Major Nuclear Announcement Expected

Jennifer Le
Fusion reactor
Courtesy of NBC

The world may get one step closer to Emperor Palpatine-levels of unlimited power today following a much-hyped announcement by the US government.

What we’re expecting: At 10:00am EST today, US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm is expected to announce a “major scientific breakthrough” from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. There is speculation that the government will confirm the first ever net energy gain from a nuclear fusion reaction.

This would be big: The elusive goal of decades and billions of dollars worth of research is to prove the core science of fusion energy is possible. While other reactors have successfully caused fusion reactions in the past, they always consumed more energy initiating the reaction than was created from the reaction.

  • According to the Financial Times, the Lawrence Livermore fusion reaction reportedly produced roughly 120 percent of the input energy used in the reaction.

Nuclear fusion: The process of potential limitless clean energy works by superheating two nuclei, deuterium and tritium, until they fuse together. The fusing process — the same process happening in the Sun today — generates roughly four times as much energy as traditional uranium fission processes on a per mass basis, all without making nuclear waste as a byproduct.

Four times as much as fission doesn’t sound like a lot but a single one-inch uranium pellet used in fission has as much energy as 2.9 barrels of oil.

  • A pressurized water reactor, the most common type of nuclear reactor today, holds between 12 and 20 million uranium fuel pellets, equivalent to 34 to 57 million barrels of oil. For context, that’s between one third and one half of the world’s daily oil consumption.

Big picture: Achieving a net energy gain with nuclear fusion would be a massive win. But no matter how exciting science in the lab may be, there is still a long road of technical and regulatory hurdles before it could be commercialization. No free energy just yet.

+Additional reading: Check the LLNL page here when the news is expected to be released.