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Power Technology

Vicariously Tour the National Ignition Facility 97

Posted by timothy
from the semi-disturbing-place-name dept.
Dave Bullock writes "The National Ignition Facility (NIF) has been discussed several times over the years on Slashdot and just recently fired all of its 192 lasers. LLNL scientists predict NIF will attain ignition (controlled nuclear explosion) in 2010. For now, take a look at the photos I shot of NIF for Wired.com when I toured it earlier this year."
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Vicariously Tour the National Ignition Facility

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  • I hope I'm not the only one who immediately thought of this: PIZZA NIF [youtube.com]
  • 192 lasers? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 06, 2009 @03:47PM (#28236263)

    Geez, how much does it take to keep all those sharks fed?

    • by peragrin (659227)

      American's are fat and tasty. Why else is computer science in america shrinking In at least one way.

    • by p51d007 (656414)
      Oh I can just hear the moaning from those who will say "just think how many poor could be fed with all the money bla bla bla"....
      • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        That is short sighted thinking. A new source of renewable clean safe energy will feed vastly many more.

    • Re:192 lasers? (Score:5, Informative)

      by deglr6328 (150198) on Saturday June 06, 2009 @07:24PM (#28237717)

      Those Wired pictures are nice and all but if you want wallpaper, why don't you just go to the source, LLNL's Flickr [flickr.com] page? As an aside, as someone who works at the US's other major laser fusion facility (there aren't many, I'll leave it to you to figure out), I can tell you that all the scaled implosions we've been doing for the past 10 years here validate the expectation that NIF will achieve fusion ignition, burn, and high gain when they go to 2MJ cryogenic DT ice implosions next year. We are extremely excited. This will be the first time nuclear fusion breakeven and ignition will have been achieved in a laboratory. I want you to think for a little while about what the long term implications of fusion energy on technologically advanced human civilization will be. I still don't think very many people realize that this experiment is a MAJOR step in that ultimate goal.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        We are extremely excited.

        Not as excited as the lasers, I'll bet.

      • by vyvepe (809573)
        Why you think this is going to be cheaper than fission? I'm unimpressed by the project from the point of view of power genration. Otherwise it looks cool though :)
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by deglr6328 (150198)

          Well you probably should be unimpressed by the project from the point of view of power generation, since it was never designed with the objective of generating power in mind. And in the very long term I DO think this is going to be cheaper than fission since its fuel source is water an pinch of lithium. Additionally, it will burn radioactive waste from fission plants.

          • by vyvepe (809573)
            The fuel price does not seem to be such a problem with fission plants. It is something like 18% of the electricity cost. If we consider problem of waste then this will emit a lot of neutrons so it is probably comparable to IFRs in the terms of waste. For IFRs the cost of fuel should be neglible. So for this as a power source it needs to get at least as good as IFRs. I would like to know whether it has a chance. If it does not have a chance (which is what I suspect) it should not be tried to be sold to publi
      • by edxwelch (600979)

        > Those Wired pictures are nice and all but if you want wallpaper, why don't you just go to the source, LLNL's Flickr [flickr.com] page?

        Hmm, what are those owls doing in the NIF?

  • Um... wow. 'controlled nuclear explosion'?

    I'm an utter layman - anyone care to explain why that shouldn't be shocking?

    • by Cold hard reality (1536175) on Saturday June 06, 2009 @03:53PM (#28236329)

      Because it's controlled.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Broken scope (973885)
      "Nuclear Explosion" is a rather stupid way of phrasing what is going to happen, theoretically, inside the reactor.
    • by Jamamala (983884) on Saturday June 06, 2009 @04:14PM (#28236501)
      Here's a link [wikipedia.org] to a wikipedia section explaining what the summary means by "controlled nuclear explosion".
    • Shocking is the whole point...
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by warpuck (825909)
      It is more likely to produce a black hole in a bank account.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      by Dr_Barnowl (709838)

      It is shocking.

      Firstly, because it's basically a way around the bans on testing fusion weapons.

      Secondly, because it's a really expensive way around the bans on testing fusion weapons. Multi-billion-dollar expensive.

      Thirdly, because they like to pretend it has some relevance to civilian energy generation to help justify it.

      • Firstly, because it's basically a way around the bans on testing fusion weapons.

        Yeah, we'll sure be ready for the day when we get an enemy to sit still all day long while we fine tune 192 x ray lasers to fire all in sync at him.

    • by clong83 (1468431) on Saturday June 06, 2009 @05:01PM (#28236841)
      I used to work at LLNL on another project, but I'll give it my best shot from what I understood of NIF. I toured it once myself, if that means anything...

      In a nuclear bomb, say, they would have several kilograms of nuclear fuel, and the catalyst for the reaction is usually another bomb of some kind. Very uncontrolled, just trying to make a big "boom". In this experiment, they are using very very tiny amounts of deuterium and tritium, and the catalyst is 192 lasers firing simultaneously. The energy output will have a very real ceiling that is theoretically well below what is needed to blow up the whole lab. (Still, it's probably bad to be in the room when it goes off...)

      Their goal is actually to get as much energy out of this explosion as is possible, so if the lab did blow up, it would probably ironically be something of a success... Their real goal is to simply get more energy out than they inject via lasers in a controlled fashion. That would be a proof of concept for workable fusion powered reactors.

      Note, this is NOT a power plant, and my comments should not be misconstrued to say "Hey, them there's a fusion power plant". We're still a long long way from that. Kay, thanks.
    • What do you think it is, that is going on inside nuclear power plants?

      Exactly.

      Also a controlled nuclear reaction.

  • 2010? (Score:3, Funny)

    by lobiusmoop (305328) on Saturday June 06, 2009 @03:51PM (#28236301) Homepage

    That's a long time to be chargin thah lazers

  • by johannesg (664142) on Saturday June 06, 2009 @03:56PM (#28236353)

    Throughout the entire NIF facility, emergency shutdown panels listing the status of the laser (using both text and light) provide a level of safety for the hapless scientist or technician who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time before a firing of the lasers.

    Well, I think I speak for everyone here when I say that it was thoughtful of them to provide a warning light before they turn it on... ;-)

    I also hope they have a webcam, especially in that room with the giant tubes (lasers). When the portal storm finally starts I'd like to see those cool lasers ripping through walls, headcrabs, and hapless scientists before I'm turned into a zombie myself ;-)

    • by Lambticc (563530)
      I much prefer to watch from behind locked doors or unbreakable glass windows.
      • Re:Warning light? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by RDW (41497) on Saturday June 06, 2009 @06:14PM (#28237283)

        Yeah, but the trouble with the whole locked door and unbreakable glass window thing is that some idiot always leaves his coat behind in the test chamber, and goes back to fetch it just when the non-cancellable timelock you thoughtfully installed as a safety feature engages, with hilarious consequences when the beams power up. But the worst thing is you then have to put up with a giant blue glowing naked guy who spends most of his time pontificating about the illusory nature of free will as observed from his own godlike perspective, or something, which is never fun at parties.

    • I also hope they have a webcam, especially in that room with the giant tubes (lasers).

      Obviously, you would want to have a workstation positioned directly in the path of the lasers, but does it really need a webcam?

    • The Light...
      The light is taking me to pieces.

    • Throughout the entire NIF facility, emergency shutdown panels listing the status of the laser (using both text and light) provide a level of safety for the hapless scientist or technician who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time before a firing of the lasers.

      Well, I think I speak for everyone here when I say that it was thoughtful of them to provide a warning light before they turn it on... ;-)

      Well, given that they call them emergency shutdown panels, I assume they not only notify possible tar

  • ... was to have missiles with frickin lasers attached to their warheads.

  • Don't cross the streams!

    • But they will. 192 at the same time to be exact. On a tiny piece of whatever it will be afterwards. ^^

      Run for the hills... of the GALAXY!

  • Smart naming, you can go a long way under such a guise and receive steady government funding.

    That might explain why they carry on for decades without a sign of anything working.

    I doubt they would survive under other name like '1000000 Jigawat laser experiment' or something similar, more crazy or more specific.
    • Smart naming, you can go a long way under such a guise and receive steady government funding.

      Would any Congressman vote for spending for a "Controlled Nuclear Explosion Facility?"

      With "National Ignition Facility," they probably think that it has something to do with NASCAR, spark plugs or better fuel efficiency.

    • by deglr6328 (150198)

      "That might explain why they carry on for decades without a sign of anything working."

      Right, right, yeah exactly because they definitely didn't just report on their website being able to deliver >1 MJ of UV light to the target chamber like last month or anything like that. clueless.

  • by chrispycreeme (550607) on Saturday June 06, 2009 @04:40PM (#28236677)

    The National Ignition Facility (NIF) has been discussed several times over the years on Slashdot and just recently fired all of its 192 lasers.

    You know the economy is bad when even lasers are losing their jobs..

    *Ba-dum-cha*

  • At least I hope it is when I go on mine in September.
    • by nofx_3 (40519)

      I just had a tour last weekend (For employee friends and family day) and let me say, the facility is amazing. We were shown nearly everything, from the power generation / holding systems (can you say giant capacitors?) to the conduits where the power of the lasers is amplified, the amplifiers use light & thousands of amazing custom made amber and glass filters. Then we got to see the test chamber, they even opened up the door so we could see INSIDE the chamber, where all the magic happens. All in all

  • by auric_dude (610172) on Saturday June 06, 2009 @04:54PM (#28236793)
    A short video brought to you from those caring folks at Wired http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/10/video-podcast-6/ [wired.com]
  • One laser actually (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stox (131684) on Saturday June 06, 2009 @05:07PM (#28236887) Homepage

    The process starts with a single laser diode. The output of that is split and amplified to make the 192 beams. Pretty amazing when you think about it.

    • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

      by radtea (464814)

      The output of that is split and amplified to make the 192 beams. Pretty amazing when you think about it.

      What's even more amazing is that the program will never result in controlled fusion for peaceful power generation. How can I predict this with certainty? Because the American government is running it. There are some things the American government does really well: build weapons (although they've been falling down on that lately, too), send spacecraft to Mars (so long as they don't screw up the units)

      • At least not without massive help from Europeans

        Well, that does go both ways, bucko.

      • by Bitmanhome (254112) <(moc.xobop) (ta) (namtib)> on Saturday June 06, 2009 @10:00PM (#28238631)

        Right, much like the nuclear program never resulted in anything useful. Or the rocket program. Or the jet engine. Or ARPANET.

        The reason Yucca shut down is due to the populace whining about how unsafe reactors are, beyond all reason. Nothing to do with the government; they were trying to BUILD it.

        But wait, if you order before midnight, you'll get even more stupid: Hydrogen bombs are already fusion devices!

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by MartinSchou (1360093)

          The jet engine [wikipedia.org]? As invented by a British scientist and close to perfected by German scientists during the Second World War? The German version of the jet engine was limited by material science, as they used a layout almost similar to what we have today, but didn't have the materials to make it handle the temperatures involved.

          Rockets are almost as iffy, as the V2 Rocket [wikipedia.org] was the first "real" rocket and a German invention.

          • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

            by sponga (739683)

            The Germans also killed a couple million people to accomplish that task, make sure to give them credit for that since you seem bent on making sure Americans get no credit as usual. Rocket clubs were all around anyways, it's just the development was accelerated by the war as it does anytime you make people suffer.

            German scientist also perfected human guinny pig testing and human slaves that allowed for rocket development.

            Don't cherry pick your favorite achievements by the Germans without ignoring the human s

            • The Germans also killed a couple million people to accomplish that task...

              Correct me if I'm wrong, but killing people doesn't really help the creation of jets or rockets.

              • by sponga (739683)

                Actually yes it does, it allows you to have more resources and allocate the precious workers for more important task.
                Slave labor is very simple economics as you can work the worker till he drops dead, it is very efficent since you don't have to feed or house a dead worker.

                It is very cheap to bring in some Jewish labor to build your brand new factory for science and research.

                Also there were many bunkers built by Jewish prisoners, many tunnel structures were dug raw by hand so they could continue their develo

            • Actually, I didn't cherry pick those two - they were plucked by the original poster. Some times it helps to understand a posting, if you also read the parent.

        • by hcdejong (561314)

          Right, much like the nuclear program never resulted in anything useful. Or the rocket program. Or the jet engine. Or ARPANET.

          Wartime/military. Military/cold war propaganda. British, not American, and wartime/military. Military. Granted, there have been significant civilian/peaceful side effects, but none of these projects were started by the US Government with civilian goals in mind.

          GP omitted 'civilian', but was otherwise spot on.

  • by jackchance (947926) on Saturday June 06, 2009 @05:17PM (#28236939) Homepage
    Did anyone else notice that they are running windows in the control room?

    That frightens me.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by im_thatoneguy (819432)

      Well the facility only needs to run for a few milliseconds so reliability isn't terribly important.

      • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Can windows even run for this long reliably?

    • Did anyone else notice that they are running windows in the control room? That frightens me.

      Windows does just fine as a display system: if that's all they're using it for I have no problem. Where I wouldn't want to see it is performing any kind of control function.

      • Windows does just fine as a display system: if that's all they're using it for I have no problem. Where I wouldn't want to see it is performing any kind of control function.

        So you think they watch how things are going in windows and then when the shit hits the fan they run over to the QNX machine? [qnx.com]

        • Windows does just fine as a display system: if that's all they're using it for I have no problem. Where I wouldn't want to see it is performing any kind of control function.

          So you think they watch how things are going in windows and then when the shit hits the fan they run over to the QNX machine? [qnx.com]

          No, I just think they should use something reliable for the actual control loop, and if they really have to, use Windows for the front-end.

    • That was probably to run QuickBooks to pay everyone.

  • Let me get this straight...they have this giant ignition facility but they don't have the giant ignition key to start it. Boy are they going to be embarrassed. I bet the president will be there and everything.
    • No, it's cool, it's keyless ignition. They've got the National Ignition Beepy Thing, so it'll all be fine.

  • The beryllium sphere featured here [wikipedia.org] and here [wikipedia.org] is real!
  • What is the US gov't's most recent acronym for boondoggle? NIF

    Yet another "Aid for Dependent Physicists of the Cold War" program. Nuclear weapons are no longer anything more than engineering. Why do we have all these theoretical physicists on the payroll to make sure our bombs work? Just periodically refurbish the warheads by completely rebuilding them from pits to primaries, all we know they will work.

    Think of all the better uses this money could have been put to....

  • by Bitmanhome (254112) <(moc.xobop) (ta) (namtib)> on Saturday June 06, 2009 @09:52PM (#28238587)

    I've always wondered what a place like that sounds like at the moment it goes off. Is everything so insulated you don't hear a thing? Or does everything shudder like when someone's blasting at a quarry a few miles away?

    • by deglr6328 (150198)

      The noise is very unique. If you are near the laser bay the noise you hear is a LOUD BANG from the thousands of enormous Xe flashlamps going off simultaneously. The capacitor bay that discharges to fire the lamps produces deeper thud. The noise that comes from the target bay is very different. It's very similar to the quick fsss you hear when opening a can of soda (minus the click), but louder and more resonant. I suspect this has to do with the fact some residual IR light is absorbed by the backplanes of t

  • Because the first picture has something that resembles the experiment from half life 1.
  • How dangerous do the physics-nerds amongst you think this little gadget is: http://www.dealextreme.com/details.dx/sku.6830 [dealextreme.com] ? From what I know, as long as it does not crack and I don't breathe the stuff, it's perfectly save to carry on on your keyring, but I like to triple-check in a case like this, mainly cause I don't fancy the thought of frying my crotch (or worse, destroying data on my thumb drive!). Sadly, I don't have a Geiger counter nor a way to test x-ray exposure (Bremsstrahlung..) so there is no w

    • It's utterly harmless unless you eat it. If you do so it will increase your risk of cancer by a miniscule amount (unless you swallow it whole).

    • by deglr6328 (150198)

      It's literally entirely harmless. Tritium is a pure beta emitter (electrons). The maximum energy of a beta particle from a decaying T atom is 18.6 KeV. A beta particle of 18 KeV can penetrate no more than about 5mm in air or 6-7 MICROmeters in water (or your skin). Exactly zero beta particles are escaping the phosphor coated glass ampoule (let alone the plastic outer case). ok so now what about bremsstrahlung. Well the percent of incident 18 KeV betas on the glass ampoule that actually produce bremsstrahlun

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