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Star Power
A Huge Step Forward for Fusion Energy

Researchers at California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have taken a big step forward in the quest for energy’s holy grail. In the journal Nature, the researchers revealed that a controlled fusion reaction produced more energy than it required last fall. The FT reports:

Focusing 192 powerful laser beams on a tiny pellet of nuclear fuel, NIF scientists have for the first time managed to release more fusion energy than was required to trigger the reaction. Their research, funded by the US Department of Energy, is published online in Nature, the science journal.

“It is one of the most promising energy technologies we could possibly develop,” said Omar Hurricane, lead scientist on the project at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “But it is going to be a long slog. We have to balance the large long-term investment with potentially a very large pay-off at the end.”

The future of energy is unpredictable, as this discovery underscores. Elaborate, Rube Goldberg-type green subsidy programs invest heavily in current-generation technology. To the extent that these programs work at all (which as Germany is finding out to its detriment is a difficult accomplishment), they can be quickly overtaken by innovation.

Government has a crucial role to play in crafting a stable energy future, but that future is not well served by subsidizing inefficient and non-competitive regimes in pursuit of some green ideal. Support of basic research and development, like the work being done at LLNL, is a much better way forward.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Maybe. I can’t help wondering by how much the energy release exceeding the energy required and what the cost of the incremental energy was. I think that fusion energy will happen one of these days, but not that it has any near-term importance to the energy debate.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I agree, let the market decide when a technology is ready to be implemented, this has the added benefit of not costing the taxpayers anything beyond basic research.

    • Kavanna

      There’s a role for government and non-profit organizations funding basic research. Basic research has no specific and immediate use, although it generates all sorts of specifically useful ideas and inventions along its evolution. But applied research has to be more commercial in its orientation, since it’s supposed to provide something of specific and immediate use. And there’s a tremendous danger of corruption in government-funded applied research — government assumes all the risk, while the would-be inventor pockets revenue, loan guarantees, and grants. We’ve seen plenty of this with the Obama administration.

      • rheddles

        We are going to see this corruption in thenon- growth of nuclear power in the US. GE and Westinghouse are heavily invested in old nuclear technologies and designs. Watch them use the NRC to prevent new entrants bring new more effective technologies to market. Especially if they come from companies with names like Toshiba.

  • TommyTwo

    E pluribus unum.

    (Surely AA will forgive me just this once! 🙂 )

  • Gene

    “Omar Hurricane” would be a great name for a rock star, e.g., lead guitar rather than lead scientist.

  • Bretzky1

    “Government has a crucial role to play in crafting a stable energy future, but that future is not well served by subsidizing inefficient and non-competitive regimes in pursuit of some green ideal.”

    Unless, of course, the reason that such regimes are inefficient and non-competitive is that they lack the economies of scale required to make them competitive and efficient because the incumbent powers in the energy industry are actively blocking private attempts to generate the economies of scale required to make them efficient and competitive.

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