WASHINGTON, DC -- Today, at a special ceremony in our nation’s capital, Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm announced that on December 5 at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), which is part of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California (LLNL), U.S. scientists achieved “ignition” -- a fusion reaction producing more energy than it took to create.  This breakthrough marks a critical milestone for nuclear fusion and a step toward generating abundant clean energy.

U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, joined Secretary Granholm today, along with National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) Administrator Jill Hruby; and White House Office of Science and Technology officials and LLNL officials to announce the major scientific achievement which kindles hopes for a brighter clean energy future. 

Comparing the news to the Wright brothers breakthrough flight near Kitty Hawk in 1903 that helped launch modern aviation, Senator Reed proclaimed that the U.S. Department of Energy researchers had shown the world what is possible and will help spark a future clean energy revolution.

“This is a great triumph for American ingenuity and scientific advancement.  DOE’s ignition achievement is one for the history books.  This experiment produced a modest amount of energy, but such humble beginnings are foundational for future achievement.  With a flight that travelled 120 feet in twelve seconds, the Wright Brothers set us on a course to take to the skies and heavens above.  I hope this promising breakthrough will spark a similar trajectory of innovation and progress when it comes to fusion and clean energy,” said Senator Reed.  “By successfully creating ‘net energy’ through a nuclear fusion reaction, American researchers have pointed the way to a cleaner energy future.  We still have a long way to go to get there and there will be ups and downs along the way.  But this is a seminal moment worth celebrating.”

This historic, first-of-its kind achievement will provide unprecedented capability to support NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program and will provide invaluable insights into the prospects of clean fusion energy, which would be a game-changer for efforts to achieve President Biden’s goal of a net-zero carbon economy.

“This is a landmark achievement for the researchers and staff at the National Ignition Facility who have dedicated their careers to seeing fusion ignition become a reality, and this milestone will undoubtedly spark even more discovery,” said Secretary Granholm. “The Biden-Harris Administration is committed to supporting our world-class scientists—like the team at NIF—whose work will help us solve humanity’s most complex and pressing problems, like providing clean power to combat climate change and maintaining a nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing.”

“We have had a theoretical understanding of fusion for over a century, but the journey from knowing to doing can be long and arduous. Today’s milestone shows what we can do with perseverance,” said Dr. Arati Prabhakar, the President’s Chief Advisor for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“Monday, December 5, 2022, was a historic day in science thanks to the incredible people at Livermore Lab and the National Ignition Facility. In making this breakthrough, they have opened a new chapter in NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship Program,” said NNSA Administrator Jill Hruby. “I would like to thank the members of Congress who have supported the National Ignition Facility because their belief in the promise of visionary science has been critical for our mission. Our team from around the DOE national laboratories and our international partners have shown us the power of collaboration.”

“The pursuit of fusion ignition in the laboratory is one of the most significant scientific challenges ever tackled by humanity, and achieving it is a triumph of science, engineering, and most of all, people,” LLNL Director Dr. Kim Budil said. “Crossing this threshold is the vision that has driven 60 years of dedicated pursuit—a continual process of learning, building, expanding knowledge and capability, and then finding ways to overcome the new challenges that emerged. These are the problems that the U.S. national laboratories were created to solve.”

As Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and a senior member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, Reed has delivered significant federal funding to advance NNSA’s mission and capabilities of enhancing national security through nuclear science and maintaining a safe and reliable nuclear deterrent.  This year’s NDAA, which passed the House last week and will be considered by the Senate in the coming days, includes $22.3 billion for NNSA programs.  This includes a record $624 million for the Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) program.

“This is an historic, innovative achievement that builds on the contributions of generations of Livermore scientists. Today, our nation stands on their collective shoulders. We still have a long way to go, but this is a critical step and I commend the U.S. Department of Energy and all who contributed toward this promising breakthrough, which could help fuel a brighter clean energy future for the United States and humanity,” noted Reed.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LLNL’s experiment surpassed the fusion threshold by delivering 2.05 megajoules (MJ) of energy to the target, resulting in 3.15 MJ of fusion energy output, demonstrating for the first time a most fundamental science basis for inertial fusion energy (IFE). Many advanced science and technology developments are still needed to achieve simple, affordable IFE to power homes and businesses, and DOE is currently restarting a broad-based, coordinated IFE program in the United States. Combined with private-sector investment, there is a lot of momentum to drive rapid progress toward fusion commercialization.

Fusion is the process by which two light nuclei combine to form a single heavier nucleus, releasing a large amount of energy. In the 1960s, a group of pioneering scientists at LLNL hypothesized that lasers could be used to induce fusion in a laboratory setting. Led by physicist John Nuckolls, who later served as LLNL director from 1988 to 1994, this revolutionary idea became inertial confinement fusion, kicking off more than 60 years of research and development in lasers, optics, diagnostics, target fabrication, computer modeling and simulation, and experimental design.

To pursue this concept, LLNL built a series of increasingly powerful laser systems, leading to the creation of NIF, the world’s largest and most energetic laser system. NIF -- located at LLNL in Livermore, California -- is the size of a sports stadium and uses powerful laser beams to create temperatures and pressures like those in the cores of stars and giant planets, and inside exploding nuclear weapons.

Achieving ignition was made possible by dedication from LLNL employees as well as countless collaborators at DOE’s Los Alamos National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Nevada National Security Site; General Atomics; academic institutions, including the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California, Berkeley, and Princeton University; international partners, including the United Kingdom’s Atomic Weapons Establishment and the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission; and stakeholders at DOE and NNSA and in Congress.