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Power United States Hardware

National Ignition Facility Fails To Ignite Support In Congress 190

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 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.
  • by Electricity Likes Me ( 1098643 ) on Monday October 08, 2012 @09:18AM (#41584103)

    There was the article on /. [] a while back where MIT was answering questions about fusion and it was pointed out that based on the historical cutting of fusion research investment, fusion power is about $80 billion away, and has always been 25 years away because it's budget has been progressively cut.

  • 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!"

"Well, it don't make the sun shine, but at least it don't deepen the shit." -- Straiter Empy, in _Riddley_Walker_ by Russell Hoban