The US Department of Energy said on Sunday it was preparing to announce a “major scientific breakthrough this week” in the field of nuclear fusion.
The UK’s Financial Times newspaper reported a few hours earlier that scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California recently achieved a “net energy gain” from an experimental fusion reactor.
This would be the first time that researchers have succeeded in producing more energy in a fusion reaction – such as the one that powers the Sun – than they consumed in the process, a major advance in the search for carbon-free energy.
Asked to comment on the FT article, spokespersons for the Department of Energy and LLNL told French news agency AFP that US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm would host an event on Tuesday at which she would “announce a major scientific breakthrough.”
An LLNL spokesman said “the analysis (was) still ongoing.”
“We look forward to sharing more information on Tuesday when this process is complete,” the spokesperson added.
The fusion reaction that produced a net energy gain of 120% occurred over the past two weeks, FT reported, citing three people with knowledge of the preliminary results.
Nuclear fusion is seen by its advocates as the energy of the future, not least because it produces little waste and no greenhouse gases.
“If this fusion energy breakthrough is true, it could be a game changer for the world,” tweeted California Congressman Ted Lieu after the FT report was published.
Fusion is different from fission, the technique currently used in nuclear power plants, which involves breaking the bonds of heavy atomic nuclei to recover energy.