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ragingloli's avatar

Is it not sad, that the media is hyping up the latest fusion "breakthrough", even though it was not really a breakthrough?

Asked by ragingloli (51872points) December 23rd, 2022

Their, the NIF’s, achievement was that their laser delivered 2MJ of energy into the target, and they got 3MJ of energy out of the reaction, which is called “net gain”.
Which is all fine and dandy, but what they failed to mention is that the laser may have delivered 2MJ of energy into the reaction, but the laser apparatus itself consumed 400MJ of energy, so they actually only produced less than 1 percent of the energy they put in.

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6 Answers

gorillapaws's avatar

@ragingloli I’m not a nuclear physicist, but if the laser apparatus is a fixed amount of energy to run and doesn’t increase with the energy required for the fusion reaction, then if the reaction can be scaled, the 400MJ of energy would be negligible if the output is gigawatt-hours of power.

Entropy's avatar

I’m aware of this and have been mentioning this caveat to friends who got over-excited. It’s actually even worse than you say because this form of fusion, compression with lasers, seems more complicated than magnetic confinement and will be harder to scale up. You have to keep replacing that deuterium pellet and you have to do it fast with alot of lasers all working together perfectly.

Further, no other lab has been able to reproduce the National Ignition Facility’s past successes because what they’re doing is so tricky. Reproducibility is kind of a big deal in science (at least it’s supposed to be).

But all of that is not to say it wasn’t a breakthrough, it’s just to say that the hype is a overstated. This was a milestone no other effort had reached before, even with the caveat of only measuring the energy input at the point of reaction. So it’s progress. Taking multiple approaches is also a good way to proceed. If everyone just chants ‘Tokamak’ over and over again, or even ‘Stellerator’, you get less innovation.

Fusion is probably half a century away from commercial reality. And I think that’s the OPTIMISTIC end of the time frame. It’s still worth doing because the math and physics checks out. This CAN work. This isn’t like Cold Fusion or Zero Point vacuum energy which are scam science. But it’s going to take alot of time and money to get there. But when we do, fusion is going to blow the competition away because the amount of power means that even a tenth of a percent improvement in yield will produce oodles more power.

I’m skeptical that wind and solar can practically become the backbone of a global energy economy. I think fusion is 50–100 years away. I think we need medium term solutions to produce reliable base load power. Fission and geothermal are those answers.

flutherother's avatar

If you were looking for the Holy Grail and were told you had just taken one step in the right direction towards finding it then that would be interesting wouldn’t it?

Caravanfan's avatar

My geek group picked that up a week or so ago and we had a long discussion about it. I wouldn’t call it sad but it’s certainly not surprising considering.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

Reminds me of that last “life on Mars” news conference.

Caravanfan's avatar

@Blackwater_Park Not quite that bad. That was just plain wrong. This was just misleading, and anybody who knows about it read immediately about what it really was about. This wasn’t the fault necessarily of LLL, but of the clickbait news sources who covered it. The research they are doing there is sound.

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