This nuclear fusion breakthrough is giving us major Fallout vibes, in a good way

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Boy do I love when science fiction becomes science fact. With new breakthroughs in nuclear fusion on the table, we could one day see the alternate world line lore of Fallout coming true. One day PC gamers could be running their rigs on personal mini fusion reactors—I mean, probably not, but I can dream of one day overfusioning my GPU.

Thus far, thermonuclear weapons have been the main use for nuclear fusion, but imagine a world where instead we could harness it to generate masses of clean energy. It's been a pipe dream of industry for decades, and reports from the BBC (opens in new tab) show that dream could become reality.

Researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California fired 2.05 megajoules of energy at some heavy hydrogen, in the form of frozen deuterium and tritium. These fused into plasma, which is an electrically charged gas several times hotter than the core of the sun, and is notoriously difficult to confine—hence the H-bomb.

As National Geographic (opens in new tab) explains, the process is nothing new in itself. Past fusion experiments have managed to confine plasma before, but never under the temperature and pressure necessary to get the ignition process going. That's where this laser-driven nuclear fusion process comes in.

With everything in place, NIF managed to generate 3.15 megajoules of energy from the reaction. The idea that we can generate the same amount of energy it takes to incite that reaction, plus half again, is unprecedented.

It's an extravagant yield, one that could spell a revolution in energy supply. According to the U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, “This is one of the most impressive scientific feats of the 21st century.”

Tritium, or hydrogen-3 is not something the Earth produces naturally in large quantities, but we can make it up by irradiating lithium in a nuclear reactor. In fact, nuclear fission reactors create Tritium as a byproduct already. Deuterium (hydrogen-2) on the other hand is an abundant resource here on Earth, found in our very own oceans.

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The main benefit, of course, is clean energy—something that's been weighing on everyone's mind recently.

Johan Frenje, the plasma physicist at MIT whose lab pulled its weight in NIF's groundbreaking research, calls the feat "a game-changer for the entire field of thermonuclear fusion."

If you're wondering what the difference is between fusion and current methods of generating nuclear power, the plants we see today instead rely on fission. Fission involves the breaking down of uranium to create energy from radioactive decay.

Essentially now that we're finally learning to generate energy from creation, rather than destruction, it's only a matter of time before we step onto the next rung as a Type one designation Civilisation on the Kardashev scale (opens in new tab). Go us. 

Katie Wickens
Hardware Writer

Screw sports, Katie would rather watch Intel, AMD and Nvidia go at it. Having been obsessed with computers and graphics for three long decades, she took Game Art and Design up to Masters level at uni, and has been demystifying tech and science—rather sarcastically—for two years since. She can be found admiring AI advancements, scrambling for scintillating Raspberry Pi projects, preaching cybersecurity awareness, sighing over semiconductors, and gawping at the latest GPU upgrades. She's been heading the PCG Steam Deck content hike, while waiting patiently for her chance to upload her consciousness into the cloud.