few billionths of a second, the energy produced in the United States, in the National Ignition Facility experimental structure located in California, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The experiment took place inside a vacuum chamber, i.e. a container from which the air is pumped out, and the lasers were aimed at a perforated cylindrical container a few millimeters long. The tiny cylinder in turn encloses a spherical capsule with a diameter of three or four millimeters, consisting of a shell that encloses two key elements for obtaining the nuclear fusion reaction: deuterium and tritium. Penetrating through the holes in the cylinder, the laser beams hit the inside of the container, generating X-rays and these hit the shell of the sphere, removing it and transforming it into plasma, i.e. into a gas of electrically charged particles. Expanding, the plasma he compressed the deuterium and tritium to the ideal pressure and temperature to trigger the fusion reaction.

In recent years, more than $5 billion in funding has been poured into private fusion companies, according to investments tracked by the Fusion Industry Association. Companies are pursuing different designs for fusion reactors, but most rely on fusion occurring in plasma, a hot gas. Companies pursuing laser inertial fusion have raised an estimated $180 million. Gates and other wealthy investors, including Jeff Bezos and Peter Thiel, are hoping to commercialize the merger amid a cleantech investment boom. Breakthrough has invested in two fusion firms, Commonwealth Fusion Systems and Zap Energy. While founders of technology companies were early investors in merger companies, funding has started to come from more traditional sources, said Greg Twinney, chief executive officer of General Fusion, who said last year that he raised $130 million. "As we evolve the technology and demonstrate how major technology milestones work, we see that some of these larger institutions are able to intervene in that."