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Researchers achieve milestone on path toward nuclear fusion energy

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U.S. government scientists said on Wednesday they have taken an important step in the long trek toward making nuclear fusion – the very process that powers stars – a viable energy source for humankind.

Using the world’s largest laser, the researchers coaxed fusion fuel for the first time to heat itself beyond the heat they zapped into it, achieving a phenomenon called a burning plasma that marked a stride toward self-sustaining fusion energy.

The energy produced was modest – about the equivalent of nine nine-volt batteries of the kind that power smoke detectors and other small devices. But the experiments at a Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory facility in California represented a milestone in the decades-long quest to harness fusion energy, even as the researchers cautioned that years of more work are needed.

The experiments produced the self-heating of matter in a plasma state through nuclear fusion, which is the combining of atomic nuclei to release energy. Plasma is one of the various states of matter, alongside solid, liquid and gas.

“If you want to make a camp fire, you want to get the fire to hot enough that the wood can keep itself burning,” said Alex Zylstra, an experimental physicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory – part of the U.S. Energy Department – and lead author of the research published in the journal Nature.

“This is a good analogy for a burning plasma, where the fusion is now starting to become self-sustaining,” Zylstra said.

The scientists directed 192 laser beams toward a small target containing a capsule less than a tenth of an inch (about 2 mm) in diameter filled with fusion fuel consisting of a plasma of deuterium and tritium – two isotopes, or forms, of hydrogen.

At very high temperatures, the nucleus of the deuterium and the nucleus of the tritium fuse, a neutron and a positively charged particle called an “alpha particle” – consisting of two protons and two neutrons – emerge, and energy is released.

“Fusion requires that we get the fuel incredibly hot in order for it to burn – like a regular fire, but for fusion we need about a hundred million degrees (Fahrenheit). For decades we’ve been able to cause fusion reactions to occur in experiments by putting a lot of heating into the fuel, but this isn’t good enough to produce net energy from fusion,” Zylstra said.

“Now, for the first time, fusion reactions occurring in the fuel provided most of the heating – so fusion is starting to dominate over the heating we did. This is a new regime called a burning plasma,” Zylstra said.

Unlike burning fossil fuels or the fission process of existing nuclear power plants, fusion offers the prospect of abundant energy without pollution, radioactive waste or greenhouse gases. Nuclear fission energy comes from splitting atoms. Fusion energy comes from fusing atoms together, just like inside stars, including our sun.

Private-sector ventures – dozens of companies and institutions- also are pursuing a fusion energy future, with some oil companies even investing.

“Fusion energy is the holy grail of clean limitless energy,” said Annie Kritcher of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, lead designer for the experiments conducted in 2020 and 2021 at the National Ignition Facility and first author of a companion paper published in the journal Nature Physics.

In these experiments, fusion produced about 10 times as much energy as went into heating the fuel, but less than 10% of the total amount of laser energy because the process remains inefficient, Zylstra said. The laser was used for only about 10 billionths of a second in each experiment, with fusion production lasting 100 trillionths of a second, Kritcher added.

Zylstra said he is encouraged by the progress.

“Making fusion a reality is an enormously complex technological challenge, and it will require serious investment and innovation to make it practical and economical,” Zylstra said. “I view fusion as a decadal-scale challenge for it to be a viable source of energy.”

 

(Reporting by Will Dunham, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

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Federal government would join challenge of Quebec’s Bill 21 at Supreme Court

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The federal government will join a legal challenge to Quebec’s religious symbols law if it reaches the country’s highest court, Justice Minister David Lametti said Wednesday.

“When it arrives at the Supreme Court of Canada, it is by definition a national issue, and we will be there,” Lametti told reporters in Montreal.

Both the Quebec government and groups opposing the law have appealed an April 2021 Quebec Superior Court decision that upheld most of the law, while striking down provisions that related to English-language school boards and a ban on members of the provincial legislature wearing face coverings.

The case is currently before the Quebec Court of Appeal.

The law, commonly known as Bill 21, bans public sector workers who are deemed to be in positions of authority — including teachers, judges and police officers — from wearing religious symbols on the job.

Quebec Premier François Legault said the comments from the Trudeau government’s justice minister make no sense, given that the Court of Appeal has not ruled on the case.

“It’s a flagrant lack of respect for Quebecers by Justin Trudeau, because we know that the majority of Quebecers agree with Bill 21,” Legault told reporters in Quebec City.

Trudeau responded to Legault’s criticism by saying he is “a proud Quebecer” himself. He said the federal government will be “part of that discussion” in what he called an “almost inevitable” Supreme Court case examining Bill 21. “We will be there to defend the fundamental rights of all Canadians that have been suspended by this law,” the prime minister told reporters in Saskatoon.

Lametti said it’s too early to say what arguments the federal government would make before the Supreme Court, but he referred to concerns about Quebec’s use of the notwithstanding clause to shield the law from legal challenges.

Superior Court Justice Marc-Andre Blanchard found last year that the law has cruel and dehumanizing consequences for those who wear religious symbols, but he ruled that most of the bill must be allowed to stand due to the invocation of the notwithstanding clause.

Lametti made the comments as he addressed another Quebec law — the province’s reform of its French language charter — which also invokes the notwithstanding clause. Lametti said that while he personally opposes that law, Ottawa will decide whether to participate in an eventual court challenge based on how it is implemented.

“The notwithstanding clause was meant to be the last word in what is, in effect, a dialogue between the courts and legislatures,” he said. “It wasn’t meant to be the first word.” Use of the clause cuts off political and legal debate, an “unintended negative consequences in our political system,” he added.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2022.

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Indigenous leaders say Quebec language law damages reconciliation efforts

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MONTREAL — Indigenous communities in Quebec say the language law passed Tuesday will harm the education prospects of their youth and undermine reconciliation in the province.

In Kahnawake, south of Montreal, members of the community are meeting daily to discuss ways of contesting the law, said Mike Delisle, a member of the Mohawk Council of Chiefs. Delisle said the Coalition Avenir Québec government did not adequately consult with Indigenous communities about the reform.

“The word ‘reconciliation’ is out of the window at this point,” he said in an interview Wednesday. “Those are just words on paper, it doesn’t mean anything to us, because their words are not true.”

Delisle said that for historic reasons, many people in his community learn English rather than French. He said young people are worried about a requirement that students at English-language junior colleges take three additional French-language classes. On Saturday, a group of Kahnawake students led a protest march, stopping traffic on a major bridge into Montreal.

The impact in colleges is also a concern for Sarah Aloupa, the president of Kativik Ilisarniliriniq, the school board in Quebec’s northern Nunavik region.

“Many of our students go to school in English. There is no French immersion in our schools, so you study either fully in English or in French after Grade 3,” she said in an interview Tuesday.

She said the additional French classes will be another burden for students who already have to travel long distances to pursue post-secondary education outside the region. She said the law may push young people to study outside the province.

The law shows a lack of understanding of the unique language and culture in the North, she said.

“As Inuit people, we’re not even 20,000 people, and we are considered to be endangering the French language,” she said. “I think we will have no choice but to go to court to be heard.”

Delisle said people in Kahnawake are also worried about the effects of the bill on community-run health and social services agencies, as well as the impact it will have on the community’s police service and access to justice.

The language law reform, known as Bill 96, forbids provincial government agencies, municipalities and municipal bodies from making systematic use of languages other than French.

It also requires court decisions to be immediately translated into French, forbids companies from pleading in court in other languages and gives the province’s justice and language ministers the ability to decide which judicial postings require English, a decision that was previously made by the chief justice.

The Assembly of First Nations Quebec-Labrador described the bill as a “major step backwards” that puts reconciliation “on hold.”

“To deny the rights of others to assert one’s own, to brutally assert one’s supremacy over other nations that share the same territory is unworthy of a government that respects itself,” Grand Chief Ghislain Picard said in a news release after the bill passed.

Federal Justice Minister David Lametti said Wednesday he’s concerned about the law’s impact on the rights of Indigenous people but said it is too soon to talk about federal involvement in a possible court challenge.

“We will keep all options on the table,” Lametti told reporters in Montreal. “There are ways to implement the bill that would safeguard Quebecers’ constitutional rights.”

Any federal participation in a court challenge would be related to matters of federal jurisdiction, Lametti added, and would only come if a challenge starts in Quebec.

The law invokes the notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Constitution to shield it from charter challenges. It also grants language inspectors the power to conduct searches and seizures of businesseswithout a warrant. Lametti said he has concerns that the use of the notwithstanding clause has cut short debate on the law.

“As a citizen of Quebec, I’m concerned about access to health care,” he said. “I am concerned about … the ability to conduct search and seizures and whether that violates charter rights. I’m concerned about the potential impact on immigration.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 25, 2022.

— With files from Virginie Ann

 

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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Malema: France should leave Africa alone

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Pretoria, South Africa- As the continent marks Africa Day today, the leader of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), the third-largest political party in South Africa, Julius Malema, has urged France to leave Africa alone.

Malema was speaking ahead of a planned memorandum regarding the party’s assertions about the role of France in Africa to be given to the French Embassy.

“The French government and regime have played a direct role in the coup d’etat and illegal and unlawful overthrow of many governments in the African continents. We commend and appreciate the work of revolutionary anti-colonial forces that are beginning to undermine French colonialism and call on all neo-colonized people under the so-called Francophone to reject France’s colonial rulership and control,” said Malema.

At the same time, Sinawo Thambo, EFF’s national spokesperson, said the party is committed to fighting the micromanagement of African affairs by France.

“We will not accept continued micromanagement of African affairs. We are not a junior in global affairs. We are Africa and we must stand up in terms of our own affairs, in terms of all sectors, economically, culturally, politically and otherwise.

So we are confronting France because France continues to be a festering parasite within the body politics of Africa. They have continued to micromanage West Africa, they continue to determine the currencies of Francophone nations in terms of where they keep their monetary reserves. There can be no economic emancipation without the freedom and emancipation of Africa in its entirety,” said EFF’s national spokesperson.

In addition, Thambo criticized African Union (AU) citing it’s a pale shadow of what it was founded upon.

“It accommodates colonialists and land thieves like Israel. The Southern African Development Community just exists for the sake of it, wars and imperialism are allowed to fester. Africa Day is a day that we celebrate under a cloud of conquest,” added Thambo.

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