Toward limitless energy: National Ignition Facility focus of ACS symposium (w/ Video)

Aug 19, 2009
Next year, 192 giant laser beams at the National Ignition Facility in California will target this pea-sized capsule, which contains hydrogen, in an effort to trigger the world's first controlled nuclear fusion reaction. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Chemists are preparing to play an important but often unheralded role in determining the success of one of the largest and most important scientific experiments in history — next year's initial attempts at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) to produce the world's first controlled nuclear fusion reaction. If successful in taming the energy source of the sun, stars, and of the hydrogen bomb, scientists could develop a limitless new source of producing electricity for homes, factories, and businesses. The experiment could also lead to new insights into the origins of the universe.

A special two-day symposium addressing this topic, "Nuclear Diagnostics in Fusion Energy Research," will be presented Aug. 19 and 20 during the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Scientists have been trying to achieve controlled nuclear fusion for almost 50 years. In 2010, researchers at the NIF at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California will focus the energy of 192 giant laser beams onto a pea-sized target filled with . These lasers represent the world's highest-energy laser system. The scientists hope that their effort will ignite, or fuse, the hydrogen atoms' nuclei to trigger the high energy reaction.

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Chemists are preparing to play an important but often unheralded role in determining the success of one of the largest and most important scientific experiments in history -- next year's initial attempts at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) to produce the world's first controlled nuclear fusion reaction. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

"Chemists will definitely play a role in determining whether reactions have occurred during this NIF experiment, which is key to determining whether the experiment is a success," says Dawn Shaughnessy, Ph.D., a scientist with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

"The idea is that the lasers will fuse hydrogen particles together, producing neutrons," says Shaughnessy, one of many scientists who plan to analyze materials produced by the reaction. "We'll collect and measure the materials produced from the ignition and hopefully be able to determine how many neutrons were made. More neutrons mean that more fusion has occurred."

NIF Science Director Richard Boyd, Ph.D., says that the NIF facility will offer unprecedented opportunities to advance the field of nuclear chemistry, with a special focus on nuclear reaction studies and the nuclear reactions of astrochemistry, the chemistry of outer space.

"A facility like this has never before been available to do experiments in nuclear chemistry," says Boyd, who is also co-chair of the special ACS symposium. "We're going where people have never gone before, and that could lead to some exciting, and possibly unanticipated, discoveries."

The NIF building is ten stories tall and has the width of three football fields. The facility, which is 95 percent complete, has taken more than a decade to build at an estimated cost $3.5 billion. Next year, its 192 intense laser beams will deliver to its target more than 60 times the energy of any previous laser system. For more information about the facility, visit https://lasers.llnl.gov

Scientists in France, the United Kingdom, Japan, and China are also developing laser fusion facilities. The ones in France and China will be similar to NIF, but NIF will begin operating several years before the other two. The facilities in Japan and the U.K. will be less powerful than NIF; they will try to achieve fusion with a somewhat different technique than that used initially at NIF. None of these facilities could produce a dangerous condition, Boyd says. As soon as the target's fuel is expended — in just a few billionths of a second — the reaction stops, he points out.

Source: American Chemical Society (news : web)

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User comments : 14

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mikehevans
not rated yet Aug 19, 2009
I love that Google Ads has place an ad for Lumbar Fusion with this story on nuclear fusion.
iledius
5 / 5 (3) Aug 19, 2009
The promotional video reminded me of games like Half-Life and Doom 3 where similar rhetorics were used just before a cataclysmic accident :P
Shulin
5 / 5 (1) Aug 19, 2009
rofl, what's with the sound effect on the laser that sounds like it came from Star Wars?
Soylent
4 / 5 (4) Aug 19, 2009
That was incredibly cheesy and contained no new information whatsoever.
sender
3 / 5 (2) Aug 19, 2009
I would like to see the NIF combine magnetic confinement technologies to the ignition chamber to stabilize or contort the nuclear plasma in the confined space over longer periods that are currently impossible with lasers alone
Nartoon
1.2 / 5 (5) Aug 20, 2009
I don't know if fusion power is a bigger scam than AGW. zzzZZZZ
Foolish1
not rated yet Aug 20, 2009
It is my understanding NIF exists in large part to do an end run around nuclear test ban treaty obligations.
Soylent
not rated yet Aug 21, 2009
It is my understanding NIF exists in large part to do an end run around nuclear test ban treaty obligations.


Yes. More than 85% of the test shots were going to be weapons tests according to a possibly outdated, 2000-ish GAO report. Astrophysicists and fusion researchers are left to fight over the remaining < 15%.
RDD1977
not rated yet Aug 24, 2009
what about the DARPA guys who wanted to do nano-fusion? That sounds like a much smarter way to go than this Baby boomer style 'big expensive machines and lots of sinecures for loyalists' approach.
Velanarris
not rated yet Aug 24, 2009
It is my understanding NIF exists in large part to do an end run around nuclear test ban treaty obligations.

Yes. More than 85% of the test shots were going to be weapons tests according to a possibly outdated, 2000-ish GAO report. Astrophysicists and fusion researchers are left to fight over the remaining < 15%.

Let's put this in perspective. The 2000 GAO report lists research into directed energy weapons, not nuclear weapons.

The NIF detrators assume that since there is a potential nuclear eneregy platform involved that we're talking nuclear weaponry testing. That couldn't be further from the truth.
lengould100
not rated yet Aug 24, 2009
NIF is certainly designed for weapons-related rsearch, else it would have been shut down long ago. For energy generaion research its just a big money pit. The same money spent on solar energy research would have by now obsoleted all other forms of energy generation.
lengould100
not rated yet Aug 24, 2009
[QUOTE]NIF emerges
Throughout this period, the ending of the Cold War led to dramatic changes in defense funding and priorities. As the need for nuclear weapons was greatly reduced and various arms limitation agreements led to a reduction in warhead count, the US was faced with the prospect of losing a generation of nuclear weapon designers able to maintain the existing stockpiles, or design new weapons.[34] At the same time, progress was being made on what would become the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, which would ban all criticality testing. This would make the reliable development of newer generations of nuclear weapons much more difficult.

Out of these changes came the Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program, which, among other things, included funds for the development of methods to design and build nuclear weapons that would work without having to be explosively tested. In a series of meetings that started in 1995, an agreement formed between the labs to divide up the SSMP efforts. An important part of this would be confirmation of computer models using low-yield ICF experiments. The Nova Upgrade was too small to use for these experiments,[35] and a redesign emerged as NIF in 1994. The estimated cost of the project was just over $1 billion,[36] with completion in 2002. Physicist Richard Garwin described the outcome this way, "Sandia got the microelectronics research center [MESA], which had minimal relevance to the CTBT. Los Alamos got the Dual-Axis Radiographic Hydrodynamic Test facility. Livermore got the National Ignition Facility %u2014 the white elephant eating us out of house and home. They all maintained these were essential to stockpile stewardship, which they are not.[/QUOTE]

http://en.wikiped...#Impetus

Ridiculous.
Velanarris
not rated yet Aug 24, 2009
Weapons research does not mean nuclear weapons research. Even in your source there are no citations of nuclear weapons research.

Second, solar is terrible. Find one instance of functioning solar that has a reasonable baseline generation while producing less pollution over a comparable size facility. You can't, hence the need for massive subsidization.
lengould100
not rated yet Aug 25, 2009
Velanarris - Solar thermal would clearly be viably competitive in present markets for peaking or baseload with some volume manufacturing and minor research. That NIF money put up as incentive would do handily to complete the initial volume bild on which it depends.

http://www.nrel.g...4440.pdf

Assessment of Parabolic Trough and Power Tower Solar Technology - Cost and Performance Forecasts - Sargent & Lundy LLC Engineering Group Chicago, Illinois

[QUOTE]For the more technically aggressive low-cost case, S&L found the National Laboratories%u2019 %u201CSunLab%u201D methodology and analysis to be credible. The projections by SunLab, developed in conjunction with industry, are considered by S&L to represent a %u201Cbest-case analysis%u201D in which the technology is optimized and a high deployment rate is achieved. The two sets of estimates, by SunLab and S&L, provide a band within which the costs can be expected to fall. The figure and table below highlight these results, with initial electricity costs in the range of 10 to 12.6 ¢/kWh and eventually achieving costs in the range of 3.5 to 6.2 ¢/kWh. The specific values will depend on total capacity of various technologies deployed and the extent of R&D program success. In the technically aggressive cases for troughs / towers, the S&L analysis found that cost reductions were due to volume production (26%/28%), plant scale-up (20%/48%), and technological advance (54%/24%).[/QUOTE]

Given Sargent & Lundy Engineering's worst case scenario provides peak time solar electricity at $0.062/kwh by only building 2.8 GW and doing a few minor and definitely achievable R&D improvements, plus transmission, and a clear path is provided to offering 83% capacity factor using cheap sand and gravel tanks for thermal storage with 3x collector area and no additional central plant, which should make the installation no more expensive PER KWH if only the industry can get to 2.8 GW installed, I don;t see what we are waiting for.

It also appears to me that the more agressive forecasts of NREL / SunLab of $0.035 / kwh if we can get to 8.2 GW installed quite quickly is entirely within reach.