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.