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National Ignition Facility Fails To Ignite Support In Congress 190

Posted by samzenpus
from the no-burning-desire dept.
Hugh Pickens writes "For more than 50 years, physicists have been eager to achieve controlled fusion, an elusive goal that could potentially offer a boundless and inexpensive source of energy. Now Bill Sweet writes in IEEE Spectrum that the National Ignition Facility (NIF), now five billion dollars over its original budget and years behind schedule, deserves to be recognized as perhaps the biggest and fattest white elephant of all time. With the total tab for NIF now running to an estimated $7 billion, the laboratory has been pulling out all the stops to claim success is just around the corner. 'We didn't achieve the goal,' said Donald L. Cook, an official at the National Nuclear Security Administration who oversees the laser project but rather than predicting when it might succeed, he added in an interview, 'we're going to settle into a serious investigation' of what caused the unforeseen snags. On one hand, the laser's defenders point out, hard science is by definition risky, and no serious progress is possible without occasional failures. On the other, federal science initiatives seldom disappoint on such a gargantuan scale, and the setback comes in an era of tough fiscal choices and skepticism about science among some lawmakers. 'If the main goal is to achieve a power source that could replace fossil fuels, we suspect the money would be better spent on renewable sources of energy that are likely to be cheaper and quicker to put into wide use,' editorializes the NY Times. 'Congress will need to look hard at whether these "stockpile stewardship" and long-term energy goals can be pursued on a smaller budget.'"
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National Ignition Facility Fails To Ignite Support In Congress

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    Then he'll never cut it, no matter how much waste it is.

    Either that, or find a way to spin it as a cut to Medicare.

    Just make sure he knows it's got nothing to do with PBS, that massive drain on the federal budget that never produces anything of value. Why I can't count the ways it hasn't helped me!

    • by Electricity Likes Me (1098643) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:10AM (#41584009)

      The NIF is part of the military essentially. While it has the side-benefit of allowing us to investigate inertial confined fusion, I thought the whole point of places like that was as a way to test nuclear weapons without actually setting them off?

      • Yes, in this case it isn't even some secret mission, but one of the reasons the program was set up. The NIF's goal is to improve our understanding of fusion. There are two stated applications for doing so: 1) improving designs for possible future fusion-power reactors; and 2) improving understanding of how matter behaves in a thermonuclear explosion.

        The news seems to mostly be about #1, but really #2 is a pretty key part of the reason it exists.

        • Given that the topic is Fussion, and the rhetoric from Congress is negative. One has to wonder who is the money backing this congressional outcry? Who would benefit from America not obtaining Fussion capability?
      • While it has the side-benefit of allowing us to investigate inertial confined fusion, I thought the whole point of places like that was as a way to test nuclear weapons without actually setting them off?

        I've wondered this myself. The design of it seems to make little sense (to me anyway) for use as a sustainable source of power. You blast the target and hopefully get a fusion reaction but then what? There's no turbine or continuous generation of power and the design of it pretty much seems to preclude such use. It makes sense a way to study fusion reactions (and related weapons) but not so much for power generation. Maybe there is hope for some spin-off technology if it was successful but really it se

        • by vlm (69642) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:47AM (#41584433)

          There's no turbine or continuous generation of power and the design of it pretty much seems to preclude such use.

          The walls heat up. That energy is going somewhere. Tell your local thermodynamics engineer, "You dump 10 MW of electricity into it, and magically the walls get 200 MW of heat at a million degrees or so, now do your Rankine/Carnot thing and generate 100 MW of electricity". Stand back and let the engineer work, and ta da !

          • Except there's no way to reload the fuel after each shot (which lasts for a tiny fraction of a second), there's no way to recharge the lasers fast enough even if you could get the fuel in place, and there's no guarantee that the equipment can safely operate at temperatures that make extraction practical. So no, it's not that simple.

            • Whereas the major competition, tokamaks and ITER, simply require you to run -263 degrees pipes at less than 70 centimeters of a 1 million degrees plus fusion reaction. Those reactors have used over 10 times the "way over the top" budget of the NIF, is no closer to fusion than they are, and has been researched double as long ...

              I'm not joining the bandwagon of "ITER will never work", just pointing out that it's not exactly looking like a great investement at the moment.

              The renewables idea is not a very good

            • by rthille (8526)

              I went to a talk by a guy who worked there. They don't "reload the fuel", they shoot the fuel out from the wall and the lasers hit it mid-flight.

        • by gtall (79522)

          Don't do many science experiments, do you? If you had to design a fusion reactor, for which you need to figure out how to make fusion self-sustaining, would you (a) build all the support structure of turbines, steam pipes, etc. as well as the design and build the fusion reactor, or (b) figure out how to make fusion self-sustaining and then worry later about the support structure? Hint, you rarely if ever build the engineering before figuring out the science since how the science comes out will indicate how

          • Assumptions (Score:4, Informative)

            by sjbe (173966) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:40AM (#41585923)

            Don't do many science experiments, do you?

            Since you "asked", my first real job was as a research assistant in a laser and plasma physics lab working on an experiment to study hypersonic shock waves for fusion research. I also have an engineering degree with a minor in applied physics. But thanks for assuming I'm ignorant without actually knowing anything about me.

            It's an experiment, not a finalized design.

            I'm well aware that it is an experiment. However it also is an experiment that almost certainly cannot be translated into a working power plant. It is designed to study weapons and if we happen to learn something useful for fusion power along the way that is terrific. Don't get me wrong, I support research endeavors like the NIF. I think there will be some terrific engineering and scientific spin offs. I just don't think the sort of research they are doing is likely to lead to fusion as a power source. I'd be delighted to be wrong but I doubt I am.

            • I agree. I also support continued research at NIF. The problem with large government funded projects like this, however, are that they tend to draw funding away from a lot of other novel approaches. For example, we haven't funded any molten salt reactor research since the early 1970's. The point of research is to investigate all the most promising leads, but when congress chooses to run with a specific technology, it shuts down competing research. I'm not saying there's potential in the Bussard Polywel

        • by ericloewe (2129490) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:07AM (#41585453)

          Their goal isn't to generate power. Their goal is to prove that it's possible to generate power.

          • Their goal isn't to generate power. Their goal is to prove that it's possible to generate power.

            The only way to truly prove that it is possible to generate power IS to generate power. There is no mechanism in this experiment by which a sustained fusion reaction will occur nor is there any effort I can discern by which they are attempting to actually generate electricity. It is a research experiment for nuclear weapons from which we might learn something useful down the road for fusion power.

            • You really don't get it, do you?
              You can't generate electricity unless the energy coming out of the fusion reaction is greater than that used to generate the reaction.
              And nobody knows how to do that yet. Until we do, adding turbines and generators is like adding a spoiler to a car that doesn't have an engine.
              • by sjbe (173966)

                You really don't get it, do you?

                Believe it or not I do get it. What I'm pointing out is that this facility can at most do basic research. Important stuff that and I'm a big proponent. But it isn't going to lead to a workable fusion power plant. That isn't what it is designed to study. I get that we still haven't generated a controlled sustained reaction. What I also get is that the NIF isn't going to get us one. It is designed with other goals in mind.

                You can't generate electricity unless the energy coming out of the fusion reaction is greater than that used to generate the reaction.

                No one is going to generate a SUSTAINABLE supply of power with the design of the

            • by jamstar7 (694492)

              Their goal isn't to generate power. Their goal is to prove that it's possible to generate power.

              The only way to truly prove that it is possible to generate power IS to generate power. There is no mechanism in this experiment by which a sustained fusion reaction will occur nor is there any effort I can discern by which they are attempting to actually generate electricity. It is a research experiment for nuclear weapons from which we might learn something useful down the road for fusion power.

              Actually, Step 1 is to figure a way to get a sustainable fusion reaction going without melting down the containment vessel. Once we get there, then we start adding the power generation side of things, and start tweaking the design a few (dozen? hundred? thousand?) times to get the last possible erg out of it.

        • by daveschroeder (516195) * on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:16AM (#41585565)

          NIF has three missions:

          - National security (stockpile stewardship [llnl.gov]
          - Basic fusion science [llnl.gov]
          - Understanding the origins of the basic building blocks of the universe [llnl.gov]

          That's it.

          I hate to break it you you, but much of what we do in basic science research is dual-use. It can be used for military applications, or purely scientific applications. Doing stockpile stewardship without nuclear tests is not "getting around" nuclear test ban treaties. It's maintaining the integrity of our increasingly smaller nuclear stockpile as a credible deterrent.

          This overwhelming deterrent capability is part of the reason why the world has seen no major global conflict for seven decades [lanl.gov], and has had the longest period of peace without global conflict for over five centuries. Tens of millions of people died in WWI and WWII.

          We maintain a credible deterrent so it's clear that no one can ever strike us first [youtube.com] without the certainty of themselves also being destroyed -- and if our principles and ideals and those of our allies are something you care about, then that should be important to you.

          The world is changing, and some might say that the general "cyber" and information threats will more important than nuclear. China certainly seems to think so. [slashdot.org] Then again, China is also building out its nuclear weapons capabilities and stockpiles [washingtontimes.com] as the rest of the world, including the US, disarms. No worries, right? Delivery systems that can rain down nuclear warheads on targets anywhere in the world is just for "peaceful regional defense", right?

          A world where the US doesn't maintain an overwhelming deterrent to forces which espouse principles and ideals counter to those of freedom and liberal democracy is not a pretty place [cnn.com].

          (Note to people who think that the US is what's wrong with the world: you are sorely in need of historical perspective -- or, any perspective. The US is not perfect, but the US and West has done far more for the benefit of human life and humanity, on the whole, than any other nation, especially those with Communist, Socialist, or totalitarian systems of government. Wake up.)

          • NIF has three missions:

            - National security (stockpile stewardship [llnl.gov]
            - Basic fusion science [llnl.gov]
            - Understanding the origins of the basic building blocks of the universe [llnl.gov]

            I hate to break it you you, but much of what we do in basic science research is dual-use. It can be used for military applications, or purely scientific applications.

            So despite your condescending tone to someone you know nothing about, you acknowledge that the first purpose of this facility is weapons research. It also is useful for some basic research which is vitally important. We're on the same page.

            Doing stockpile stewardship without nuclear tests is not "getting around" nuclear test ban treaties. It's maintaining the integrity of our increasingly smaller nuclear stockpile as a credible deterrent.

            That's pretty much a fancy way to say it is a way to test nuclear fusion without setting off any actual bombs. Amaze me with how you think that is not a way to get around the test ban treaties. While I didn't bring it up, I don't think anyone is particularly worried

            • The "you" to which I was referring in my post is the royal or general "you", for what it's worth, not you personally.

              I'm also not saying that the only overwhelming deterrent is our nuclear deterrent, but it's part of our deterrent capability.

              Things which are simply not covered by test ban treaties are not "getting around" test bans. When you say "getting around", you make it seem as if it is somehow a shameful, underhanded, dirty trick to "get around" a treaty. Is using supercomputers to simulate nuclear de

          • A world where the US doesn't maintain an overwhelming deterrent to forces which espouse principles and ideals counter to those of freedom and liberal democracy is not a pretty place

            US did not maintain an overwhelming deterrent to opposing forces for a good half of 20th century - it was at parity. The world did not collapse.

            • A world where the US doesn't maintain an overwhelming deterrent to forces which espouse principles and ideals counter to those of freedom and liberal democracy is not a pretty place

              US did not maintain an overwhelming deterrent to opposing forces for a good half of 20th century - it was at parity. The world did not collapse.

              Military technology was also vastly different, and the period leading up to the establishment of the nuclear deterrent saw 2 of the bloodiest and largest wars ever fought occur.

              To think that we could happily go back to that age is to be naive.

  • ...They had a schedule for achieving controlled fusion? Do they have a schedule for warp drive as well?
    • by crazyjj (2598719) *

      They had a schedule for achieving controlled fusion?

      Yes, it's current date + 50 years.

      • When my father was defending his PhD in fusion physics at the University of Wisconsin (1974), he had some very impressive results: 2 data runs, zero standard deviation, date-stamped polaroid photos of every step in each. The zero standard deviation was challenged; the response was to pull out the photos.

        He got the PhD. But he didn't continue in the field. Partly why, may be that when he was asked about the future of practical nuclear fusion, he pointed out that for the last 40 years back then, practical

        • by peragrin (659227)

          you know in the early days of fission they said the same thing about uranium.

          The trick is to understand it enough to make it work, and then to understand it enough to make it stable, and then cheap.

          the real problem is the major jump in material sciences needed to control it. fission is easy as it wants to decay. Fusion will be a long way off but solar, and wind while necessary to augment and in a few isolated cases dominate aren't stable enough for the high energy demands of our society

          • by demachina (71715)

            The odd thing is uranium based fission for power generation never did become particularly stable and certainly isn't cheap.

            The only reason we did it was because we wanted to make bombs and dual use of Uranium and Plutonium mitigated some of the costs and provided some civilian cover for what was basically a weapons program to produce Plutonium and enriched Uranium. Probably exactly the same thing Iran is doing today.

            Japan, Germany and Canada are among the few countries that pursued fission purely as a powe

            • by jamstar7 (694492)

              Japan, Germany and Canada are among the few countries that pursued fission purely as a power source using them to make bombs. Last time I checked Japan and Germany are both abandoning the concept because they've realized its not safe(stable) nor it is it very economical.

              Last time I looked, Germany and Japan were getting NIMBYed on their nuclear plants. I've been expecting the Japanese peasants to grab torches and pitchforks ever since Fukushima got whammied.

        • by Jeremi (14640)

          When asked why, he pointed out some standard feynmann estimates that showed that there isn't enough Lithium in the world to make nuclear fusion a practical power source, using the DT reaction.

          More lithium has been discovered [blogspot.com] since then. How much lithium does a fusion plant need, anyway?

        • there isn't enough Lithium in the world to make nuclear fusion a practical power source, using the DT reaction.

          Yes there is. Most quotes of lithium reserves include only a few tens of millions of tonnes located in salt deposits, because these can be cheaply extracted. But the oceans contain another 230 billion tons [wikipedia.org]. It costs much more to extract lithium from seawater, but that cost is still negligible compared to the value of the energy from a fusion reactor. The world has enough lithium to last for millenniums even if we use it for 100% of our power needs.

          .

  • by tomhath (637240) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:04AM (#41583941)
    In the long run fusion will be the best source of energy. I don't mind having spent the money attempting to make this technology work but apparently it isn't the right solution. Time to move on.
  • 7 billion? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:07AM (#41583975)

    That's it? This is what they claim is the biggest white elephant in our budget?

    It isn't the 700 billion spent on Defense, or the 400 billion we spend on medicare, it's the god damn 7 billion spent on trying to obtain controlled fusion. Don't misunderstand me, it sounds like this project is wasting a ton of money, and something should be done about it. But claiming it is the single biggest flop in our budget, even as hyperbole, is laughable at best, and ill informed at worst.

    • Re:7 billion? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Joce640k (829181) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:13AM (#41584041) Homepage

      Well... the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology thinks the Big Bang is lie from hell [slashdot.org] so why is this surprising?

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      A white elephant isn't just expensive, its cost is more than its worth. High amounts of dollars spent are a necessary condition, but not sufficient; you also need a lack of results or value. You may disagree, but many people think we're getting essential value from the money we spend on defense and Medicare. So what you have a disagreement about values, which doesn't make the opposing view "laughable at best, and ill informed at worst."

      • by jamstar7 (694492)
        Basic research of any kind is a white elephant. That doesn't mean we need to cut all basic research.
    • Re:7 billion? (Score:5, Informative)

      by i kan reed (749298) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:50AM (#41584455) Homepage Journal

      That's 7 billion over the lifetime of the project. The 700 Billion to the military is per year. In fact, I would honestly assert that those costs could be controlled by doing more in-house and less using contractors, but reversing the privatization of government jobs is really unpopular with congress for some reason.

    • Re:7 billion? (Score:4, Informative)

      by khallow (566160) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:50AM (#41584459)
      Or just for science the International Space Station. Every four years or so, they burn the equivalent of a NIF.
    • by gtall (79522)

      The other $2.7 Trillion goes for the rest of the discretionary budget (roughly $400-500 Billion). The remaining $2.3-2.2 Trillion goes for SS and the rest of the entitlements. Defense is now at one of its lowest points with respect to GDP since WW2. You won't be balancing anything by taking it out of Defense. That isn't saying Defense could not be streamlined, it could, but it won't solve the budget problem.

      • Yeah, problem is people don't like the answer to the budget problems. The only solution is halving social services (at least), and reducing it further as population increases. And that assessment is dated - it doesn't include the Obamacare extra expenditures.

        For obvious reasons, this is really unpopular.

    • by ArsonSmith (13997)

      You are trying to compare a $100 hooker that gives you a good professional job and some guy charging you $20 to rub one out your self. Which one is the bigger waste?

    • by DCFusor (1763438)
      And the money spent on DHS and TSA isn't a white elephant? Oh, I forgot they now have all the dirt on their source of funding, and are sooo important in the creation of the police state we're heading towards in headlong fashion.
  • by hyades1 (1149581) <hyades1@hotmail.com> on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:10AM (#41583993)

    There needs to be a very detailed account of what these people have been doing with public funds. Renewable energy in the form of wind, solar, tidal and geothermal generation cannot replace fossil fuels fast enough to keep Global Warming within reasonable limits, but all show promise.

    We've already wasted too much time, and now we need some kind of generation technology to bridge the gap. Imagine what that money could have done helping develop a small, safe, easy-to-build thorium reactor, or overcoming the issues delaying wholesale change to LED lighting.

    • by dkleinsc (563838)

      renewable energy in the form of wind, solar, tidal and geothermal generation cannot replace fossil fuels fast enough to keep Global Warming within reasonable limits

      That completely ignores what should be near the top of the energy agenda, namely conservation. The US, for instance, uses about twice as much energy per capita as Germany, and yet there isn't a significant difference in quality of life.

      And it's interesting that when somebody who knows what they're talking about proposes a cheap and effective measure, like painting rooftops white so they absorb less heat, they are mostly made fun of and/or ignored.

      • by tnk1 (899206)

        Well, I'd probably laugh them out of the room because the last time I painted my roof at all was... never. That's because of all the shingles on it.

        That said, there are white shingles out there, and there's even a tax credit for it.

        On the other hand, white roofs eventually looks like ass after being exposed to nature for awhile. You gain a marginally cooler roof, but your property values plummet because your roof looks like its twice as old as the black one next door because you can see every blotch and b

      • by tibit (1762298)

        For typical US suburban single family construction, painting roofs white doesn't make any sense. Homes have attics, and those attics are ventilated. The more sunlight the roof absorbs, the more air gets pumped through the attic. In my home, the attic is reasonably comfortable even in 30C weather with clear skies -- the air temperature right above the insulation is perhaps 2 C above ambient -- and that's a pretty run-of-the-mill house from 1979. Sure it higher if you measure it elsewhere, but only temperatur

    • Take a week of the Defense budget. Spread it out across 10 projects to fund for a year.

    • by tibit (1762298) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:24AM (#41585685)

      Just because you call some nonexisting tech, wishfully, "small, safe, easy-to-build", doesn't make it so. Unless it's demonstrated to be having those properties, I file it under pink unicorns :(

  • That is it (Score:5, Informative)

    by Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:10AM (#41583999) Homepage

    With the total tab for NIF now running to an estimated $7 billion

    That is it, only $7 billion. To put that number into perspective that is about 2 days of deficit spending (not total spending for those 2 days just the deficit) for the US government.

    • To put that number into perspective that is about 2 days of deficit spending (not total spending for those 2 days just the deficit) for the US government.

      ...for a project that few people really understand during tough economic times. While I'm very much in support of science projects like this, it should surprise no one that stuff like this is going to be first on the chopping block come budget time. Voters don't turn out because their favorite science project got the budgetary ax but they do turn out when medicare is threatened. Big budget science comes with big political risks. If it works, great but if it doesn't it is an easy target and it hurts th

    • That is it, only $7 billion. To put that number into perspective that is about 2 days of deficit spending (not total spending for those 2 days just the deficit) for the US government.

      Is that you [wikipedia.org]? How's business doing in Reno, Mr. Mayor?

      • No but from what his bio looks like I kind of wish I was him, I would be way better off.
        • by srussia (884021)

          No but from what his bio looks like I kind of wish I was him, I would be way better off.

          Employees at Livermore know him well--it's just a 4-hour drive!

    • Re:That is it (Score:5, Informative)

      by Elder Entropist (788485) on Monday October 08, 2012 @10:05AM (#41584633)

      The YEARLY amount spent on missile defense with really bad results is more than the total $7 billion here.

    • by Rockoon (1252108)

      That is it, only $7 billion. To put that number into perspective ...

      I hate it when people claim to be "putting something into perspective" but are really "spinning something marginally related."

      If tax revenue were to decline.. or if the deficit were to increase.. your "perspective" makes this spending look better and better.. thats only 1 day of deficit spending.. thats only half a day of deficit spending.. thats only an hour of deficit spending..

      Your "perspective" is actually the opposite of the way we should think about it.. Its just spin.

      In perspective, its about

  • Money well spent (Score:5, Insightful)

    by zill (1690130) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:14AM (#41584057)
    The experiment was a success. The outcome a failure.

    There are two proposed approaches for fusion power generation: tokamak and ICF. ITER tests the tokamak approach and the National Ignition Facility tests the ICF approach. Thanks to the NIF we now know exactly what ICF is and isn't capable of. I'd call that an excellent return on investment.
    • by Trepidity (597)

      In addition, one of ICF's main goals was to understand the behavior of matter undergoing fusion, which it has contributed extensively to. That's useful scientific knowledge there on its own, but perhaps more relevant to NIF's not-so-secret secondary purpose, it's also been used to improve simulations used in nuclear weapon design and maintenance (since tests are banned, data from experiments like the NIF is very important).

      Now you may or may not think improving our nuclear weapon stockpile is a great use of

    • by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:30AM (#41584239) Journal

      The experiment was a success. The outcome a failure. There are two proposed approaches for fusion power generation: tokamak and ICF. ITER tests the tokamak approach and the National Ignition Facility tests the ICF approach. Thanks to the NIF we now know exactly what ICF is and isn't capable of. I'd call that an excellent return on investment.

      Weird, you seem to be at odds with much of the article:

      With the total tab for NIF now running to an estimated $7 billion, the laboratory has been pulling out all the stops to claim success is just around the corner. At the beginning of July, it announced that 15 years of work had paid off in "an historic record-breaking laser shot," in which 192 beams delivered more than 500 trillion watts of peak power and 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to its target." The lab's leaders predict that "ignition" -- the point where the 192 lasers actually deliver more energy than they consume -- could occur as early as next year.

      So help me out here, if we now know the outcome is a failure why are the project leads asking for more funding and trying to convince us it's just around the corner? Maybe next year, possibly almost sure that it might could happen if the possibilities are totally just almost there.

      Sounds more like "It's 20 years off. Wait, you're pulling our funding?! But it might happen as early as next year!"

      • The NIF has been inching closer and closer to ignition for a long time; it really is right around the corner from a scientific standpoint. And it would be an accomplishment, don't get me wrong, but the engineering to actually produce power with such a system would be another $10billion effort on top of what the NIF has spent. Those big lasers? They take a long time to recharge. The fuel doesn't enter the chamber automatically or quickly. And there's no way to actually harvest the energy produced by the

    • The experiment was a success. The outcome a failure.

      There are two proposed approaches for fusion power generation: tokamak and ICF. ITER tests the tokamak approach and the National Ignition Facility tests the ICF approach. Thanks to the NIF we now know exactly what ICF is and isn't capable of. I'd call that an excellent return on investment.

      You're obviously stuck back in the mid 20th Century when every research project didn't have to show immediate quarterly payback. We don't do that anymore. It's not "efficient".

    • by khallow (566160)

      There are two proposed approaches

      There are at least three. The "Polywell" [wikipedia.org] (which uses a form of inertial electrostatic confinement fusion) is yet another approach.

      There's also some ways to generate extremely inefficient table top fusion (eg, the Farnsworth fusor [wikipedia.org]). Some day we might figure out how to make those efficient enough to generate power.

      Thanks to the NIF we now know exactly what ICF is and isn't capable of. I'd call that an excellent return on investment.

      Nonsense. ROI only makes sense if you consider both the investment and the return. Some vague, fluffy statement that we "know" what ICF can do, isn't a return. And you just blissfully ignored tha

      • by khallow (566160)
        It's also worth noting that the Z-Machine [wikipedia.org] apparently does ICF for lower cost than the NIC.
      • There are two proposed approaches

        There are at least three. The "Polywell" [wikipedia.org] (which uses a form of inertial electrostatic confinement fusion) is yet another approach.

        There's also some ways to generate extremely inefficient table top fusion (eg, the Farnsworth fusor [wikipedia.org]). Some day we might figure out how to make those efficient enough to generate power.

        Farnsworth fusor's are physically due to losses due to material escaping confinement or slamming into the electrical grid in the middle. No matter how you tweak one, the Farnsworth design won't make energy - too many loss processes. Great for desktop neutrons though.

        The Polywell was designed to fix the problems with Farnsworth fusor's by replacing the physical grid with a virtual one composed of focussed electrons. The problem is, the guy who did a lot of the work didn't keep great lab notes (and is now dea

  • by fearofcarpet (654438) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:26AM (#41584201)

    The scientists at NIF have it all wrong; if they want to save their hides they need to get someone from the military to claim they need fusion for... I don't know, fighting terrorists or whatever. Just look at the rail gun--what a spectacular failure. Sure, we can make heavy things go fast, but they still haven't solved basic problems like how keep plasma from electrical arcing from melting the rails. Or the non-lethal microwave device that doesn't work in a light rain. Hypersonic missiles? Or even the myriad "totally necessary" fighter jets with backup engines being developed, just in case. What about space-based missile defense? Maybe NIF could claim that they could retrain their lasers on ICBMs? Clearly, if the military is into something things like price and feasibility are not a problem.

    In all seriousness, how the f*ck can anyone take Congress seriously when it comes to spending? Here we have $7 billion spent trying to discover limitless sources of energy, but ohhhh, they're over budget and that sounds like a big number! The Big Dig (in Boston) was federally subsidized and cost around $8 billion and it was made so poorly (due to corruption and a lack of oversight) that some poor woman was crushed when a ceiling tile fell on her car. And what about the trillion dollar tax cuts enacted in the first term of W? Or the other trillion (give or take) spent on invading Iraq for no particular reason? I don't buy this "we have to start somewhere" nonsense of budget cuts when nothing defense-related is even questioned and just letting the Bush tax cuts expire as they were supposedly originally intended is a non-starter, not to mention the insanity of the blanket 15% capital gains rate (note: you don't tax money, it's fungible, you tax the actions of people and legal entities).

    If anything, Congress should be embarrassed by how little they appropriate to science and how many of its members are on the record as refusing to accept Darwinian evolution or anthropogenic global warming (which probably explains their willingness to cut funding for NIF.)

    • Sure, we can make heavy things go fast, but they still haven't solved basic problems like how keep plasma from electrical arcing from melting the rails.

      Do the rails cost less than a cruise missile? I've heard the more recent versions can fire several shots before they need to be replaced; if you can fire your railgun 5 times for 10 hours of maintanence and $50000 worth of steel that easily replaces 5 cruise missiles (at a cost of $500,000 each).

  • It was clear from the start that this was the case, that this was the primary reason of building it.

    Why do people keep repeating the propaganda?

    Nothing about this project makes any sense at all from a nuclear power perspective. Be it the hugely inefficient, short-lifetime lasers that can be fired about once a day. Just 10% of the energy released from the lasing medium actually reaches the target. Even more energy is wasted creating the laser beam in the first place. Be it the miniscule amounts of *frozen* h

    • by tnk1 (899206)

      I don't think anyone who knows anything about the NIF has swallowed anything. You're seeing a bunch of people who are reading about it for the first time and the article is talking about it's fusion power research side, which was stated, is only its secondary goal.

      What the NIF is there to do is to prove thermonuclear weapons will work without having to test them. Once we have a program to do that, we can ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty (CTBT). Well, that and a few other items on our list

      • by iggymanz (596061)

        that's a load of bullshit, we already can make functioning nuclear weapons and moreover can accurately model the behavior of our aging stockpile with supercomputers. The NIF does not replicate the conditions in a nuclear weapon, an H bomb uses lithium deuteride which is transmuted by neutrons from the fission trigger into tritium and deuterium, and then x-rays from the primary are used to make a plasma of hydrocarbon foam to put pressure on the TD mix.

    • The NIF started out attempting to research the tech needed to make a ICF powerplant, but over time they haven't had much success. After a few major rearchitectures and funding shifts across other national labs, they decided to latch on to Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program as their reason for existance. Unfortunatlly, their current direction isn't very helpful to either the original charter, or their new SSMP charter.

      One might argue that based on its initial charter, it should have been canceled

  • How much did we spend to buy GM to satisfy the UAW? But we don't have enough $ to fundamentally transform the nature of energy creation for the human race?

    Holy shit humans can be stupid sometimes.

    I'm a libertarian who believes that government should be as small as possible and do only those things that are best done communally. Like the GPS system. Or figuring out how to harness fusion energy. We cannot do this "commercially" as the cost is too high. But compared to the other stuff that we spend federa

    • by Rockoon (1252108)

      How much did we spend to buy GM to satisfy the UAW? But we don't have enough $ to fundamentally transform the nature of energy creation for the human race?

      Do you want us to get the money from the same place?

      We got the money to bail out GM from your children, their children, and their children's children.

      Its not that people dont understand that two wrongs don't make a right, its that they don't quite understand that their pet favorite shit is also wrong.

  • Perspective (Score:4, Insightful)

    by zugmeister (1050414) on Monday October 08, 2012 @10:16AM (#41584769)
    Meanwhile, we're throwing away $ 40 billion every month "until the economy improves" [bloomberg.com]. For me, that puts many things in perspective.
    If we're going to flush money down the toilet, this seems like a much more potentially constructive way to do it.
  • Pretty soon you're talking about real money.
  • There. I fixed it. #sarcasm

  • I've read this in a number of places, but science, especially publicly funded science, seems increasingly doomed by "failure" -- ie, when scientists run a study to prove a link between A and B and the science tells them "A and B are not linked".

    The headline is "Scientists fail to prove A and B" and the public opinion is that the scientists failed, as if it was a failure of effort, ability or character. It's never explained that the failure to link A and B *isn't* a failure really, it's a success of science

    • by lbbros (900904)

      it's a success of science

      Sadly, even scientific journals frown upon "negative results" nowadays (at least in my field, the life sciences). And few if any bother to publish them.

      • by swb (14022)

        Why is this?

        The only thing I can think of that seems halfway rational (not right, but rational) is that its some way of finding "good" scientists whose working theories are more right than wrong. The guy whose theory proves unprovable is "going down the wrong road" and it would be pointless to continue supporting him, if you follow that line of reasoning.

        But my understanding was that this kind of vetting was done BEFORE the experiment or study was done. You didn't fund studies with sketchy theories whose

  • by organgtool (966989) on Monday October 08, 2012 @11:18AM (#41585583)

    biggest and fattest white elephant of all time

    Apparently the author is not familiar with the F-35. The estimated total cost of that project is $1 trillion dollars, or 142 NIF Controlled Fusion projects. But we can't cut the budget on military pet projects because that would just be evil.

  • Just think if all that money had been spent developing cold fusion instead. We might have actual power plants by now.

    Here's an analogy: They're trying to build the most powerful vacuum tube amplifier of thinking about replacing the vacuum tube with transistors.
    • by iggymanz (596061)

      nonsense, after four decades and billions of dollars of cold fusion research the only thing discovered is vague evidence of possible unaccounted for heat that has the most likely source in phase changes, galvonic action and absorption of gases in solids than any nuclear process. cold fusion, if it happens at all, won't be useful for powering anything but rather a curiosity like the occassional atom that gets transmuted in your body by neutrinos.

  • In perspective, 7bn is less than 1% of the direct cost of the Iraq war.

    • by Cytotoxic (245301)

      This - times ten. A decade ago a low-level Bush administration appointee of my acquaintance argued that we should disengage entirely from the middle east and divert all the money spent there to research and development of sustainable alternative energy. Like half a trillion a year. A decade later you'd have wasted a bunch of money (there are not that many competent researchers around that you could effectively spend a half-trillion dollars in a year), but you'd probably be pretty close to eliminating our

  • In America, reactor burns through funding. In Soviet Russia, funding burns through reactor!

    Ignite interest? Hell, the National Ignition Facility fails to ignite anything.

    I call that a fusion burn.

  • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Monday October 08, 2012 @01:41PM (#41587891) Homepage

    Everyone is missing the point here... despite massive greenwashing, the NIF really has nothing to do with fusion power. It's meant to study the processes that produce fusion in nuclear weapons.

"Love is an ideal thing, marriage a real thing; a confusion of the real with the ideal never goes unpunished." -- Goethe

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