Finally, fusion in a jar… I am excited about science. Can you tell? It’s 2:27 am and I’ve spent an hour writing up this article, if that’s any indication. (I did just have my fifth glass of Mountain Dew, however.)
I recently blogged about MSU being chosen as the DOE Facility for Rare Isotope Beams (FRIB). Another facility in the news that I am enthusiastic about is the Lawrence Livermore National Ignition Facility (NIF). I think the NIF is NIFTY!
NIF’s 192 giant lasers, housed in a ten-story building the size of three football fields, will deliver at least 60 times more energy than any previous laser system. When all of its beams are fully operational, NIF will focus nearly two million joules of ultraviolet laser energy on a tiny target in the center of its target chamber – creating conditions similar to those that exist only in the cores of stars and giant planets and inside a nuclear weapon. The resulting fusion reaction will release many times more energy than the laser energy required to initiate the reaction.
After several decades of studying fusion and failing to sustain reactions (ignite fusion) in a commercially viable reactor, this effort will up the ante by firing the laser with five hundred trillion watts of power at a small hydrogen fuel cell, called a hohlraum, containing a few milligrams of hydrogen/deuterium fuel. In this indirect drive method, the lasers heat up the tiny metal cylinder, the hohlraum, which in turn generates intense, and uniform x-rays which compress the hydrogen fuel at 100,000,000,000 atmospheres in just a millionth of a second. The fusion reaction should release more energy than was put in, making fusion a highly attractive alternative to fossil fuels, since is a much more efficient reaction and essentially clean, compared to the process of splitting apart atoms, nuclear fission (used in nuclear reactors today).
In addition to its focus on achieving ignition, and eventually showing how sustained inertial fusion can become an economically feasible (an essentially limitless fuel source), NIF will be used for other photon science missions, such as gaining a better understanding of dark energy, black holes, cosmic rays, and the stelar synthesis of heavy elements.