Scientists Produce Unprecedented 1 Megajoule Laser Shot, Step Towards Fusion Ignition

Jan 28, 2010
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is located in Livermore, California, about 40 miles east of San Francisco in southern Alameda County.

US scientists have produced a laser shot with an unprecedented energy level that could be a key step towards nuclear fusion, the US National Nuclear Security Administration said Wednesday.

The National Nuclear Security Administration announced today that scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) have successfully delivered an historic level of energy — more than 1 megajoule — to a target in a few billionths of a second and demonstrated the target drive conditions required to achieve fusion ignition. This is about 30 times the energy ever delivered by any other group of lasers in the world.

The peak power of the laser light, which was delivered within a few billionths of a second, was about 500 times that used by the United States at any given time.

“Breaking the megajoule barrier brings us one step closer to fusion ignition at the National Ignition Facility, and shows the universe of opportunities made possible by one of the largest scientific and engineering challenges of our time,” said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino. “NIF is a critical component in our stockpile stewardship program to maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent without underground nuclear testing. This milestone is an example of how our nation’s investment in nuclear security is producing benefits in other areas, from advances in energy technology to a better understanding of the universe.”

In order to demonstrate fusion, the energy that powers the sun and the stars, NIF focuses the energy of 192 powerful laser beams into a pencil-eraser-sized cylinder containing a tiny spherical target filled with deuterium and tritium, two isotopes of hydrogen. Inside the cylinder, the laser energy is converted to X-rays, which compress the fuel until it reaches temperatures of more than 200 million degrees Fahrenheit and pressures billions of times greater than Earth’s atmospheric pressure. The rapid compression of the fuel capsule forces the hydrogen nuclei to fuse and release many times more energy than the laser energy that was required to initiate the reaction.

This experimental program to achieve fusion ignition is known as the National Ignition Campaign sponsored by NNSA and is a partnership among LLNL, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, General Atomics, Sandia National Laboratories, as well as numerous other national laboratories and universities.

The NIF laser system, the only megajoule laser system in the world, began firing all 192-laser beams onto targets in June 2009. In order to characterize the X-ray drive achieved inside the target cylinders as the is ramped up, these first experiments were conducted at lower laser energies and on smaller targets than will be used for the ignition experiments. These targets used gas-filled capsules that act as substitutes for the fusion fuel capsules that will be used in the 2010 ignition campaign. The 1 MJ shot represents the culmination of these experiments using an ignition-scale target for the first time.

These early tests have demonstrated that NIF's laser beams can be effectively delivered to the target and are capable of creating sufficient X-ray energy in the target cylinder to drive fuel implosion. The implosions achieved with the surrogate capsules have also been shown to have good symmetry that is adjustable through a variety of techniques. The next step is to move to ignition-like fuel capsules that require the fuel to be in a frozen hydrogen layer (at 425 degrees Fahrenheit below zero) inside the fuel capsule. NIF is currently being made ready to begin experiments with ignition-like fuel capsules in the summer of 2010.

“This accomplishment is a major milestone that demonstrates both the power and the reliability of NIF’s integrated laser system, the precision targets and the integration of the scientific diagnostics needed to begin ignition experiments,” said NIF Director Ed Moses. “NIF has shown that it can consistently deliver the energy required to conduct ignition experiments later this year.”

NIF, the world’s largest laser facility, is the first facility expected to achieve and energy gain in a laboratory setting.

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Video: View a five-minute overview of the National Ignition Facility's operation and missions.


Explore further: The unifying framework of symmetry reveals properties of a broad range of physical systems

Provided by National Nuclear Security Administration

4.6 /5 (31 votes)

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User comments : 17

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broglia
not rated yet Jan 28, 2010
Skeptic_Heretic
1.8 / 5 (5) Jan 28, 2010
I don't think the NIF will develop fusion power, however, I think the science comming from the NIF will lead us to new energy reserves on the atomic scale.
El_Nose
5 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2010
NIF is part of the USA's portion of the ITER project. It was America's duty to figure out how to turn on a fusion reaction in a reactor and how to constantly produce the laser energy needed... It will take not just 1 pulse like starting a car but repeated pulses of laser energy spaced seconds apart to maintain the reaction. The USA has set a target of around 2018 to reach this goal. ITER calculates that the first fusion reactor will come online between 2040 and 2050.
El_Nose
5 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2010
NIF is part of the USA's portion of the ITER project. It was America's duty to figure out how to turn on a fusion reaction in a reactor and how to constantly produce the laser energy needed... It will take not just 1 pulse like starting a car but repeated pulses of laser energy spaced seconds apart to maintain the reaction. The USA has set a target of around 2017 to reach this goal. ITER calculates that the first fusion reactor will come online between 2040 and 2050.

Ite site iter.org used to show and detail what each country was working on to contibute as part of the engineering now those details along with the project time line are gone. It also seems that 10 years have been knocked off the project and they think commercial production will start as early as 2030-2040.
Canman
5 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2010
This is very encouraging. I've heard people say the fusion program will never achieve its goals. Well, we won't know if we don't try. Imagine what controlled fusion could do for the world. Very exciting.
anonperson
not rated yet Jan 28, 2010
Encouraging to see energy sciences advancing.
Mr_Man
not rated yet Jan 28, 2010
This might be a stupid question, but what kind of "container" or device (what kind of materials) can hold anything that reaches 200 million degrees Fahrenheit? Wouldn't that heat vaporize anything around it? Or am I missing something altogether because I am over tired?
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (7) Jan 28, 2010
This might be a stupid question, but what kind of "container" or device (what kind of materials) can hold anything that reaches 200 million degrees Fahrenheit? Wouldn't that heat vaporize anything around it? Or am I missing something altogether because I am over tired?

They hold the temperature down with super cooled gas/liquid in addition to using magnetic containment to prevent direct contact.
Noumenon
1 / 5 (1) Jan 28, 2010
This might be a stupid question, but what kind of "container" or device (what kind of materials) can hold anything that reaches 200 million degrees Fahrenheit? Wouldn't that heat vaporize anything around it? Or am I missing something altogether because I am over tired?

They hold the temperature down with super cooled gas/liquid in addition to using magnetic containment to prevent direct contact.


In this case it is probably inertial confinement because of the lasers. Look up "inertial confinement fusion" on wiki. Magnetic containment would be geometrically arranged like the Tokamac.
Skeptic_Heretic
1 / 5 (4) Jan 28, 2010
ICF still utilizes magnetic containment. You're reffering to the ginition mechanism, which in a tokamak is Magnetic confinement, whereas in this case the ignition is provided via laser ignition.
brentrobot
not rated yet Jan 29, 2010
Wouldn't the radiation cause damage to the laser optics?

I wonder if a pellet of lithium deuteride would be easier to work with? I thought modern fusion bombs had that at the core. Lithium 7 can fission into tritium in the explosion boosting the reaction.

dav_i
not rated yet Jan 29, 2010
The video fantastically confuses fusion with fission.
YawningDog
not rated yet Jan 31, 2010
Note to broglia:

HTML tags are not allowed. I for one would very much like to see the article you referenced but with the limited information provided could not find it.
YawningDog
not rated yet Jan 31, 2010
NFI = Welfare for the "good ole boys" of the scientific establishment.

The "national interest" they serve are those who would prefer that power be centralized in huge facilities and metered out at artificially high prices.

Anybody remember the promise of nuclear power was to make electricity so cheap that meters would no longer be required?

Fascist science marches on.
PMende
not rated yet Jan 31, 2010
Wouldn't the radiation cause damage to the laser optics?

The lasers do not directly aim at the target. The laser originates from about 900 yards away, and travels down the length of the facility, with each laser passing through a power amplifier several times.

The beam is then split up into several different pieces of equal intensity. There are a series of super-high efficiency mirrors that funnel the beams around the spherical chamber that the houses the fuel pellet and the beams are then focused by additional mirrors towards the center of the chamber onto the driving cylinder which takes the lasers (I believe they are UV) and converts them to Xray lasers which then emit onto the fuel.

The lasers all strike the surface of the fuel at essentially the exact same time. Amazing engineering.
PMende
not rated yet Jan 31, 2010
Excuse me: it's actually about 160 yards long. Don't know why I said 900.
Mr_Man
not rated yet Feb 01, 2010
This might be a stupid question, but what kind of "container" or device (what kind of materials) can hold anything that reaches 200 million degrees Fahrenheit? Wouldn't that heat vaporize anything around it? Or am I missing something altogether because I am over tired?

They hold the temperature down with super cooled gas/liquid in addition to using magnetic containment to prevent direct contact.


In this case it is probably inertial confinement because of the lasers. Look up "inertial confinement fusion" on wiki. Magnetic containment would be geometrically arranged like the Tokamac.


I will look that up - thanks!