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We’re told that it is an amazing feat of science.

In a month that has had more than its share of historic events, the announcement last week that nuclear fusion has been achieved in labs in California opens up a carbon-free energy future that might save the planet — and the universe.

This is the stuff of science fiction that some are calling a 22nd-century energy advance in the 21st-century. If it can be developed, it represents an endless supply of power that doesn’t pollute, doesn’t run out, and is safe to access. It sounds a bit like Star Trek — where we’re all “going boldly where no one has ever gone before.”

What in the past had been assumed to be beyond our reach has been shown to be real… After 70 years of research, physicists in California have for the first time proven that we can recreate the endless supply of power ourselves. Now humans experience nuclear fusion every day — it’s in the heat and light of the sun and other stars; light atoms that smash together creating heavier particles, that release vast amounts of energy in the process. The trouble was — we weren’t in control of those processes.

Nuclear reactor technology is advancing quickly. Image courtesy of Office of Nuclear Energy.

The breakthrough came at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California when a weak laser beam was split and the energy amplified to give 192 laser beams.

In scientific terms: “The team used 2.05MJ of energy to heat the fuel with lasers, releasing 3.15MJ of energy” — not big, but at least a positive output of energy.

Now before we all get excited about this, it will probably be at least a couple of decades before this scientific achievement becomes marketable. We have to progress from the giant nuclear reactor cooling towers we associate with nuclear energy to this development. Then it has to be refined, scaled up — and turned into what some call “wall-plug efficiency.”

In the meantime, we’ve still got to struggle on and find more efficient, cleaner sources of energy, while weaning ourselves and our economies off of oil before we pass the point where we’ve destroyed the environment  — while this fusion development gets refined.

But still — this is a ‘wow’. The results show that it is indeed possible to use laser fusion to generate energy. This is what is called a “proof of principle” that will spur research to develop the technology; along the lines of the initial Wright Brothers flight. Why does this matter? Well, this is the hope for the world:  That nuclear fusion will eventually provide a near-limitless, safe and clean source of energy.”