by Kate Prengaman - Oct 10 2013, 2:40pm CST
The possibility of fusion-based power plants, long a dream of science and science fiction, is getting closer to reality. Fusion, the self-sustaining reaction of high-speed collisions between atoms (well, really, their nuclei) that makes the Sun the Sun, could provide cheap and unlimited energy—that is, if we could only get a reaction started that produces more energy than it needs to get going.
This has been the hard part, but a team of researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has been using the world's most powerful targeted laser system to try to figure it out. The holy grail they are seeking is ignition—the point where the fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining under the conditions above.
Yesterday, the BBC reported that researchers at NIF created a fusion reaction where the energy produced was more than the energy absorbed by the fuel. That's a huge breakthrough, but it's still not as much energy as the lasers that provide the energy were putting in. Some energy in the system is being lost in the process' inefficiencies. So that makes the attempt pretty close but not quite to that ignition point. Read more here.