What’s nuclear fusion? A Grid No Dumb Questions Video


‘No Dumb Questions’: What’s nuclear fusion?

When the announcement came, it sounded like the news event of the century. The Department of Energy said last week that scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in California had achieved a first-ever advance in nuclear fusion — a groundbreaking scientific achievement that had “been the dream of nuclear scientists for decades.”

The superlatives were head-spinning, the possibilities tantalizing: The creation of “fusion energy” might one day mean clean and safe electricity — no greenhouse gas emissions, no nuclear waste, none of the troubles that come with other sources of energy. Had scientists made a breakthrough that could actually create energy for the world minus all the environmental trauma?

Well, yes and no. And unfortunately, as Grid Science Reporter Dan Vergano details in this week’s episode of “No Dumb Questions,” the caveats and “not so fasts” far outweigh the rosy scenarios.

But the answer to this week’s question — “What is nuclear fusion?” — is probably something we all should know. As Vergano notes, what was so tantalizing about the NIF discovery was the prospect that a kind of “free energy” had actually been created. He also explains — in layperson’s terms — the lasers and megajoules that were involved in making it happen, the timeline involved (Will this happen in our lifetimes? — “Well, how old are you?”) and the fact that there’s another excellent source of such energy hovering above us day in and day out: It’s called the sun.


Fascinating stuff from Vergano, in his answers to this week’s question: What is nuclear fusion?

We’d love to hear from you with other ideas for the series. We like to think there are no “dumb questions”; or put differently, that there’s almost nothing out there in the world of news and information that couldn’t use a little more clarity and context in terms of the answers. We also know that we have really smart readers and that even the smartest among them can’t be expected to have every shred of important context or background on all the events that are roiling the world at any given moment. Send your ideas and questions to tips@grid.news.

More “No Dumb Questions” videos

Thanks to Lillian Barkley for copy editing this article.

  • Dan Vergano
    Dan Vergano

    Science Reporter

    Dan Vergano is a science reporter for Grid.

  • Angelo Leotta
    Angelo Leotta

    Associate Producer

  • Tom Nagorski
    Tom Nagorski

    Global Editor

    Tom Nagorski is the global editor at Grid, where he oversees our coverage of global security, U.S.-China relations, migration trends, global economics and U.S. foreign policy.