AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Department of Energy announced today that the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) has produced a fusion reaction using lasers. This experiment is the first successful one of its kind. It occurred on Monday, Dec. 5.

“They shot a bunch of lasers at a pellet of fuel and more energy was released than the energy they put in,” said Dr. Arati Prabhakar, policy director of the White House Office of Science and Technology.

The Department of Energy hopes that the experiment will lead to clean energy, without carbon emissions or nuclear waste, for the entire world.

“This is what it looks like for American to lead, and we’re just getting started,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.

Data analysis and peer review delayed the release of the info by one week, according to Dr. Kim Budil, Director of LLNL.

How was the fusion reaction made?

According to Nuclear Security and National Nuclear Security Administration Deputy Administrator for Defense Programs Dr. Marvin “Marv” Adams, 192 lasers were pointed at a cylinder containing a small fuel capsule made of deuterium and tritium.

The lasers deposited energy into the walls of the capsule, which then filled with x-rays. These x-rays squeezed the fuel, which was about half the size of BB pellet, causing fusion to occur.

This experiment has been done before, but this time the pellet ignited.

WASHINGTON, DC – DECEMBER 13: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories Director Dr. Kim Budil (C) speaks during a news conference with National Nuclear Security Administration head Jill Hruby, (L) and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm at the Department of Energy headquarters to announce a breakthrough in fusion research on December 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

According to Adams, they had made the fuel dense enough, round enough and hot enough for it to ignite, implode and transform into a super hot plasma. This reaction created similar conditions to what occurs in a star.

Here’s the important part: The laser put around 2.0 megajoules of energy into the fuel. The igniting fuel released 3.5 megajoules of energy. The reaction produced more energy than was needed to start it.

This energy was produced in the time it takes for “light to travel one inch,” Adams said.

The world’s “most powerful lasers” were used in the experiment. They required three hundred megajoules to powered them.

Bringing fusion energy to everyone

Budil said that lots of work is still required to produce energy at a larger scale. She expects it will take decades before we see commercial fusion power plants that use lasers.

“This is one igniting capsule, one time. To realize commercial fusion energy, you have to do many things. You have to produce many many fusions events per minute. You have to have robust drivers to do that,” Budil said.

However, President Joe Biden has said he wants to see commercial fusion reactors providing power within the next decade. Granholm said that the administration is currently reviewing proposals for fusion power plants.

Fusion created with lasers isn’t the only option. Budil said there are two types of fusion: lasers (aka inertial confinement fusion) and magnets. Magnetic fusion is further along in going to scale.

“Many technologies will grow out of both fields. In addition to the path to a fusion power plant,” Budil said. She said that with more investment, we could see fusion reactors sooner.

Fusion energy as a power source was first proposed around 60 years ago.