Fusion breakthrough holds great potential

This week, American scientists confirmed a key milestone in the quest for clean energy. The United States (US) National Ignition Facility in California said in a recent experiment, it was able to generate more energy from a nuclear fusion reaction than what was put into it. Nuclear fusion is the phenomenon that releases energy from the sun and stars. Fusion reactions produce no greenhouse gases or radioactive byproducts. Scientists estimate a single gram of fusion fuel can produce as much energy as a ton of coal. The earth has an abundance of fusion fuel that scientists estimate can cover the demand for energy for millions of years. Many have likened the objective of creating a working fusion reactor to having our own sun – with potentially limitless energy.

But the world has a long way to go for that dream to become a reality. At best, this week’s milestone is akin to the breakthrough of the Wright Brothers in 1903, while the energy challenge can be equated to the launch of Boeing 747 jetliner 66 years later, when it sowed the seeds of democratised air travel. This is because while the fusion experiment did yield more energy than of the lasers (2.05 megajoules) used to ignite the fuel, the setup is estimated to consume over 100 times more power than the 3.15 megajoules of energy derived. It will take years of innovation before fusion becomes viable for use in nuclear power plants. Yet, the milestone cannot be overstated because of the promise it holds, the potential that theories suggest exists, and the challenge at hand. The world must move quickly to the cleanest energy sources or it will tip the climate crisis into irreversible devastation. Though faint right now, this week was a ray of hope.

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