Celebrating the Milestone of Ignition

On Dec. 5, 2022, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory made history, demonstrating fusion ignition for the first time in a laboratory setting—an achievement six decades in the making. Fusion ignition will provide unprecedented capability to support the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Stockpile Stewardship Program and invaluable insights into the prospects of clean fusion energy.

“The pursuit of fusion ignition in the laboratory is one of the most significant scientific challenges ever tackled by humanity. Achieving it is a triumph of science, engineering, and most of all, people.”
– Kim Budil

Inside Our Fusion Breakthrough: An Ongoing Series

Researchers and technicians in the NIF Control Room

After 12 years of sustained effort and hundreds of experiments, LLNL achieved fusion ignition, meeting a milestone that tantalized the inertial confinement fusion (ICF) community for more than 60 years and launching the era of controlled fusion ignition in the laboratory.

Experimental Design Team members discuss the results of the Dec. 5 ignition experiment.

Steady progress from a few kilojoules of energy yield when ignition experiments began in 2011 to the December breakthrough was due in large part to the steady evolution of experimental designs — closely coupled with continuous improvements in diagnostic, optics and simulation technology, target quality, and the energy, reliability and energy balance of NIF’s 192 laser beams.

Members of the LLNL Weapons and Complex Integration directorate work on the fielding hardware commissioned for use in weapons survivability experiments.

When scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory  achieved fusion ignition on Dec. 5, 2022 — an extraordinary scientific breakthrough that was decades in the making — the primary mission and driving goal behind the experiment that day was stockpile stewardship science.

The word "ignition" in large bold letters on a black background with the U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory logos beneath it.

To achieve fusion ignition on Dec. 5, 2022, the National Ignition Facility's laser system needed to operate flawlessly at both ends of the performance spectrum, delivering immense energies while controlling the energy balance across all 192 laser beams with extreme precision.

An FSDS optic being processed through the Advanced Mitigation Process to improve its laser damage resistance

If Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility were a race car, it would run at the redline most of the time. Since NIF became operational in 2009, the LLNL optics team has persisted in hardening the optics to withstand ever-increasing laser energy, as NIF routinely exceeded its design specification of 1.8 megajoules and the debris that results from every experiment.

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