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Record Setting 500 Trillion-Watt Laser Shot Achieved 252

cylonlover writes "Researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) have achieved a laser shot which boggles the mind: 192 beams delivered an excess of 500 trillion-watts (TW) of peak power and 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to a target of just two millimeters in diameter. To put those numbers into perspective, 500 TW is more than one thousand times the power that the entire United States uses at any instant in time."
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Record Setting 500 Trillion-Watt Laser Shot Achieved

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  • Fusion Ignition (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MyLongNickName ( 822545 ) on Monday July 16, 2012 @01:41PM (#40664557) Journal

    One application of this type of engineering is to serve as an ignition swith for a fusion energy plant. In order to get a reaction going, you either need high temperatures and pressure or abslutely unbelievable temperatures and low pressure. Our sun, due to its massive size, has a lot of pressure. Here on earth we need temperatures that far exceed our sun to get fusion started. I understand we currently have laser ignition systems in tokamak (spelling?) systems, but this system would generate much higher temperatures in a quicker time period than we could with other systems.

  • Not much energy. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday July 16, 2012 @02:16PM (#40665007) Homepage

    The power is high, but there's not much total energy. 1.85 megajoules is only about half a kilowatt-hour. Energy cost about $0.10. No asteroid-melting potential here.

    The National Ignition Facility is for nuclear weapons testing. It's for studying H-bomb type events without having to detonate a nuclear weapon. It's not a prototype for energy production.

  • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Monday July 16, 2012 @03:11PM (#40665555)

    Nothing to do with weapons.

    NIF is, in part, a nuclear weapon stockpile research program. Substantial periods of the NIF operational calendar are devoted to defense research. This fact is frequently used to smear the program.

    One common attack is that the fusion energy aspect of NIF is a cover for nuclear weapons research. How one is supposed to believe the US needs cover to do things it often does [] in public view I'm not sure, but that's the claim.

    NIF offers the possibility, however remote, of abundant `clean' energy. As such it has a lot of enemies. Energy scarcity – self inflicted or otherwise – is an important enabler of hair-shirt statism.

  • by mbkennel ( 97636 ) on Monday July 16, 2012 @04:57PM (#40666539)

    Its budget is from the NNSA, the part of the Department of Energy which deals with weaponry.

    The design is ill-suited for civilian energy production research, and there is little attention to investigating cost-effective engineering necessary to get fusion power. By contrast the large tokamak being built in France does have significant engineering application (e.g. materials which could withstand the neutron flux in semi-commercial powerloads) as part of its scientific program.

    The underlying facts: There is nothing important to learn in the nuclear reactions of fusion. Everything difficult is in the complex radiative transfer and fluid dynamics and thermodynamics in extreme circumstances. The goal of the NIF is to generate calibration data for the classified software simulation codes for nuclear weaponry without nuclear test detonations. You can do certain kinds of "subcritical" experiments to test the explosives and fission primary without a full yield nuclear explosion, but there isn't anything equivalent for the secondaries without the NIF.

    The target of the NIF is, in some ways, a miniature recreation of the thermonuclear secondary of H-bombs. In fact, until about 15-20 years ago the actual setup used in the DOE laser fusion experiments was classified: the lasers are not directly heating or compressing the fusion fuel. They are heating a metal outer-surface called a "hohlraum (German for hollow room)" named so in the initial breakthrough Ulam-Teller design for the fusion weapon.

    The outer metal shell fully ionizes which then releases a dense gas of X-rays which equilbrate themselves as the speed of light inside the container and themselves heat and ablate the surface of the inner fusion pellet. The gas being pushed off from the inner pellet imparts momentum inward imploding and fusing the inner pellet.

    This is how an H-bomb works, except the initial x-rays are provided by a fission primary implosion. The real key is that you do not want the heat/blast from the primary---that would ruin the fusion assembly. You just want a clean X-ray pulse first.

    Personally, I don't favor excess spending on nuclear weapons, and would favor funding into a variety of heterodox experimental fusion configurations which have a chance, if small, of eventually providing commercially successful power generation.

  • by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Monday July 16, 2012 @05:32PM (#40666807)
    Actually JT-60 did a D-D test a couple of years back that if it had been done using D-T fuel would have generated more energy than the energy used to create fusion in the first place. The problem is D-T fusion generates a lot of neutrons and it decreases the life of the reactor. Until someone figures out some way to make the reactor materials last or some other fuel cycle with net fusion output we aren't going anywhere fast. Not to mention that the net energy generated is still pitiful.

Top Ten Things Overheard At The ANSI C Draft Committee Meetings: (10) Sorry, but that's too useful.