By using a giant laser, scientists with the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory say they’ve made a major breakthrough in the quest for nuclear fusion. The multi-billion-dollar taxpayer-funded laser was built with the goal of creating nuclear ignition, a potential source of clean energy in the future. We discuss the breakthrough with the lab’s scientists.

Paul Springer, physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and co-author of the recent fusion results
Denise Hinkel, physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and co-author of the recent fusion results
Amy Standen, reporter for KQED Science

  • Livegreen

    Can we please not just give this technology away to every other country in the world, foes as if they’re friends? At least make sure taxpayer money is reimbursed for all the $ it cost us, & to help improve our education, by licensing to friendly companies who actually pay royalties & protect Intellectual Property, instead of giving it away to dictators & authoritarian governments (and their companies) who just rip us off.

    • thucy

      If the technology works and we don’t share it with China, Japan and Korea, then those Asian countries will be forced to buy cheap U.S. coal, as today’s NY Times explains, and the West Coast will be subject to toxic emissions from US coal burned in Asia:

      It would be for our own self-preservation to share it, but I suspect that if the technology works (IF!), then Asian countries would be willing to pay for it, as it is critical for their survival, too.

      • Livegreen


        First I never said the technology shouldn’t be shared. Yes, it should be. But again, it should be licensed to industry that will pay the licenses to help pay for the public’s investment AND for our students’ education.

        Second, China has a history of stealing technology and IP, from our public and private institutions alike.

        Third, the US government has a history of doing nothing about it.

        So you’re historically and factually wrong (untrue to your name) – its highly likely China won’t want to pay for it and will want to steal it. And that will hurt our research, our education, our jobs and our security.

        • thucy

          “Second, China has a history of stealing technology and IP, from our public and private institutions alike.”

          It’s ironic, but that’s similar to claims made in China about the US when it comes to spying and hacking. But both of us are getting way ahead of ourselves – there’s no indication this will ever work. If it really is some kind of miraculous new way of avoiding more environmentally damaging energy sources (coal emissions from China aren’t helping California) we might consider not just your licensing concerns but the larger good.
          It’s possible that both our concerns are valid, no?

    • Bob Fry

      Great idea, they can waste billions of dollars trying to get this to work too.

      I support basic research but this has consumed a lot of money for little return. On the other hand we’ve spent trillions of pointless wars, so….

      If we allocated $10 billion to subsidize installation of solar panels at $10,000 each, that would take the price of electricity to well below 10 cents / kW-h, and pay for 1 million installations. Do that for a few years, and now you’ve got lots of distributed, clean power that is not susceptible to attacks or disasters on a centralized plant.


    I studied plasma physics and nuclear fusion at U C Berkeley for several years , so where most nuclear fission reactors operate around the temperature of boiling water with the exception of breeder reactors which operate around 700 degrees centigrade , on the other hand to produce a sustain fusion reactions we need temperature more than one million degree, so the problem over the last 60 years was how can we find a containment vessel that can stand such high temperature… In this case where we use laser to produce the fusion ,the reactions only occurs for a fraction of a billionth of second which produce minute net amount of energy…The problem again is how can we create nuclear fusion at a large scale where a proper containment vessel can be made which can stand that high temperature specially the plasma produced is extremely difficult to control it’s spatial configuration which is done by using very strong magnetic field.

    • Guest

      Could it be the military is behind the laser research, because they want to incinerate people from afar?

      • EIDALM


      • Frank, you really seem to be into conspiracies. Did you ever stop to think before you speak? We’ve detonated fusion bombs and the Earth is still here. A fusion reaction can’t possibly turn the Earth into a sun. You’ve been watching too much Star Trek.

        As for the military being behind the fusion research to incinerate people from afar? Speaking as a retired Marine who worked with Defense Contractors. I mean, really? Are you serious? Who [or what] would be strong enough to carry a fusion reactor around?!! Not to mention the environmental impact! What if it caused global warming?!!

  • Guest

    Scientists often wonder at how stars are born. Could it be that some stars are generated when advanced civilizations start experimenting with fusion, and inadvertently turn their home worlds into suns? I ask this because I know from experience that many individuals who get advanced degrees do not suffer from hubris because they have a PhD, but rather they were hubristic and therefore not self-questioning long before. But before physicists and energy corporations appoint themselves to potentially put the entire planet and billions of lives at risk, shouldn’t the rest if us have a say in whether this us worth pursuing?

    Less hubris please. Less boondoggles too.

    • thucy

      A la the Zucker Brothers’ “Top Secret”:

      Doctor Flamond: You see, a year ago, I was close to perfecting the first magnetic desalinization process so revolutionary, it was capable of removing the salt from over 500 million gallons of seawater a day. Do you realize what that could mean to the starving nations of the earth?

      (Val Kilmer as) Nick Rivers: Wow. They’d have enough salt to last forever.

    • Bill_Woods

      “Could it be that some stars are generated when advanced civilizations start experimenting with fusion, and inadvertently turn their home worlds into suns?”


      Even the smallest stars are thousands of times the mass of planets.
      Outside the core of a star, it’s very, very hard to sustain fusion reactions. Even a whiff of air getting into a fusion reactor would quench the reaction.

      • Guest

        That’s your belief. If it turned you’re wrong and out that once ignition occurs the reactor becomes the fuel, then the building, then the town and region and planet… Your present belief would be pretty cold comfort to everyone who’s just been incinerated.

        We don’t need fusion. We can do solar, or thorium or anything else.

        • Bill_Woods

          If you want to learn about how fusion actually works, you could start here:
          In the meantime, remember that fusion bombs have already been set off in the atmosphere, under the sea, and underground without setting the planet on fire.

          • Guest

            Again if you want to put your health at risk, go ahead but don’t put me at risk.

            No to secondhand smoke.
            No to secondhand incineration from fusion.

  • thucy

    So the super-optimistic headline news is not just too good to be true, but “the mother of all boondoggles”?
    It calls to mind Lenny Bruce’s bit where he produced a newspaper on stage with the headline: “Six Million Jews Found in Argentina.”

  • Ben Rawner

    Isn’t this dangerous to test so near a huge population ?

  • jurban

    Besides fusion, what other ancillary discoveries or inventions has this project generated, or could generate? In other words, what else are we discovering? Is it just ignition?

  • puzzled_in_palo_alto

    I applaud the efforts of the physicists and engineers at NIF, ITER, and other facilities to achieve sustained fusion. Surprisingly, subsequent steps in power generation still rely on thermal energy (in this case from fusion) producing steam used to drive turbines coupled to generators. This thermal-to-mechanical-to-electrical energy conversion technology is at least a century old and, more importantly, does not occur with 100% efficiency at each step. Where does the research on direct conversion of thermal to electrical energy stand?


    Did you know that even though the sun is fairly small star ,yet it is more than million times bigger than earth in volume and 333000 times heavier than earth.

  • Robert Steinhaus

    Perhaps it would help listeners if someone explained that the fusion milestone announced in the cited article and on the LLNL website [1] and in the O. A. Hurricane paper in Nature [2] is fuel break even.

    What is fuel breakeven?

    A- Fuel breakeven occurs when the energy deposited into the deuterium–tritium fusion fuel by the laser exceeds the fusion energy generated by the fusion fuel.

    What is engineering breakeven energy?

    A- Engineering breakeven fusion gain occurs when the energy produced from fusion exceeds the energy that must be drawn from the electrical power grid to power the fusion experiment.

    When it is properly explained, the public usually is more interested in engineering fusion gain factor Qe>1
    as only engineering fusion gain factor Qe> 1 means that the fusion experiment is actually producing some net energy above what is required to run the fusion experiment.

    To avoid misunderstanding, it should be understood that NIF is still some ways from engineering break even fusion gain (or Qe>1). Qe>1 means that the NIF experiment produces as much energy from fusion as it takes to power the flash lamp power supplies and the lasers and the rest of the experiment.

    NIF researchers recently reported producing 9.3 x10^15 (9.3 quadrillion) neutrons in their best most recent shot. Each shot, NIF uses ~422 MJ (million joules) of electric energy to charge its large capacitor banks and drive a football-stadium-sized laser that focuses its light on a pellet of frozen deuterium and tritium fuel. (Deuterium and tritium are isotopes of hydrogen.)

    In a complex sequence of events, the light heats a heavy metal shell, producing X-rays, then the X-rays blow outer layers off of the DT pellet, and the force generated by the blow-off compresses the pellet while the laser heats it to fusion temperatures. The energy actually produced from all fusion reactions was about 26 kJ of energy. From the standpoint of engineering break even as measured by Qe=1, NIF currently produces

    0.026 MJ / 422 MJ x 100% = 0.00616% of the energy from fusion needed to reach engineering break-even energy.

    [1] – NIF experiments show initial gain in fusion fuel –
    [2] – Fuel gain exceeding unity in an inertially confined fusion implosion –

    Do Fusion Scientists Have a Duty to Expose Popular Misconceptions and Mistakes in Reporting?
    A large number of articles in the press recently failed to understand that what was achieved was fuel gain, not engineering gain and production of net energy. NPR should be commended in reporting the story on what has been achieved at NIF in the podcast offered above is accurate – if slightly incomplete in leaving out some of the quantitative Big picture in how close NIF is to achieving actual energy production above the energy required to operate the NIF experiment or net energy).

    For those with an interest in fusion, I would like to
    invite you to visit (and like) Fusion Energy League –

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