Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Power Science

National Ignition Facility Fires 192-Beam Pulse 438

Posted by kdawson
from the world's-largest-laser dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The construction and test firing of the National Ignition Facility have been completed. NIF was designed as the first facility ever to achieve self-sustaining nuclear fusion and, in particular, to reach the point of ignition in which more energy is generated from the reaction than went into creating it. While the recent 192-beam pulse only produced 80 kilojoules worth of energy, all signs point to NIF being able to reach an order of magnitude higher (PDF) than that in the coming year."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

National Ignition Facility Fires 192-Beam Pulse

Comments Filter:
  • Still problems? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by TFer_Atvar (857303) on Tuesday March 10, 2009 @11:59PM (#27145581) Homepage
    I didn't see anything in the article about Helium removal. I thought that was the biggest remaining problem with nuclear fusion -- removing the Helium-4 "waste" from the reaction before the Helium "poisons" it and shuts down. Someone please correct me. I'm sure that's not entirely accurate.
    • by Firehed (942385)

      It'll all be put towards making our cars fly, so that we can finally experience the 21st century as it was meant to be experienced.

    • Re:Still problems? (Score:4, Informative)

      by daknapp (156051) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:53AM (#27146041)

      That's the problem with magnetically confined fusion. NIF will be inertially confined.

    • Re:Still problems? (Score:5, Informative)

      by DBHolder (1196557) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @01:28AM (#27146309)
      Inertial confinement fusion does not rely on having a stable plasma for any extended period of time as magnetic confinement does. Instead, think of it as a series of small bombs. Each is fired into the center of the chamber and ignited with the laser system. In a commercial plant this would have occur 5-8 times a second. Meaning you have what is essentially machine gun speed firing of DT pellets into the center of the chamber with equavalent speed lasers. Thus one of the large problems remaining in ICF fusion is the development of the laser components that can fire in this way for extended periods of time. Additionally, first wall materials are needed that can handle the neutron and ion flux that is generated in extended operation. The major US project that was actually addressing the laser and material tech side was HAPL, which got zeroed out on the FY 2009 budget.
      • Re:Still problems? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by JRIsidore (524392) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @07:10AM (#27148215)
        I'd say building a laser capable of firing with this frequency is the smaller problem. They're already designing the next generation of lasers which can do this (see HiPER). IMHO the targets pose a way larger problem. Right now they are all hand-crafted and hand-picked. Target laboratories produce maybe a few dozen per day but a full blown reactor needs about half a million per day! And since they are cryogenic you have too cool them until the very last moment before the laser hits them. The latest system to do this takes ~ 3 hours to bring a single target in place. Even if you fire them with a some kind of gun into the target chamber you have to ensure they are aligned on a micron scale in a chamber with about 10m diameter (NIF).

        So far this was of big deal as laser experiments have always been single shot experiments. Current big lasers can shoot only once in a few hours, plenty of time to prepare each shot and align the target. High reprate lasers (with high energy) only start to emerge and people begin to focus on high reprate target production.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @01:59AM (#27146479)

      I didn't see anything in the article about Helium removal. I thought that was the biggest remaining problem with nuclear fusion -- removing the Helium-4 "waste" from the reaction before the Helium "poisons" it and shuts down. Someone please correct me. I'm sure that's not entirely accurate.

      They've already started on an adjoining balloon factory. If they can break even on the energy production the Helium balloon animals sales will drive them into profits.

  • Energy Independence (Score:3, Interesting)

    by joocemann (1273720) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:00AM (#27145601)

    When we have energy in surplus, at the (general) expense of no one, the world may move much more easily to peaceful respect and cooperation.

    I'm looking forward to renewable energy sources blazing the path to peace, but what I keep hearing from people in the field of nuclear physics is that Fusion will be realized by the mid 2020s.

    If we can only hold off on the nuclear weapons until then, maybe we stand a chance to exist in a time when we spend our efforts of work (money/tax-dollars) to help each other instead of kick each others ass as best as we can afford.

    • by icepick72 (834363) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:03AM (#27145633)
      Hey, I saw that Star Trek episode too.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by WCLPeter (202497)

        Hey, I saw that Star Trek episode too.

        Like any good Slashdot geek I can appreciate a little Star Trek humor. But in all seriousness, the original poster is only half right. Nearly infinite clean energy is practically useless without the replication technology that takes advantage of it.

        If our ultimate goal as a species is world peace, like the original poster was talking about, then we are going to have to eliminate the planetary struggle and competition of scarce resources that marks our current existence. In order to do that we will need b

        • by ConceptJunkie (24823) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @08:11AM (#27148541) Homepage Journal

          If you have effectively free and infinite energy, practically any other resource problem can be solved with today's technology.

          • by ChromaticDragon (1034458) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:14AM (#27149825)

            I imagine there are all sorts of resources where this view may hold true. But I'm not certain every resource problem can be solved this way - especially not within a desirable timeframe.

            Furthermore, since we are in the realm of discussing science fiction, what about waste heat? There are authors (such as Peter Hamilton) who have envisioned that the widespread adoption of fusion and "free energy" sends global warming skyrocketing, not due to greenhouse gases but simply due to enormous amounts of waste heat.

            • by Ihlosi (895663) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @10:53AM (#27150463)

              There are authors (such as Peter Hamilton) who have envisioned that the widespread adoption of fusion and "free energy" sends global warming skyrocketing, not due to greenhouse gases but simply due to enormous amounts of waste heat.

              Err .. I don't think that waste heat will be a global problem. Compared to the heat input earth receives from the sun, a couple of hundred fusion reactors will be lost in the measurement noise.

              However, waste heat will very much be a local problem. You can only heat up rivers and spots on the shoreline that much before problems occur, and you _will_ need a water-based heat sink for those reactors.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Bearhouse (1034238)

          Yeah, and a global outbreak of selflessness and common sense.

          I fear we'll get infinite clean energy waaaay before we get that.

    • We hardly even use nuclear fission. We already need fusion? How about building some nice easy nuclear power plants.. just stick some radioactive rods in some coolant and let the steam do the work. You don't have to worry about magnetically containing a sustainable fusion reaction.
    • by fishinatree (1368937) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:14AM (#27145737) Journal
      I think we've moved past the old Cold War era modus operandi: nuclear weapons are no longer necessary nor considered as an indicator of power. Military spending in that area has decreased drastically since the Reagan era. Essentially, we've reached a point where "kick[ing] each others ass as best as we can afford" is no longer a profitable venture and is, in fact, a great way to lose the economic support and favor of the international community. What we need is some CERN-scale collaboration on this so that we can possibly help to alleviate the energy strains on the global populace.
      • by DigiShaman (671371) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @01:32AM (#27146337) Homepage

        What we need is some CERN-scale collaboration on this so that we can possibly help to alleviate the energy strains on the global populace.

        That's great and all, but not very helpful when you have religious radical factions tearing nations apart from the inside out.

        What governs humanity's motivation often goes beyond just the quest of plentiful resources.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by swillden (191260)

          What governs humanity's motivation often goes beyond just the quest of plentiful resources.

          No, it doesn't.

          The radical religious factions tearing nations apart are a symptom of lack of resources. Not that there won't be fanatics, regardless, but without a large population of hungry, dissatisfied people with no opportunities and nothing to look forward to but a life of grinding poverty, the fanatics have very limited power.

    • by digitalunity (19107) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .ytinulatigid.> on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:24AM (#27145817) Homepage

      There will always be limited resources, and those who would deny those resources to others as leverage against their fellow man. It's about power, not scarcity of resources.

    • by 14erCleaner (745600) <FourteenerCleaner@yahoo.com> on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:24AM (#27145819) Homepage Journal

      what I keep hearing from people in the field of nuclear physics is that Fusion will be realized by the mid 2020s.

      Commercial fusion reactors have been 20 years away for at least the last 40 years. It's good to hear that we're now only 15 years away.

      • by fractoid (1076465)
        So by your figures, we should have fusion reactors in production within 120 real-world years? :)
    • by Hao Wu (652581) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:26AM (#27145841) Homepage

      When we have energy in surplus, at the (general) expense of no one, the world may move much more easily to peaceful respect and cooperation.

      Ultra-cheap energy will create devices that require materials and technology which yield other shortages. Wars will continue over those items.

      War itself will be cheaper to wage due to the low energy costs, removing a major incentive not to wage it.

      • by quantaman (517394) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @01:02AM (#27146127)

        When we have energy in surplus, at the (general) expense of no one, the world may move much more easily to peaceful respect and cooperation.

        Ultra-cheap energy will create devices that require materials and technology which yield other shortages. Wars will continue over those items.

        War itself will be cheaper to wage due to the low energy costs, removing a major incentive not to wage it.

        The first world would seem to serve as a counter-example.

        True as our standards improve we'll squabble over more trivial things.

        But I don't think it's as hopeless as you make it sound, there's a reason why the world is as peaceful as its ever been and I think it's related to the fact our material wealth is also as great as its ever been.

      • by fractoid (1076465)
        With enough available energy you can make as much as you want of pretty much anything except coldness.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by renoX (11677)

        [[ Ultra-cheap energy will create devices that require materials and technology which yield other shortages ]]

        That's FAR from certain: ultra-cheap energy would allow to recycle materials better so external need for materials could be lessened too.

        Beside which material are you talking about??

    • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris&beau,org> on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:26AM (#27145843)

      > When we have energy in surplus, at the (general) expense of no one, the world
      > may move much more easily to peaceful respect and cooperation.

      ROFLMAO! Energy abundance will more likely just shift the resource wars to different places. We won't need oil any more but we will need all sorts of rare minerals just like we do now, only with limitless energy we will develop all sorts of new exotic manufacturing processes. But telling the House of Saud to go pound sand will still be priceless.

    • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare@NoSpaM.gmail.com> on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:49AM (#27146009) Homepage Journal

      a society is as rich as its values. this is the reason the west is so powerful, not because it has nike sweatshops in indonesia. the usa, in 250 years, has eclipsed civilizations thousands of years older, because its foundational values from the enlightenment are simply superior ways of organizing society in productivity and happiness, and valuing progress and tolerance

      however, in its need for energy, the west rewards places like saudi arabia. therefore, saudi arabia has no incentive to get better values, or evolve, and remains a stultified insanity exporting (wahabbi islam) country. when soccer mom fills up her SUV, she funds ultraconservative madrassas in pakistan and indonesia via saudi arabia that teach the west is the devil and should be destroyed

      if oil never existed on the arabian penninsula, the insane ultraconservative religious ideas would remain the enclave of the few tribes who remained in the desert, and the cities would be full of young progressive thinking muslims, modern-looking and clamoring for change, and achieving it. simply because there would be no artificially propped up old guard preserving medieval values that simply don't work, and keeping their young from having a society they can envision themselves as better than the one they have

      oil money, petrodollars, it keeps saudi arabia frozen in time, without any need or desire to adapt better values, and it allows it to export social values which are toxic to progress and prosperity. it exports these backwards values, and funds the evangelizing of ultraconservative wahabbi islam throughout the muslim world. so when we have fusion, and the value of oil drops to squat, only then will saudi arabia begin to modernize, because only then will it have to modernize for the first time since the penninsula was united in the early 20th century and oil was discovered

      but right now, saudi arabia doesn't have to modernize its value system, because it is rewarded insane amounts of cash simply for sitting on a lot of oil. to the detriment of saudi society, the detriment of poor muslim societies that are recipients of the evangelizing of well-funded ultraconservative thinking, and the detriment of the west, which is vilified by the people it pays to give them oil to run their gas guzzling cars

      in this way will fusion promote peace: by stop rewarding feeble, backwards societies and their unhuman values, simply because they sit on a lot of oil

    • Unfortunately, National Ignition Facility has nothing to do with energy production and everything to do with nuclear weaponry.

      In reality, it is a physical simulation of the tough part of nuclear weapons design, the transfer of photon radiation to the thermonuclear secondary. There are extremely complex and exotic fluid dynamics. These results are used to calibrate the simulation codes for nuclear weapons, which are all about thermodynamics & radiation transfer, and not about nuclear physics.

      For energy p

      • by mbkennel (97636)

        Apologies for the self followup, but the evidence for the above is publicly available:

        "NIF is a program of the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration. "

        https://lasers.llnl.gov/ [llnl.gov]

        NNSA is the section of DOE which operates the production and analysis of nuclear weapons.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by mauthbaux (652274)
      Momofuku Ando, the guy who invented ramen noodles thought something similar: "Peace will come to the world when the people have enough to eat."

      The problem is, as you provide for peoples' needs, they start to bicker about pettier and pettier things. For instance, look at the violence that breaks out between fans of opposing sport teams.
  • by macraig (621737) <mark@a@craig.gmail@com> on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:01AM (#27145615)

    Enough of all this shark-jumping! Sharks have feelings, too!

    Actually I'm a loan shark, but we're all brothers.

  • Did my computer screw it up or does the link really point to a 6MB 1p pdf? Why not just use a bmp?
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by MarkRose (820682)

      Your computer is infected with the Adobe virus. A format and reinstall is required to completely eliminate it.

    • Re:big a pdf (Score:4, Interesting)

      by uvajed_ekil (914487) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @01:09AM (#27146165)
      Did my computer screw it up or does the link really point to a 6MB 1p pdf? Why not just use a bmp?

      6MB? That's nothing. A few days ago I clicked on a link to some information about a local city park. Five minutes later, after being distracted, I thought the link was broken or I didn't click it or something. Nope: the 28MB pdf was still downloading! But at least I got the entry info for the 5k run... for last year! But I guess that's to be expected in a city of 20,000 that still doesn't accept online utility payments, doesn't have even one Starbucks (which I'm okay with) and has 3 Circle K stores one one road within 1.5 miles of each other.
  • hmmm (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Idiomatick (976696) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:05AM (#27145647)
    Hasn't the worlds largest laser always been completed? Or at least since the first laser was created..
  • I guess we are still on track for global annihilation by 2011/2012, between this bad boy, ITER, and the Large Hadron Collider, it is practically guaranteed!
  • by jmorris42 (1458) * <jmorris&beau,org> on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:06AM (#27145657)

    We have been about thirty years away from having fusion power for the last forty or so years. Seems like they pick thirty years because it is far enough out that those making the predictions probably won't be around to be held to account.

    And the NIF webpage says nothing about trying to actually achieve a stable fusion reaction, just general high energy research stuff with some carrots dangled out to keep the funding going. So we are still probably thirty years away from fusion plants.

    If we were really serious about energy independence (or if ya still believe in AGW) we would be building fission plants as fast as we could pour concrete and dumping serious coin into R&D on fusion. The idea being fission is what we can do NOW but be sure we have something in the pipeline lest we, in a hundred years or so, find ourselves running out of Uranium and back in the same energy crisis and by then demand would be so great burning dinosaurs would be pissin' in the wind.

  • by Sgs-Cruz (526085) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @12:32AM (#27145887) Homepage Journal

    Let's be clear here. The purpose of the NIF is not to achieve fusion for energy production purposes. They just sell it that way. Its main goal isn't even simulations of the interior of Jupiter, or whatever they're hyping up this week.

    You just need to look at the operating agency to see what its goal is: the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA). That is, the people who make and control the H-bombs. See, the U.S. doesn't detonate H-bombs anymore, and needs to figure out whether the old warheads are still reliable. Instead, giant simulations of H-bomb detonations are used: hence the 20-petaflop Sequoia being installed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

    But these simulations are no good if the physics model being used isn't accurate. How do you get an equation of state for deuterium at a billion atmospheres of pressure and 10 million kelvin temperature? You do an experiment: NIF. (And also the Z-Machine at Sandia.)

    I get annoyed that the DOE sells NIF as a fusion energy machine. It's not, and it was never meant to be, and when people realize that target implosion fusion is never going to put a watt onto the grid, they're going to get even more annoyed at broken promises from fusion. It's basically avoiding the hard marketing problem of H-bombs by selling the machine as energy research.

    (disclaimer: I work in a magnetic fusion lab and while I'm not a pacifist, I don't generally like H-bombs and don't like that my field is associated with them)

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by doppe1 (856394)

      Let's be clear here. The purpose of the NIF is not to achieve fusion for energy production purposes. They just sell it that way.

      They are not trying to sell NIF as the fusion energy production. It is the first step on a long road in that direction.

      They are selling LIFE [llnl.gov] as the fusion energy of the future, this will be built on techonology developed for NIF.

      From the link

      LIFE, an acronym for Laser Inertial Fusion-Fission Energy, is an advanced energy concept under development at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Based on physics and technology developed for the National Ignition Facility (NIF), LIFE has the potentia

      • by Sgs-Cruz (526085) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @01:14AM (#27146205) Homepage Journal

        Go to the NIF site [llnl.gov]. What are the first things you see?

        NATIONAL IGNITION FACILITY AND PHOTON SCIENCE: THE POWER OF LIGHT

        Schwarzenegger touts NIF energy innovations

        Creating a miniature star on Earth: that's the goal of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world's largest laser. When ignition experiments begin in 2010, NIF will focus the intense energy of 192 giant laser beams on a BB-sized target filled with hydrogen fuel â" fusing, or igniting, the hydrogen atoms' nuclei. This is the same fusion energy process that makes the stars shine and provides the life-giving energy of the sun.

        Missions:

        National Security

        Energy for the Future.

        You can't tell me that there isn't a very deliberate marketing plan being put into action here.

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          Hey. They said that its for "National Security" and "Energy for the Future".

          They never said Who's future, and how much energy they're going to get all at once.

    • by BlueParrot (965239) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @01:17AM (#27146227)

      I did my BSc thesis on the laser plasma interaction in NIF and my impression was that while inertial confinement fusion is extremely unlikely to be practical as a power plant, it may be used as an exceptionally intense neutron source for various experiments. Spallation sources can generally achieve high neutron fluxes and neutron energies, but an inertial confinement fusion device would generate orders of magnitude higher neutron intensities still. Moreover the fusion neutrons are virtually mono energetic, and this is impossible to achieve with most present spallation designs without drastically reducing the number of available neutrons. Essentially the only way to do it is to use some criteria like time-of-flight or neutron diffraction to select for only neutrons of a given energy, thus wasting all other neutrons, and this is only practical at low energies. At higher energies you would likely need to exploit the kinematics of some form of knockout reaction, like Li(D,n)Be, and since the large yield requirement would likely cause you to ionize your target, such a scheme would have challenges similar to those faced by inertial confinement devices. It also seems to me that it would be tricky to generate such a powerful deuterium pulse, if it is at all possible.

    • Which brings up the very good question: Where the heck is our equivalent of ITER?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by nojayuk (567177)

        You (I presume you are American) already have one. It's called... ITER. The US whined and moaned over the possibility of ITER being built in France, delaying its start by a couple of years. Eventually the US was over-ruled by nearly all the other countries who actually wanted to get on with developing fusion as a possible power source. Cadarache in France was finally chosen as the site and the project is now up and running.

        There are a number of other fusion research projects going on around the world, b

    • There are plenty of technologies that start out as a military primary (or even exclusive) purpose but yield benefits to the whole world. Sometimes it is direct, sometimes indirect, but it is very common.

      Heck, take nuclear technology in the first place. Whole reason that shit got developed so fast was to make a big bomb. Los Alamos was not started for humanitarian reasons, it was started to blow some people the fuck up. Now the work they did there didn't have any direct civilian applications. Not much market

  • I thought sustained nuclear fusion would be a really huge scientific breakthrough.
    Can this replace all nuclear fission and coal power plants with a clean plentiful nuclear fusion?

    Isn't this a change-life-as-we-know-it achievement?
    Would a local expert comment on this?
  • turning all of california into beachfront real estate

    thereby boosting house values, and saving the economy

    we need someone to fly around the earth real fast to make it rotate backwards and reverse time

  • little help! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by i_b_don (1049110) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @02:46AM (#27146763)

    Ok... i'm not a nuclear scientists obviously and I need a little more information to help me out. What's so great about nuclear fusion? If this works does that mean we'll have clean energy without radioactive byproducts? If not, why is this better than nuclear power plants today?

    Next, assuming we get this working, what material does it require to make it work successfully? And really, what then becomes the bottle neck to producing infinite cheap energy?

    I went and skimmed the wikipedia page but in my 3 min search i couldn't find anything to answer my questions. Without this knowledge I don't think I can appreciate this discussion.

    Thanks in advance.

    d

    • Re:little help! (Score:4, Informative)

      by Ihlosi (895663) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @04:57AM (#27147491)

      What's so great about nuclear fusion?

      Fuel for nuclear fusion is more abundant than fuel for nuclear fission, by a couple of orders of magnitude.

      If this works does that mean we'll have clean energy without radioactive byproducts?

      Not quite. The "waste" of fusion isn't radioactive, but most fusion reactions generate neutrons that will activate whatever the reactor is made out of. So there will be some waste that needs to be dealt with.

      If not, why is this better than nuclear power plants today?

      It doesn't depend on heavy elements as fuel, and doesn't produce waste that's a mix of all kinds of crap (unfissioned material, fission products, unfissionable (but still toxic) heavy elements, activated materials), but just one kind of crap (activated materials).

      Next, assuming we get this working, what material does it require to make it work successfully?

      We have the materials, we need to get the processes right.

      And really, what then becomes the bottle neck to producing infinite cheap energy?

      Possibly, waste heat. You'll still need to get rid of that, provided that the fusion reactor drives a standard turbine setup.

  • by Carbon016 (1129067) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @03:40AM (#27147105)

    They testfired the lasers they're going to be using for fusion later. Those beams (attempt to) put out a fixed amount of energy. They reported the total energy. No fusion happened, no energy was net produced, the only thing that happened was the lasers fired at 420J each.

    This is pretty clear from the article, but not like anyone would RTFA anyway.

  • by Ihlosi (895663) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @07:43AM (#27148381)

    "Where's the kaboom? There was supposed to be an earth-shattering kaboom!"

  • by cashman73 (855518) on Wednesday March 11, 2009 @09:54AM (#27149537) Journal
    Here's an exclusive photo of the test facility [wordpress.com]!

Pound for pound, the amoeba is the most vicious animal on earth.

Working...