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Researchers achieve major breakthrough toward realizing fusion energy: 'It is a pivotal moment'

The next big fusion headline could come anytime.

The next big fusion headline could come anytime.

Photo Credit: iStock

Physicist Martin Greenwald may have some calculation adjustments to make regarding fusion limitations. 

That's because nuclear experts at San Diego-based General Atomics claim to have crossed the "Greenwald limit," a mark during reaction experiments where the process typically spirals out of control and loses containment. 

The barrier has been a problem for fusion science using tokamaks, doughnut-shaped machines that use magnetic fields and plasma to help produce and contain reactions involving sun-like heat levels. The U.S. Department of Energy reports the machines are considered the leading concept for fusion power plants of the future.  

And now it seems a pesky limit has been surpassed, possibly opening the door for near-endless clean energy. 

Recharge reports that the General Atomics team accomplished the feat using a small tokamak. While the details are a little vague in the reports, researcher Siye Ding said that the experiment helps to show the "unique synergy between high density and high confinement, and the conditions that are required to achieve this synergy."

Translation: Ding and his team were able to stably exceed the Greenwald Limit by 20%. Additionally, they achieved an energy confinement quality 50% better than the standard.

"The operating regime we report supports some critical requirements in many fusion reactor designs all over the world and opens a potential avenue to an operating point for producing economically attractive fusion energy," the team said in a lab summary published by the National Library of Medicine. 

Fusion energy is a less radioactive, safer alternative to fission reactions. The latter provides the juice at the nation's 54 nuclear power plants. While providing air pollution–free power, rare yet catastrophic meltdowns have created a wariness around the science that fusion resolves. 

As a result, fusion experiments are happening all over the world, including a very large machine in France. In Tennessee, Type One Energy's experts plan to test fusion tech at a defunct coal plant using a stellarator, an alternative to a tokamak. 

Harnessing this immense power source would revolutionize the energy sector, potentially eliminating the need for dirty energy sources in one breakthrough.  

Air pollution from burning coal, gas, and oil produces more than 37 billion tons of dirty fumes annually, according to the World Nuclear Association. Fresher air can have an immediate impact on public health, as the pollution has been linked to dementia, asthma, and other respiratory problems. 

Fortunately, there are ways to take action now while we wait for the experts to perfect fusion reactors. Government incentives and better tech are making installing solar panels easier and more affordable. You can nix most or even all of your electricity bill, resulting in around $1,500 a year in savings by putting in a solar setup. 

In the meantime, the next big fusion headline could come anytime. General Atomics seems to be fully committed with top experts and processes detailed in a guide called "The Promise of Fusion." 

"It is a pivotal moment in the march toward clean and nearly limitless fusion energy," a lead message in the booklet reads.

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