Resources for Teachers and Students
FOR THE WEEK OF JAN. 02, 2023
Summarize other good news and your reaction.
List two things you learn from different science or technology coverage.
What school subjects are most useful preparation for science careers?
Dramatic news about a major breakthrough comes from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Researchers there reached a key milestone in a long dream of generating clean, limitless electric power from a process called nuclear fusion. What had been a concept is now proven, though just ultra-briefly. For a few billionths of a second, scientists at the federal lab last month produced more energy than was directly used to generate it. "The first laboratory demonstration of net energy gain by fusing hydrogen isotopes is a major physics accomplishment – a necessary step on the long road to a fusion power plant," says nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz, U.S. energy secretary from 2013-17 when Barack Obama was president.
This encouraging step made headlines around the globe. This technology differs from current forms of nuclear power, which use nuclear fission (splitting atoms) and produce radioactive waste that must be stored safely. In contrast, fusion has the potential to be an endless, cost-effective energy source without nuclear waste, carbon emissions or dependence on wind or sunlight. The process uses lasers to smush two atoms (often two hydrogen atoms) together to create a new element (often helium) – the same way that stars and the sun create energy. Until now, the reaction has taken more energy to produce than it returns in the form of new power. Net energy gain has been the goal of fusion research.
Next the federal government will pay for the design of a pilot nuclear fusion plant that could deliver electricity to the national utility grid in around a decade. At least 15 companies applied for the project. "It would forever change the course of human society and our relationship with the planet," posts blogger Dan Rather, a retired network news anchor. The fuel for fusion is heavy hydrogen atoms, readily available from seawater. The technology is much, much safer than nuclear fission, since fusion can't create runaway reactions. "This astonishing scientific advance puts us on the precipice of a future no longer reliant on fossil fuels, but instead powered by new clean fusion energy," says Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Expert says: "I am confident that commercial fusion power plants can be demonstrated and initially deployed in the 2030s." – Ernest Moniz, past energy secretary
Blogger says: "Research is not cheap and we have many worthy causes competing for limited resources. But a commitment to basic and applied scientific research has strengthened the United States immeasurably." – Dan Rather, former CBS News anchor
Columnist says: "The fusion breakthrough . . . gave me faith not only that human ingenuity will ultimately solve our long-term energy and climate challenges, but also that the United States can continue at the frontiers of discovery." – Bret Stephens, New York Times columnist
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