After years of work and billions of dollars, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory have succeeded in creating fusion. The announcement represents a significant step forward towards producing clean energy—long a major goal of researchers. Using 192 lasers, the team at the National Ignition Facility managed to fuse an amount of hydrogen the size of a pencil tip into helium. If they can replicate the work, this is big news.
Those beams managed to focus 500 trillion watts of power onto the target—which according to NPR is more power than is used by the entire United States electrical grid. That energy managed to squeeze the molecules together in the same way that powers a star like our sun. When fusion occurs a great deal of energy is released—and none of the radioactive elements produced by the nuclear fission that occurs in nuclear power plants today.
Let that sink in for a minute. Human beings just did the same thing the sun does.
The team had been trying to produce fusion for many years, and in the face of severe budget cutbacks. It finally succeeded, according to their paper published in Nature, by pumping the hydrogen with energy in such a way that the fuel didn't squirt out of the beams. At this time, scientists have not been able to produce an "ignition," in which the hydrogen feeds on itself, creating a sustained reaction.
The facility, which opened in 2009, has been the source of controversy in the past, as critics in Washington have charged it with wasting taxpayer dollars. Lawrence Livermore has argued that the project has merit on three grounds: the possibility of creating clean energy, the ability to test nuclear reactions without detonating nuclear bombs—the testing of which is banned worldwide, and as an example of what it "Grand Challenge Science."
When you think about it, that last one is just a fancy way of saying the same thing as Jesse Pinkman did.