"Ignition is the ultimate goal of the experiments, so the latest result marks a waypoint on the way to that point (albeit quite a significant waypoint)," Dunne said.
The hohlraum cylinder, which contains the NIF fusion fuel capsule, is just a few millimeters wide, about the size of a pencil eraser, with beam entrance holes at either end. The fuel capsule is the size of a small pea.
The next significant step for the research is to achieve an "alpha burn," where the fusion output more than doubles the energy input to the fuel. In an alpha burn, the researchers hope to pass a particular threshold of energy output -- specifically 10,000,000,000,000,000 fusion reactions.
"We are currently a few percent below this value," Dunne said.
Once ignition is achieved, it promises a path toward a sustainable, environmentally sound energy source that would exceed that of any previously created.
"There are a number of possible paths forward," Dunne said, "and it will require a close partnership between industry and government. But in principle, because the NIF was built at the same scale as the fusion performance needed for a power plant, the leap is not as great as you may think."
Dunne believes there once nuclear fusion energy is achieved, there will be an overriding push to capitalize on the success of it.
"It is, after all, often called the 'holy grail' of energy sources," he said.
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