The latest fusion hype

NIF laser

Despite the hype and the headlines, the real agenda behind the fusion “breakthrough” announced this week is to benefit the nuclear weapons sector, not electricity production.

The NIF experiment far more closely resembles the process of a (very tiny) thermonuclear warhead. Since the U.S. has not tested nuclear weapons since 1992, the data from experiments like these can be used in computer simulations to make sure that atomic weapons will remain reliable, despite decades mercifully idle. The radiation from these experiments can also be used to test components to make sure they perform as anticipated. While not testing atomic bombs in the open environment is good, abolishing them altogether would be far better.

Adds the Washington Post: “The nation’s fusion program was initially created with the goal of more efficient management of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile. Fusion reactions could be used to assess those arms without the need for explosions, which create radioactive fallout. Biden administration officials hailed the developments at the Lawrence Livermore lab as a major boost for their efforts to keep the stockpile safe and reassure allies that the United States is capably managing it.”

And to confirm this, the National Nuclear Security Administration tweeted: “For years, #NIF has helped ensure the #nuclear stockpile is safe, secure, reliable, and effective. #NNSA is proud of the many men and women who have helped achieve this historic breakthrough.”

Even if fusion were to materialize — it remains decades away despite the recent “milestone” — it has no practicable commercial applicability, chiefly because it is, and will always be, far too expensive.

What kind of “breakthrough” actually happened at NIF?

While the “milestone” experiment at the National Ignition Facility delivered 3.15 megajoules of energy output to the 2.05 megajoules it put in, the 192 lasers that produced it required 300 megajoules of energy. Meanwhile, that other fusion energy — solar — is now “the least costly option for new electricity generation in a significant majority of countries worldwide”, according to the International Energy Agency.

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