National Ignition Facility Warm-Up Successful. Next Step: Fusion Tests?

By Andrew Moseman | January 29, 2010 10:45 am

nif-target-chamberThe hunt for fusion energy is one that has been plagued by false starts and overly-optimistic announcements. This week, however, researchers at the National Ignition Facility in California announced a major new step: firing all of its 192 lasers together for the first time, and channeling the beam into an area no bigger than a pencil eraser.

That tiny target is called the hohlraum. It’s a gold-plated cylinder intended to contain the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, which would fuse together during a potential fusion reaction. In this test, documented in the journal Science this week, the 192 lasers heated up the hohlraum to “only” about 6 million degrees Fahrenheit. But, team member Jeffrey Atherton says, the NIF is working its way up to the really powerful reactions. “The point is that we were doing it at a scale that’s about 20 times larger than has been done, with a laser power that accordingly is about 20 times higher than has been done, with a precision and efficiency that hasn’t been done before,” he said [MSNBC].

Particularly important is the fact that plasma in the hohlraum didn’t block the materials from absorbing energy from the lasers, one of the key problems some researchers had predicted for fusion projects. Instead, the cylinder was able to absorb 95 percent of the energy. Says Mike Dunne of the U.K.’s Central Laser Facility: “I can’t overstate how dramatic a step that is. Many people a year ago were saying the project would be dead by now” [BBC News] .

As the NIF’s name would imply, what the scientists are really after is the ignition of a true thermonuclear reaction. And Atherton, an eternal optimist, says they could start ignition tests this summer, now that the laser tests have proven successful. To achieve that thermonuclear reaction, the scientists will attempt to use the lasers’ immensely powerful beams to reach temperatures of more than 200 million degrees Fahrenheit and pressures millions of times greater than Earth’s atmosphere – conditions found only in the interior of the sun and stars [San Francisco Chronicle].

But, as with all fusion energy project, don’t expect too much too fast. The classic joke is that fusion is the “energy source of the future – and always will be” [MSNBC].

Related Content:
80beats: At the National Ignition Facility, Let the Fusion Begin! Hopefully.
80beats: Countdown to Nuclear Fusion: National Ignition Facility Warms Up
DISCOVER: Countdown to Fusion: National Ignition Facility in Pictures [photo gallery]
DISCOVER: The Laser To End All Lasers

Image: National Ignition Facility, Lawrence Livermore National Lab. The interior of the target chamber.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Physics & Math, Technology
  • Glum

    If the military finds an ap. for fusion technology, will they let the world have it for peacefull purposes? There’s a lot to lose for big oil & the status quo if fuel is suddenly clean, cheaper and abundant.

  • Ghost

    Im pretty sure the military already has uses for fusion. H-Bombs.

  • James Thompson

    The US has to find out if it can develop cheap fusion power and laser ignition both power and weapons. Oil company’s supported President Kennedy’s election because he promised them a Vietnam War, which would consume a huge amount of Oil. When President Kennedy decided to back out of Vietnam, Robert Strange McNamara notified his Oil Industry contacts; they took President Kennedy Out! Likewise they took out Martin Luther King for opposing the Vietnam War, Robert Kennedy, and maimed George C. Wallace! In his first administration, President Richard M. Nixon developed the Two Controlled Combustion Cycles, the Mann Diesel and the Texaco Gasoline, that use only half the Crude Oil as Conventional Cycles use. How? These inject their fuel only as the Piston reaches the Top of its Compression Cycle or Stroke, and Pre-Ignition or Knock becomes Impossible! Therefore the Two Cycles do not require specially thickened High Octane or High Cetane fuels from the Gigantic Crude Oil Refineries-which burn up half their crude Oil Intake over-refining the other half. That half burnt up, is of course wasted! So the Oil Companies and Oil the Producing Nations (especially Soviet Russia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Mexico) United to use Character Assassination to force President Nixon to preserve the need for the Gigantic Crude Oil Refineries which waste half their crude oil intake. Or the price of Crude Oil would have dropped by more than half, ruining Oil Industry Companies, Individuals, and Nations! If Laser Nuclear Ignition leads to Practical Power, they will try the same thing again! This time The Technologically advanced Oil Have Not Nations may join together to develop Laser Nuclear Ignition on their own. Such would be Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, Switzerland, Israel, Italy, Spain, Jordan, India, South Korea, Japan, Tiwan, Red China sitting on Trillions of dollars. They would be difficult to stop! “Sic Transit Gloria,” Mr.. David Rockefeller and EXXON!

  • James Thompson

    Today’s Sorry State Of Affairs may be termed: President Richard M. Nixon’s Revenge.
    Tomorrow’s Sorry State of Affairs, even More So! President Richard M. Nixon was more Liberal and a far better President, than Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, or Barack Obama! And President Richard M. Nixon was a far better President than that Corporatist Fool,Ronald Reagan, or those Sell-Outs, George H. W., and George W/ Bush.

  • boo

    James Thompson, too bad Nixon hung himself. Unless you are saying Woodward and Bernstein were shills for Mexico? Liddy too?

    Nixon used Vietnam to his political advantage too, at the expense of our boys lives. He showed foresight and accomodation with his drug policies, but that has as little to do with fusion as your rants have.

    At least the science for fusion is being documented, let us see for ourselves if it can be realized.

  • Richard Smoker

    Holy crap…the crackheads are now posting on this site!!

  • boo, cough, cough..

    Nixon didn’t care for smokers, but he was atuned to the concerns if voters. He was the last president to spend more money on treatment than on incarciration for drug users. Incidentally, his term saw the lowest recividism rate of inarciration for drug offenders to date. Politics aside, there’s a wars worth of money that could’ve been spent on better things than the penal state we have today.

    Now let’s focus those laser beams!

  • Science

    Oh, to restore my hope in America’s science. Now all we need is for NASA to make a glorious comeback and my life will be complete yet again.

  • Sukta Banannpor

    Try yoga?

  • Colin Grant

    If you read the LLNL annoucement, NIF has been firing all 192 lasers since June 2009. What’s important is their ability to minutely adjust wavelengths.

    I visited this facility last year, and the only thing more impressive than the hardware is the dedication of its scientists.


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