Fusion! Students react to breakthroughs in fusion energy


Aditi Bhaskar

Heat and light energy from the sun, which is behind those clouds, is a product of fusion

Fusion energy is what “powers” the Sun. It works by fusing hydrogen isotopes into helium. If fusion is used instead of fossil-fuels, it will reduce production of pollution and greenhouse gasses. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2022 was a breakthrough in harvesting fusion energy. An experiment yielded more energy than was used to produce it. For the first time: a net positive energy output. 

The experiment went like this: 2.1 megajoules of ignition energy were shot at a diamond-encased packet of hydrogen through 192 lasers. 3.15 megajoules of energy, in the form of ejected neutrons, were produced from the fusion. Ignition energy, 2.1 megajoules, was less than the output energy, 3.15 megajoules, which means the reaction generated energy! 

Senior George Peykanu summarizes, “The brave men and women at Stanford have virtuously sacrificed their laboratory in order to be used for the uses of nuclear fusion, a groundbreaking energy technology that will someday become the way of the future.”

To many students, this news is inspirational! “I just think it’s pretty impressive how the scientists figured it out,” says Junior Paul Liu. With fusion, using common elements, “you’re able to power almost anything,” says George.

However, implementing fusion energy in everyday life will take more hard work and scientific investigation. 

AP Biology and Chemistry teacher Mr. Schuster says, “Even if it doesn’t go anywhere, we need to really investigate.” He believes strongly that fusion energy “should be a government thing, not a corporate thing,” because it needs to be nationalized and made available to the people. 

Some people are pessimistic about the ability to use fusion regularly as we currently use other sources of energy. Peykanu disagrees: “Anyone talking about the inefficiency of harvesting all of the material is unaware that this is the first time the technology has been successfully achieved.”

While the word “nuclear” may represent instability and explosions to some people, fusion energy is safe. “People are scared of anything with the word nuclear in it, but I’m pretty sure that as time goes on the ability to compartmentalize,” says Peykanu.

To run a power plant, more than one reaction like this would be necessary – fusion would have to be repeated many times a second. Achieving this means essentially limitless clean energy. To speed up the research on fusion energy, Mr. Schuster suggests that “the Government invests heavily in it and gets this thing expanded to scale.” 

“Hopefully we use this technology more in the future,” says Liu. While it may take more than a few decades to incorporate fusion energy into our daily lives, seeing a net positive reaction shows our progress towards a clean energy source. “It was one small step for an atom,” says Peykanu, “and one giant leap for mankind.”