World's largest laser gears up for ignition experiments

Mar 09, 2009
Composite photo shows all three floors containing the 264,000-pound, 10-meter diameter target chamber. Diagnostic instruments will be attached to the round hatches. Photo montage by Jacqueline McBride

(PhysOrg.com) -- Construction of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world's largest and highest-energy laser system, was essentially completed on Feb. 26, when technicians at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), where the laser is located, fired the first full system shot to the center of the NIF target chamber.

The test was the first time all 192 laser beams converged simultaneously in the 10-meter-diameter chamber. NIF has met all of its project completion criteria except for official certification of project completion by the U.S. Department of , due by March 31.

"This a major milestone for the greater NIF team, for the nation and the world," said Edward Moses, LLNL's principal associate director for NIF & Photon Science. "We are well on our way to achieving what we set out to do - controlled, sustained nuclear fusion and energy gain for the first time ever in a laboratory setting."

"Although not required for formal completion of the NIF Project," added Project Director Ralph Patterson, "it is extremely satisfying to wind up the project by firing all beams."

An average of 420 joules of ultraviolet laser energy, known as 3-omega, was achieved for each beamline, for a total energy of more than 80 kilojoules (a joule is the energy needed to lift a small apple one meter against the Earth's gravity).

The energy level will be increased during the next several months, and when all NIF lasers are fired at full energy, they will deliver 1.8 megajoules of ultraviolet energy to a BB-sized target in a 20-nanosecond shaped laser pulse, generating 500 trillion watts of peak power -- more than the peak electrical generating power of the entire United States. This is considered more than enough energy to fuse the hydrogen isotopes of deuterium and tritium in the target into helium nuclei (alpha particles) and yield considerably more energy in the process than was required to initiate the reaction.

For the past several weeks scientists and technicians have been conducting readiness tests within the NIF. "The system already has produced 20 times more energy than any other , and will triple that number in the months ahead," Moses said. "NIF is well on its way to producing breakthroughs in science never imagined. Through our readiness testing we will see glimpses of what that future will bring."

The facility will hold an official dedication ceremony on May 29. Scientific experiments will start as soon as this spring, including high-energy-density studies in support of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s Stockpile Stewardship Program. The program ensures the safety and security of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

Later in the year, the National Ignition Campaign, a multi-institutional effort that will take NIF from a construction project to routine operations as a highly flexible high-energy-density science facility, will begin conducting a series of shots to prepare for the first credible attempts at ignition planned for late 2010.

In addition its work in stockpile stewardship, NIF will be a key player in providing energy security for the United States.

By demonstrating the ability to attain fusion ignition in the laboratory, NIF will lay the groundwork for future decisions about fusion's long-term potential as a safe, virtually unlimited energy source. Fusion, the same energy source that powers the stars, produces no greenhouse gases and is environmentally more benign than fossil-fuel or nuclear-fission-based energy.

NIF also is an important tool for astrophysicists engaged in the study of how materials change when they are subjected to the tremendous gravitational pressures inside planets.

At last month's annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago, Raymond Jeanloz, professor of earth and planetary science at UC Berkeley, discussed research that he and his colleagues will carry out on NIF.

"NIF has given us a real breakthrough experimentally, so we can actually study the properties of matter at these conditions," Jeanloz said. "This is a new kind of chemistry of materials that we're on the brink of being able to explore."

"That NIF is now well on its way to initial ignition experiments in 2010 is a tribute to the ingenuity, dedication and hard work of an extraordinarily talented team of scientists, engineers and technicians, supported by an equally talented and energetic administrative staff," Moses said.

"The year 2010 will mark the golden anniversary of the demonstration of the first laser and the concept of inertial confinement fusion," he said. "Our goal is to achieve fusion ignition and burn, launching a new era of high energy density science and energy research. As a national and international user facility, NIF will provide unique opportunities to expand the frontiers of science in areas that will help safeguard our national and global security, provide alternatives for clean energy in the future, and enhance our understanding of the universe.

"We have an incredible amount to do and an incredible amount to learn," Moses said. "Completing the construction project and transitioning NIF to an operating facility is something we're very proud of, and what we're about to do with it will be even better."

The last of NIF's 6,206 various optical-mechanical and controls system modules, called "line replaceable units" or LRUs, was installed on Jan. 26. The first LRU, a flashlamp, was installed on Sept. 26, 2001.

Workers have aligned and tuned NIF's final optical assemblies, which focus and convert the frequency of the project's 192 laser beams as they enter the and converge on the tiny target. Experimental systems and diagnostics are also being installed. Software for the integrated computer control system, which handles shot automation, has been completed.

Charles H. Townes, who won the 1964 Nobel Prize in physics for developing the laser, visited NIF on Dec. 19 and said he was "amazed" by the facility's capabilities. "When I was inventing the laser and hoping to build the first one, I was hoping to get...milliwatts of power with a small laboratory device. I just never imagined anything like this coming out of it."

Provided by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

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ubavontuba
1.1 / 5 (15) Mar 10, 2009
Oh brother. This is virtuallly useless for energy reasearch. Fusion reactions cannot be sustained in this type of reactor. It's nothing more than an atom bomb materials lab.
syhprum
1.4 / 5 (10) Mar 10, 2009
I wonder how the Americans would react if a similar facility was built in Iran
laserdaveb
4.9 / 5 (10) Mar 10, 2009
to explore the inner workings of a star,up front and personal! and not the least bit awed and excited at the possibilities.....why do you attend this forum?
Hyperion1110
4.8 / 5 (8) Mar 10, 2009
Oh brother. This is virtuallly useless for energy reasearch. Fusion reactions cannot be sustained in this type of reactor. It's nothing more than an atom bomb materials lab.


So, because they're using lasers to confine the material, rather magnetic fields, it suddenly becomes useless? That doens't even make sense.

This method of inertial confinement fusion is far more elegant and cost effective than tokamak designs. Simply look at the progression of this project compaired to ITER.

I'm pretty sure 500 terrawatts is sufficient to initiate and sustain fusion.

And about it being "nothing more than an atom bomb materials lab," well, I'm pretty sure you don't know what an atomic bomb is. You're really not going to get anything like plutonium or uranium out of this facility. I mean, I'm not a physicist or anything, but I'm pretty sure these folks are looking to get some helium, some neutrons, and a whole lot of heat. ...Oh, darn, I forgot...that INERT helium is really dangerous. There go those evil, militaristic Americans again...trying to build bigger bombs! I mean, it's not like this thing is meant as an integral step to providing the world with cheap, clean, and reliable power for the next few million years. Darn Americans!

I wonder how the Americans would react if a similar facility was built in Iran


And as for you, syhprum...wow, I got nothin'. Iran lacks the technology to build a standard fission reactor, which those darn Americans invented (the first commerical one was built about 25 miles from my home in Pittsburgh); they certainly are not capable of building anything like NIF. And, even if, by some miracle, they managed to do so, I'm sure they would actually receive praise for such a noteworthy and peaceful endeavor.

But it's all good. I'm sure that in 15 years or so, when an evil American company is licensing its fusion technology to your countries, you'll have figured out that these folks working on NIF, and this nation as a whole, have only ever been trying to make the world a little bit better tomorrow than it is today.
moj85
4.3 / 5 (4) Mar 10, 2009
Interesting theory - I hope that the fusion of atoms will actually yield what they want it to. Though I don't have my hopes up; theory is a lot more perfect than experiment. Let's hope we can get fusion working .. imagine the possibilities *dreams*
Smellyhat
5 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2009
I wonder how the Americans would react if a similar facility was built in Iran


o_0 Like that.

This isn't a system that can be modified to produce weaponized plutonium or anything of the sort. It's an incredibly complicated and expensive research platform. Were Iran actually able to build such a thing, it would demonstrate that they had dedicated a huge portion of their nation's resources to peaceful scientific progress. Although this is consistent with Islam, it has not been treated as an urgent mandate within the ideological context of the Islamic State.
vivcollins
5 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2009
"(a joule is the energy needed to lift a small apple one meter against the Earth's gravity)." well color me impressed! so how many small apples will the final laser at full power be able to lift and to what altitude? ;-)

But don't think I am detractor of the project, we need good hard basic science at these power levels to prove what happens is what we think happens, basic theories get proven wrong all the time under extreme test conditions, its the nature of the game after all
googleplex
3.3 / 5 (6) Mar 10, 2009
This is another white elephant project. A money pit disigned to enrich contractors and academics. My money is on this project ballooning in costs and not achieving fusion for the next 100 years.
Effectively the project is trying to reproduce the Sun. Why bother!
Last time I checked the sky we have a free fusion reactor distributing power to every inch of the earths surface.
Instead money should be put into building solar panels to power all USA energy needs in AZ and NV for a fraction of the cost. This would:
-solve trade imbalance by eliminating oil imports
-create vast numbers of jobs
-massively reduce USA carbon footprint
-make USA #1 in solar tech and green tech
The project can start today using off the shelf technology and stimulus money.
But why bother when we can reward incompetent bankers (TARP)? This covers their back pay, dividends, salary and bonuses. What better value can be had with tax payer dollars. Better yet invest in a "going concern" like GM. Gauranteed to fail by independent auditors.
Soylent
3 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2009
Fusion reactions cannot be sustained in this type of reactor.


That's not a problem. "All" you need is a laser capable of firing at a high rate of repetition(and if the energy gain is too small put some natural uranium or TRU waste in the lining).
Soylent
3 / 5 (4) Mar 10, 2009
And about it being "nothing more than an atom bomb materials lab," well, I'm pretty sure you don't know what an atomic bomb is. You're really not going to get anything like plutonium or uranium out of this facility.


They're going to study the thermonuclear reactions that occur in the secondary of a nuclear weapon; that's their primary task("stockpile stewardship").

Studying the behaviour of materials at pressures and temperatures normally found in stars and planets, studying energy production from fusion is neat but that's not what NIF was built for.
Szkeptik
4 / 5 (1) Mar 10, 2009
Wow. For me this really came out of nowhere. When did they start building this? Are they really counting on achieving sustained fusion with this machine?
sdfasgafasdfsdasd
5 / 5 (2) Mar 10, 2009
NIF is an awesome R&D tool which will contribute to the knowledge base to eventually lead us away from fossil fuels and toward an unlimited supply of clean energy. Yes, due to sustained low oil prices after the OPEC scare in the early 1970's, the controlled fusion R&D budgets had been dramatically slashed after the late 80's, as politicians can't see beyond the next election cycle and the public stopped pushing for alternative energy sources. Since the NIF does have a key role as a 'stockpile stewardship' project, funding came primarily from the DOE's military side and would never have been built as a platform for energy R&D only. However myself and I believe most of the scientists working on this are looking at this technology primarily for creating a future world with virtually unlimited clean energy. Actual power plants are still far away, but we must do the research now, so we have some method of sustaining the human race once most fossil fuels are depleted.
Hyperion1110
3.5 / 5 (4) Mar 10, 2009
And about it being "nothing more than an atom bomb materials lab," well, I'm pretty sure you don't know what an atomic bomb is. You're really not going to get anything like plutonium or uranium out of this facility.


They're going to study the thermonuclear reactions that occur in the secondary of a nuclear weapon; that's their primary task("stockpile stewardship").

Studying the behaviour of materials at pressures and temperatures normally found in stars and planets, studying energy production from fusion is neat but that's not what NIF was built for.


That's not true. From the article: "Scientific experiments will start as soon as this spring, including high-energy-density studies in support of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA)'s Stockpile Stewardship Program. The program ensures the safety and security of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile." As you can read, there will be some experiments akin to what you write, but that is certainly not its primary purpose. I mean, it's the National IGNITION Facility. That should tell you enough right there.
mmsoar
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 10, 2009
From the GAO Report to the Subcommittee on Military
Procurement, Committee on Armed Services, House of Representatives of August 2000:

"According to DOE plans, about 85 percent of the facility's experiments will be for nuclear weapons physics. The remaining experiments will be for nuclear weapons effects and basic and applied sciences. DOE's Oakland Operations Office is responsible for day-to-day oversight of NIF and is expected to ensure that the Laboratory is meeting its contracting responsibilities."

The facility was originally scheduled for completion in 2002. There will clearly be some backlog of weapons tests as a result of the delay.

It is left as an exercise for the student to figure out what percent of available hours this facility will provide for energy development (i.e basic and applied sciences).

Noumenon
4.8 / 5 (48) Mar 10, 2009
I wonder how the Americans would react if a similar facility was built in Iran


For me it would proove that they aren't cavemen.
Smellyhat
2.7 / 5 (3) Mar 10, 2009
I wonder how the Americans would react if a similar facility was built in Iran


For me it would proove that they aren't cavemen.


Do you even knoow where Iran is?
dan42day
1.8 / 5 (5) Mar 11, 2009
So how long before we can launch this thing into orbit and vaporize all those pesky mountains on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, including the one Osama is hiding under?
Doug_Huffman
3.4 / 5 (7) Mar 11, 2009
Congrats to LLNL and NIF. Be discrete with 'news' for fear of Obongo patching his socialist agenda budget with your funds.

Prepare to be assimilated by the BOG. Resistance to Obamination is futile. BOG Brothers are watching - OBEY!
Noumenon
4.8 / 5 (45) Mar 11, 2009
I wonder how the Americans would react if a similar facility was built in Iran


For me it would proove that they aren't cavemen.


Do you even knoow where Iran is?


Umm, yes. The people are decent, but the oppressive religeon/gov are from the stone age.
Noumenon
4.8 / 5 (47) Mar 11, 2009
If the economy was better I would like to see another Manhatten Project for nuclear fusion.
Soylent
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 11, 2009
I mean, it's the National IGNITION Facility. That should tell you enough right there.


Sure does. It tells me they're going to study self-sustaining fusion(ignition) in the kind of conditions encountered in the secondary of a thermonuclear warhead.

It's not viewed as particularly sexy to to state that the primary purpose is to maintain existing nuclear weapons and develop smaller, safer, better nuclear weapons to replace aging and deteriorating arsenals without violating the comprehensive test ban treaty; but the historical context in which the project was started and recieved funding makes this abundantly clear.

Fusion energy research and other high energy physics research is nice and all, but that's not why it was built. You emphasize the sexy stuff for the public, especially if you hope to avoid getting cancelled after numerous cost and schedule overruns.
Trippy
5 / 5 (3) Mar 14, 2009
The last tiem I checked, the research that was going to be conducted was, essentially, to improve yield simulations to reduce the need for testing.

Ironically, doing so may well benefit TOKAMAK.

So it's win win really.
MorituriMax
3.7 / 5 (3) Mar 15, 2009
This is another white elephant project. A money pit disigned to enrich contractors and academics. My money is on this project ballooning in costs and not achieving fusion for the next 100 years.
Effectively the project is trying to reproduce the Sun. Why bother!
Last time I checked the sky we have a free fusion reactor distributing power to every inch of the earths surface.
Instead money should be put into building solar panels to power all USA energy needs in AZ and NV for a fraction of the cost. This would:
-solve trade imbalance by eliminating oil imports
-create vast numbers of jobs
-massively reduce USA carbon footprint
-make USA #1 in solar tech and green tech
The project can start today using off the shelf technology and stimulus money.
But why bother when we can reward incompetent bankers (TARP)? This covers their back pay, dividends, salary and bonuses. What better value can be had with tax payer dollars. Better yet invest in a "going concern" like GM. Gauranteed to fail by independent auditors.


Wow, yeah we have the sun putting energy into every square inch of space above is. Yeah lets just go ahead and put solar panels ON THE GROUND to catch the little bit that gets to the panels. Because panels aren't 100% efficient idiot.

That's like having someone standing by a river scooping water into a little cup and then hurling that cupful of water over and over 100 feet away onto a water wheel to generate hydroelectrical power.

The fusion reaction they're aiming for would be like having a high power water jet from a firetruck next to that water wheel 24 hours a day shooting water into it.

Idiot.
Hyperion1110
not rated yet Mar 16, 2009
I mean, it's the National IGNITION Facility. That should tell you enough right there.


Sure does. It tells me they're going to study self-sustaining fusion(ignition) in the kind of conditions encountered in the secondary of a thermonuclear warhead.

It's not viewed as particularly sexy to to state that the primary purpose is to maintain existing nuclear weapons and develop smaller, safer, better nuclear weapons to replace aging and deteriorating arsenals without violating the comprehensive test ban treaty; but the historical context in which the project was started and recieved funding makes this abundantly clear.

Fusion energy research and other high energy physics research is nice and all, but that's not why it was built. You emphasize the sexy stuff for the public, especially if you hope to avoid getting cancelled after numerous cost and schedule overruns.


Haha...okay, I give. Perhaps I was looking to much into the "sexy" aspect of it. But, hopefully, the sexiness wins in the end.

In light of your counterargument, the LIFE system they're working on seems to be the more interesting project.
Velanarris
not rated yet Mar 16, 2009
The NIF lab is discriminatoy in the extreme in the way they conduct business with outside companies. If you know a lawyer who sues government labs and grant programs contact me at

protn7@att.net


I'm guessing they discriminated against you and vulvox.tripod.com

Maybe Johnny Cochrane will take your case and employ the famous Chewbacca defense.