UW researcher: Breakthrough in nuclear fusion a milestone for US

Dec 13, 2022, 3:26 PM

nuclear fusion...

View of the research reactor "Wendelstein 7-X" at the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics. The institute with the fusion reactor "Wendelstein 7-X" relies on nuclear fusion as a way to generate energy. (Photo by Stefan Sauer/picture alliance via Getty Images)

(Photo by Stefan Sauer/picture alliance via Getty Images)

American scientists have made a breakthrough in the research of nuclear fusion energy.

Humanity has utilized nuclear fission in power plants for decades, but the act of fusing two atoms into one — with a net gain in energy — has eluded physicists until now. What American scientists have managed to do is join two atoms in a process that generated more energy than was used to create it.

Chris Hansen, Ph.D., is a senior research scientist at the University of Washington and focuses on nuclear fusion energy.

Troyer trial: Judge denies motion to dismiss false reporting charge

He said with fusion, scientists are trying to re-create the process that powers the sun and stars.

“This is a huge step. I mean, this is maybe not quite a Wright Brothers moment, but in that direction of demonstrating that we can do a really crucial part of this,” Hansen said.

Scientists have been working for decades on this. Hansen says it dates back to the project which designed the first nuclear bomb, but that shouldn’t worry people as the recent breakthrough is unlikely to usher in any new kind of superweapon.

“So, now comes the part of, can you do it reliably? Can you do it economically? And that is not a trivial problem,” Hansen said.

Unlike nuclear power plants that use fission, fusion has advantages.

“With fusion reactions, you have absolutely no risk of meltdown,” Hansen said. “You have no problem, you don’t generate anything like the long-lived wastes that we have to deal with from current nuclear reactors.”

And while the fuel source Uranium needed for fission is limited, hydrogen and other “light” elements used for fusion are plentiful.

Even so, Hansen notes there are challenges ahead.

More from Sam Campbell: Avian flu outbreak kills 700 waterfowl around Skagit Bay

“The reason it’s difficult is you need to recreate conditions like those in the core of the Sun,” Hansen said.

Nevertheless, he says the advancement could spur a wave of private investment — which could mean good news for Washington state.

Supporters said fusion could help drastically reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuels and the greenhouse gasses they emit.

Follow Sam Campbell on Twitter or email him here

MyNorthwest News

Queen Anne, Uptown, parking...

Bill Kaczaraba

Power company investigating early morning outage to Queen Anne, Magnolia

Seattle City Light wants to know why 10,000 customers lost power in the early morning hours on Saturday.

21 minutes ago

Image: A Seattle Police Department vehicle can be seen parked in the city of Seattle....

Bill Kaczaraba

Police search for suspects in West Seattle fatal shooting

In the early hours of Saturday morning, Seattle Police detectives launched an investigation into a fatal shooting in West Seattle.

1 hour ago

Photo: Medics respond to a crash in SeaTac on June 21, 2024....

Julia Dallas

3 nearly lose their lives, another injured in SeaTac crash

Five people and two cars were involved in a violent car crash in SeaTac on Friday, the King County Sheriff's Office told KIRO Newsradio.

19 hours ago

Photo: Lacey police are investigating a deadly shooting....

KIRO 7 News Staff

21-year-old arrested in Lacey double murder after police chase

A 21-year-old man led police on a chase following the murder of two people whom he lived with in Lacey.

19 hours ago

Photo: The exterior of the Boeing Company headquarters on March 25, 2024....

James Lynch

Boeing working with DOJ to avoid criminal charges

After allegedly violating the terms of a 2021 deferred prosecution agreement, Boeing is reportedly working to avoid a criminal trial.

22 hours ago

Photo: Yin May suffered severe injuries when she was hit by a driver in Kent....

Julia Dallas

Deputies searching for person who hit, nearly killed woman in Kent

King County deputies are looking for the person who almost killed a woman in Kent in a hit-and-run on Sunday.

23 hours ago

UW researcher: Breakthrough in nuclear fusion a milestone for US