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Can World's Largest Laser Zap Earth's Energy Woes? 372 writes "Scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory plan on using a laser the size of three football fields to set off a nuclear reaction so intense that it will make a star bloom on the surface of the Earth. If they're successful, the scientists hope to solve the global energy crisis by harnessing the energy generated by the mini-star."
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Can World's Largest Laser Zap Earth's Energy Woes?

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  • by ShadowRangerRIT ( 1301549 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @07:59AM (#32028232)
    Okay, no, nothing will likely go wrong (at least, nothing dangerous to anyone more than a few hundred yards from the event in the worst case scenario). But damn if this doesn't sound like the opening to the plot of a disaster movie.
  • Focus Fusion (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Extremus ( 1043274 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @08:05AM (#32028276)
    On the subject of fusion power, the researchers at Focus Fusion [] seem to be doing a great job as well.
  • by ShadyG ( 197269 ) <bgraymusic AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday April 29, 2010 @08:12AM (#32028330) Homepage
    Maybe it's just my Los Angeles upbringing, but I don't see any way even a future (more efficient) fusion plant is going to generate enough energy to compensate for using up three football fields worth of urban real estate, and that's just for the ignition laser. I can only assume the plan is to build these out in the desert and transmit the electricity in...then of course tear it down and rebuild further out when urban sprawl makes more demands of the now-not-so-remote land.
  • Re:Focus Fusion (Score:2, Interesting)

    by mcoon ( 648300 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @08:25AM (#32028414) Homepage
    Not only that, but their current results generate 50% of the input energy without any of the neutron rich dirty output typical of deuterium based fusion.
  • Re:bad journalism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by pz ( 113803 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @08:43AM (#32028570) Journal

    The National Ignition Facility is not doing research into energy production. The research they're doing will not have applications in energy production. The hope is that by understanding ignition other nuclear fusion projects will be able to make better progress.. it is completely pure research, as you would expect from a national laboratory.

    My understanding from friends who work at LLNL is that it's an open secret that at the NIF they are not working on energy production, but, rather, thermonuclear ignition for weapons research. It's still pure research, in that they're working to produce controlled thermonuclear fusion rather than designing bombs outright, but the purpose of understanding fusion per se is so that we can better understand the current state of our present arsenal as it gets older. At least that's what they tell me.

    So, we have a tiered layer of secrecy about NIF:

    1. for the public: we're doing energy research for a petroleum-free tomorrow
    2. for people who probe: we're doing fusion research to model our ageing weapons stockpile
    3. [ guess the real reason here ]

    I'm betting the third line is only marginally related to the first two, given the history of activity at LLNL.

  • Fusion power dream (Score:3, Interesting)

    by pedestrian crossing ( 802349 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @08:48AM (#32028628) Homepage Journal
    The March 2010 edition of Scientific American has an article [] that raises some significant doubt that we will ever be able to use fusion as a commercial source of power. The problems aren't about ignition, they are more fundamental engineering problems...
  • by prefec2 ( 875483 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @09:05AM (#32028828)

    Super idea. Lets build a second sun on earth so we can use the energy to drive some turbine technology we already have. This is a great idea. OK it is not working right now and other promising projects like ITER will not show any benefits before 2060, but I think we should wait for their development. Why waste money on a heterogeneous and distributed energy system, which have so many component that can fail.

    Of course todays solar and wind technology works and it is available and when something goes wrong well it is not that a big deal, as you have a lot of redundancy. And only one accident or one terror attack on a transformer at a power plant can result in a loss of x00 MWh while a failing wind turbine wouldn't hurt that much. And yes that technology is already available even the big energy companies battled that technology now for decades. But hey lets wait. Lets build our own sun instead of using the one which is already their, which has shown a incredible service availability (several (us) billion years without a a serious breakdown).

    And yes we do have an energy problem. But it is a usage problem not a production problem. We use inefficient transportation technology, inefficient heating and cooling systems for our houses, inefficient production concepts etc.

    And BTW: last I read that Germany uses nuclear plants to produce 22.6% of its electric energy, but this is only 11.6% of the used energy in Germany. 81% are fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal). And they use 17 nuclear plants. So to replace the fuel based primary energy Germany must build 95 nuclear plants. Or in short they need 5.6 times more reactors. So this is not an real option (who shall pay for it and where is all the uranium coming from and who is paying for accidents. One accident like in Chernobyl and you have to resettle 80 mio people.)

    While I think it is "cool" to be able to build nuclear fission reactors, it is not necessary. As we already have on hanging above our heads. And when you think "but then we would be dependent on strange countries" Yes we do. But we all depend on each other on this globe. So it is better to get used to it, that we have to accept our different cultures and do not try to impose our believes on others. As western countries do and other countries would like to do.

  • by jo_ham ( 604554 ) <joham999@ g m a> on Thursday April 29, 2010 @09:05AM (#32028832)

    Any why not? Water is a very useful working fluid - relatively high SHC, liquid at standard pressure and temperature, non-toxic, non-corrosive, plentiful, cheap.

    Using it to generate electricity from heat and expansion is effective and well understood. Just because we've been doing it since the early days of industrialisation doesn't mean we have to abandon it just because it "feels a little old". It's not like a pentium 2 with a 16Mb graphics card.

  • by rclandrum ( 870572 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @09:12AM (#32028930) Homepage

    A real fusion powerplant is the size of a trashcan and accepts any old garbage you have around as fuel. Puts out gigawatts of power.

    Yeah, they might eventually fry a few teensy pellets at the NIF, but I mean really - huge impractical lasers perfectly synchronized onto tiny hard-to-make fuel pellets fed at precisely the right rate and positioned in precisely the right place at precisely the right instant to be imploded? Operating perfectly over months and years in industrial powerplant conditions? Maintained on a daily basis by a crew that goes home and watches American Idol and The Simpsons? All securely automated and monitored using the latest Windows OS? Not even in our grandkids lifetime.

    What they *should* be concentrating on is designing a room-sized fission powerplant that can power a neighborhood using a replaceable fuel cartridge that a service weenie replaces for you once a year. Minimal moving parts, easy to replace if service is needed, and the entire grid isn't nuked when Rocky the squirrel suicides on a transformer.

    C'mon Mr. Kamen, quit screwing around with third-world water filters and build this puppy.

  • by Conspiracy_Of_Doves ( 236787 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @11:15AM (#32031004)

    1. Ok, found them mildly amusing. Now they just leave a bad taste in my mouth.

    2. Yes, the subject of the humor does affect how I feel about the content of the humor. Is that such an alien concept to you?

    3. If the actor in question is making a concerted effort to pull society toward his religious/political stance, yes. If he had the exact same beliefs, but felt no inclination to tell others to believe the same, I wouldn't have a problem with him.

  • Re:bad journalism (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @11:54AM (#32031694) Journal
    At 15 x 10^6 K, the sun's core is hot indeed.
    At 100 x 10^6 K, the temperature required for deuterium-tritium fusion, tokamaks are a bit more impressive.

    Also what is impressively low is not the temperature of the sun's core, it is the energy it generates per unit of volume.
  • Re:bad journalism (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Maury Markowitz ( 452832 ) on Thursday April 29, 2010 @12:45PM (#32032576) Homepage

    > I recall reading that the NIF is the first stage of a prototype
    > for an actual method of producing steady thermal power
    > from fusion, i.e. a viable electricity source.

    LLNL has been saying this for years, but it's never been true.

    The primary purpose of the NIF is to give the bomb-making establishment something to do so all the physicists won't find real jobs. I am not making this up, it's well recorded and easy to verify.

    The justification they release into the defence establishment is that NIF will be used to tune the hydrodynamics code they use to design h-bombs. Everyone outside LLNL dismisses the need for such a project, and the other weapons labs (like LANL and Sandia) have been particularly scathing.

    To the public, LLNL releases a stream of reports about "unlimited power" and such, but calculations made over 30 years ago demonstrated there is no hope for this. At best, with completely new solid-state drivers, you might be able to get 1/10th the power out that you put in, BEFORE conversion from thermal to electrical. ... with the current designs. Look up HiPER.


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