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December 12, 2022

Scientists Say Fusion Reactor Produces More Energy Than It Consumes*
* Except It Totally Doesn't Do That, Science Writers Are Stupid and Have Been Lying to You For Years

Sorry to inform everyone, but this is fake news.

US government scientists have made a breakthrough in the pursuit of limitless, zero-carbon power by achieving a net energy gain in a fusion reaction for the first time, according to three people with knowledge of preliminary results from a recent experiment.

Physicists have since the 1950s sought to harness the fusion reaction that powers the sun, but no group had been able to produce more energy from the reaction than it consumes -- a milestone known as net energy gain or target gain, which would help prove the process could provide a reliable, abundant alternative to fossil fuels and conventional nuclear energy.

The federal Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory(opens a new window) in California, which uses a process called inertial confinement fusion that involves bombarding a tiny pellet of hydrogen plasma with the world's biggest laser, had achieved net energy gain in a fusion experiment in the past two weeks, the people said.

Although many scientists believe fusion power stations are still decades away, the technology's potential is hard to ignore. Fusion reactions emit no carbon, produce no long-lived radioactive waste and a small cup of the hydrogen fuel could theoretically power a house for hundreds of years.


The fusion reaction at the US government facility produced about 2.5 megajoules of energy, which was about 120 per cent of the 2.1 megajoules of energy in the lasers, the people with knowledge of the results said, adding that the data was still being analysed.

Oh, it produced 120% of the energy of the lasers hitting the pellet? So the energy being used on the lasers was the only energy going into the reactor?

No. Not even close.

As Sabina Hossenfelder (a physicist) explains below, science "journalists" -- probably being misled by researchers themselves, who want the public to think that fusion is closer to realization than it is -- have been playing a game (lying, I'd say) about what constitutes the "break-even point" of fusion power production, the point at which output of energy equals input of energy.

Now you would naturally assume that articles like this must be talking about output of energy versus all energy used to produce this energy, not just some of it. It's only that comparison that could possibly result in a claim of a "break even" in term of output versus input.

If the scientists are just saying output exceeded one of the lesser energy inputs required to get the output -- well that wouldn't be anything like what they're claiming, would it?

But that is exactly what is going on.

To produce energy through fusion through this method -- if I understand this right -- you need to confine the reaction with powerful electromagnets. This itself requires a huge amount of energy -- but this energy is never included in the comparison of output vs. input when science "journalists" say "we almost reached break-even" or, today, "we produced 120% of the energy that we put in."

There are two ways of measuring the energy required to produce fusion. Q[total] would be the sum of all energy inputted into the system. That is, the number we all think they're talking about when they say "output exceeded input."

But they're not talking about that. They're talking about Q[laser], which is only the energy used to power the lasers that are hitting the fuel pellet. This much smaller measure of energy is the energy they're talking about when they say "output exceeded input."

As you can see in the article above, they hint at this, by specifying later in the article that the energy produced exceeded the energy required to power the lasers, but then do not go on to mention that there are other energy costs -- big ones -- beyond the lasers.

For a fusion reactor to actually reach "the break-even point" where it's producing more energy than it's consuming, the energy produced must exceed Q[total], not just Q[laser].

But Q[laser] is the only thing these "science journalists" ever talk about, and the actual scientists running these fusion projects never seem to correct them.

This is like claiming your company is running at a "profit" because revenues exceed the costs for materials -- without noting that there are some other costs, like labor, rent, insurance, etc., that must be included to determine if you're really running at a profit or not.

And so the public remains misinformed, even lied to -- but misinformed and lied to in the right way, inclined to support The Science (TM).

This doesn't mean that fusion isn't worth pursuing.

It does mean that they're lying about being anywhere near the break-even point. This is going to take decades, if it's even achievable at all.

The US department of energy has said energy secretary Jennifer Granholm and under-secretary for nuclear security Jill Hruby will announce "a major scientific breakthrough" at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on Tuesday. The department declined to comment further.

Jennifer Granholm? Oh, in that case, ignore everything I wrote. Obviously this is legit.

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posted by Ace at 02:55 PM

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