In the early hours of the morning of the 5 December 2022, a shot – a pulse – was fired that could save the world. It was a shot that achieved the fusion scientists had been seeking for more than half a century. They call it ignition, and it could solve an energy crisis that’s becoming existential for humanity. This is the story of those precious seconds and the decades leading up to it
Why this story?
For 70 years, humans have known how to unleash the power of the sun in bombs. For 50, they’ve had a blueprint for how to harness that power safely in a lab – a scientific paper published in 1972. But for most of that time the researchers devoting their lives to fusion power have had to concede it was decades from reality. They’ve been the butt of jokes.
Not any more. Four months ago the race towards fusion changed forever when the world woke up to news that ignition had been achieved. Scientists at a giant US government lab in northern California had created a fusion reaction that yielded more energy than it took to initiate.
It was a Sputnik moment – a moment that changed the boundaries of the possible. As the world hurtles towards two degrees of warming and more, the need for superabundant clean energy is only growing. The way things are going, wind and solar alone won’t meet that need, but for the first time it’s not crazy to suggest that fusion power will.