Watch LLNL Announcement Live Online


A major breakthrough in nuclear fusion by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California will be announced by Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm at 10 a.m. ET.

The Department of Energy has not given away any details on the nature of the announcement, but clues have been leaked by those involved.

Private investment in nuclear fusion has skyrocketed during 2022, as concerns over climate change and the energy crisis sway the direction of global funding.

Stock image illustration of nuclear fusion concept. Fusion involves thrusting two hydrogen atoms together with such force that they combine into a single helium atom, releasing large amounts of energy in the process.
EzumeImages/Getty

For decades, nuclear fusion has been touted as a solution to our dependence on fossil fuels by providing a clean, nearly limitless source of energy. However, because of the high temperatures and pressures involved in the process, scientists have so far been unable to get more energy out of a nuclear fusion system than that put in.

Nuclear fusion creates energy in the same way as the sun: it occurs when two atoms of hydrogen are thrust together with such force that they combine into a single helium atom, releasing a huge amount of energy in the process.

Unlike nuclear fission, the energy reaction we currently use, fusion does not create radioactive waste, and the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that it produces three to four times more energy.

But, to make fusion reactions work, the temperature inside the reaction vessel must be hotter than the center of the sun: many fusion reactors top temperatures of 180 million Fahrenheit. Clearly, this requires a lot of energy, so making a net energy gain out of nuclear fusion has so far been impossible.

Billions of dollars and decades of research have gone into chasing this “net-gain energy” goal, with laboratories around the world inching ever closer to the elusive target. However, researchers at the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory may have just successfully overcome this barrier.

A source familiar with the project confirmed to CNN that the research team has, for the first time ever, produced more energy from a nuclear-fusion reaction than was put in. Many have speculated that this breakthrough will be the subject of today’s announcement.

The Lawrence Livermore National Ignition Facility creates nuclear energy from a fusion process called “thermonuclear inertial fusion.” In simple terms, this means that scientists fire hydrogen pellets into an array of lasers, which essentially creates a series of fast, repeated explosions that produce energy in the form of heat.

We still have a long way to go, though, before nuclear fusion can produce enough energy to power our electricity grids and heat our homes effectively. “At the moment, we’re spending a huge amount of time and money for every experiment we do,” Jeremy Chittenden, co-director of the Centre for Inertial Fusion Studies at Imperial College London, told CNN. “We need to bring the cost down by a huge factor.”

If the announcement today indeed reveals a net-gain of energy has been achieved, the next steps will be scaling up fusion projects to produce more energy at a lower cost. It will still be years before the process is commercially viable, but this breakthrough is still an exciting step.

The announcement will be made live at the Energy.gov website.

Do you have a tip on a science story that Newsweek should be covering? Do you have a question about nuclear fusion? Let us know via science@newsweek.com.



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