Putting the “Science” in “Science Fiction” – Fusion Power 2

In one of my earlier blogs I discussed nuclear fusion, the many potential benefits it could provide, and the difficulties that have stymied efforts to create a working fusion power plant. Nuclear fusion is seen by many as the best possible solution for the world’s growing energy crisis and, although nuclear fusion has been created in the lab many times, every fusion reaction so far has given off less energy than what was used to create it. Despite these difficulties, scientists and engineers have continued working at locations like the National Ignition Facility (NIF), testing and refining their methods of creating fusion in the attempts to perfect its use as a power source.

Although progress has been fairly slow, considering that fusion research has been going on for over 50 years, researchers at the NIF recently took a huge step forwards in the quest for sustainable fusion. Many media outlets touted this success as the first fusion reaction that has generated more energy than was used to create it, a milestone that moves fusion-based power plants from a theoretical possibility to a solid idea.


However, it seems that the experimental results were misinterpreted by some media honchos and reported incorrectly. According to the NIF’s official website, the September experiment created nearly 75% more energy than the previous record. Yet even this record-breaking energy output is less than one-thousandth of the energy that was used to create it. The sheer difference in energy input and output may make many people question the validity of fusion technology, but progress is being made. The energy yield has nearly doubled in the month between August and September, and has increased to more than five times the yield of experiments in May. This shows that while the gap between the goal of sustainable fusion power and current fusion technology is very large, it is closing at a steady rate. If progress continues at this rate, sustainable fusion may be only years away.

The work that is progressing at the NIF is advancing steadily, but even that is simply one branch of fusion research. The European ITER project has suffered many delays and cost overruns, but construction is still progressing. Once this facility is complete, it will begin research into magnetic confinement fusion, a completely different form of nuclear fusion than the NIF’s laser containment. This different approach to fusion containment may lead to breakthroughs that the NIF’s laser-based system falls short of, and the possibility of combining the two technologies to create a more efficient and reliable system is certainly possible.


Unfortunately, the breakthroughs of fusion technology have been misinterpreted, although the real advances that are being made in fusion technology should not be understated. The dream of creating sustainable nuclear fusion still hovers ahead of us, and the constant progress that is made towards that dream promises a better future for everyone. A combination of nuclear fusion with other energy-related technologies, such as hydrogen power, can lead to a future full of clean and plentiful energy that will power our civilization for generations to come.