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Power Science

NIF Aims For the Ultimate Green Energy Source 234

Posted by Soulskill
from the crazy-eddie's-discount-power dept.
theodp writes "Edward Moses and his team of 500 scientists and engineers at Lawrence Livermore's National Ignition Facility are betting $3.5B in taxpayer money on a tiny pellet they hope could produce an endless supply of safe, clean energy. By the fall of 2010, the team aims to start blasting capsules containing deuterium-tritium fuel with 1.4 megajoules of laser power, a first step towards the holy grail of controlled nuclear fusion. Not all are convinced that Moses will lead us to the promised land. 'They're snake-oil salesmen,' says Thomas Cochran, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Moses, for his part, seems unfazed by the skepticism, saying he's confident that his team will succeed."
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NIF Aims For the Ultimate Green Energy Source

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 15, 2009 @11:22AM (#30105770)
    This is first time I ever saw this - Error 503 Service Unavailable Service Unavailable Guru Meditation: XID: 595044882 Varnish
  • by amightywind (691887) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @11:23AM (#30105774) Journal

    $3.5 billion? This is a better alternative than giving the money to the UAW.

  • NRDC? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @11:26AM (#30105786)
    So a member of an anti-nuke group doesn't approve of someone's attempts to build a workable fusion reactor? Is anyone really surprised by that?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 15, 2009 @11:27AM (#30105792)

    We have had Farnsworth fusors for decades. We can control fusion. You know, for a geek website we sure do play fast and loose with facts and poor summaries.
    Maybe "step towards controlled fusion power"? Words convey meaning, folks.

  • Proof of Concept (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ironsides (739422) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @11:32AM (#30105816) Homepage Journal

    Cochran says the NIF laser is still not powerful enough. Even if it were, he says, "these machines are just going to be too big, and too costly, and they'll never be competitive."

    Proof of concept devices area always oversized and more costly than the production versions. Once you know it works and how it works, you can start shrinking it down and since the development is done, the cost per unit goes down further.

  • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @11:41AM (#30105870)

    It would be great if NIF could produce a working fusion system within the next century, but i find it a bit doubtful. There are two other fusion technologies which have aimed to reduce the size and complexity of fusion systems, instead of building massive billion dollar generators to instead build smaller technologies. These inlcude Polywell and Focus Fusion. Both are developed by engineers and appear to be honest attempts to develop fusion power and to do it with a reasonable amount of money, under 20 years, rather than centuries. While the government has given NIF billions of dollars, the polywell has received about 8 million in funding, despite the fact that if it is possible it could save the planet. Some scientists seem so enamored by the size and complexity, and unfeasibly of such machines as ITER they seem unwilling to consider smaller, cheaper and more practical alternatives, thus fusion always remains something far off in the centuries away future, when it is desperately needed now.

    Id like to see polywell, focus fusion and the NIF fully funded however, since it is possible that one may be right and the others not workable, it increases the chance of finding a solution.

  • by Comatose51 (687974) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:06PM (#30106056) Homepage
    Yeah you know what's funny? When you look at the price tags for the bail out for banks, GM, etc., and the cost of the wars and then compared to the price tags for these possibly world changing scientific research, you start to wonder why we're not pouring even more money into research. The Large Hadron Collider is puny compared to the Supercollider we were building and then shut down because of cost. Seems pretty silly now because we ended up giving even more money so some execs can keep their yachts.
  • Re:NRDC? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Goldsmith (561202) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:16PM (#30106128)

    If he was actually trying to build a working fusion reactor, that may actually be a surprising response (no need for fission reactors means fewer potential nukes out there).

    The design at NIF is not relevant to solving the problems in getting electricity from inertial confinement fusion. It takes over 300MJ for them to power their lasers, while the best output they can hope for from their fusion is about 50MJ. They're also focusing on D-D and D-T fusion, which is not actually "clean" in that it will make the reactor radioactive over time. That's not to say ICF is "bad," or will never work, just that NIF was not designed as an alternative energy experiment. If he's got a reactor design, it's based on other ICF experiments (the one in Japan is nice).

    A solar energy guy took over DOE and now they have to say these things to keep their jobs, that's all that's happening here.

  • by v1 (525388) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:29PM (#30106214) Homepage Journal

    cheaper power has several positive side effects

    - lowers pollution and environmental damage by displacing formerly cheapest-power sources such as coal and oil
    - encourages recycling which can sometimes not be worth it due to energy requirements
    - raises quality of life pretty much across the board

    Basically when power becomes cheaper, "the way things are done" changes in a lot of places because things that used to be more economical to do one way, become more economical to do another way. This almost always works to society's advantage. And as a result the prices on a lot of things gets cheaper because goods and services are cheaper to produce. When products (cost of living) goes down without average wage going down, quality of life goes up.

  • by hedwards (940851) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:43PM (#30106344)
    Not really, the UAW is probably the only reason why we have an auto industry in the US at this point. It never ceases to amaze me, the amount of ignorance and union bashing that goes on. Perhaps you'd like to give up your 40 hours work weeks, week ends, OSHA regulations, retirement and disability insurance.

    You're not going to get far with energy sources if you're not replacing the older gas guzzlers with newer fewer efficient cars. Despite all the ignorance, the UAW workers don't actually make that much more than their non-union counterparts in the South, but you get the same blind rage from people because ZOMG UNIONS~!!1!!11ONEONEELEVEN
  • by MartinSchou (1360093) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:50PM (#30106406)

    And unfortunately projects like this pull billions of taxpayer money from research projects that may actually benefit society.

    It would be better, if these billions of dollars were pulled from bank executives who were responsible for the economic collapse.

    Maybe we can drop by their houses with pitchforks and torches and ask them to kindly donate their bonuses.

  • by DJRumpy (1345787) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @01:22PM (#30106666)

    I don't think anyone doubts that unions did great things for the American workforce. What they tend to bash is tipping the balance too far to the side of the union workers. When their demands become too unreasonable that they threaten the very company they serve, then there is a problem.

    Had they been more accommodating, they probably wouldn't be in bankruptcy. The cost of the insurance packages, retirement packages, 3 people to do one job, union rules that prevent simple jobs from being done, even when they could be done safely, etc.

    Not all that is union is golden...

  • by Entropius (188861) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @01:27PM (#30106706)

    They're right, in a sense. Fusion's not going to solve any problems related to climate change -- we need something else for the near-term. But in a hundred and fifty years, it'd be nice to be able to produce 50x the current energy output of the world with no environmental consequences.

    It's long-term, not short-term.

  • by yndrd1984 (730475) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @01:28PM (#30106712)

    the UAW is probably the only reason why we have an auto industry in the US at this point
    the UAW workers don't actually make that much more than their non-union counterparts in the South

    How is that not self-contradictory? And why should we keep using tax money that everyone pays to prop up the companies the use the UAW? If non-union companies compensate their employees just as much, and employ US workers, what's the point? I don't think most people have a problem with unions per se, it's the constant need for favoritism that bothers them.

    Perhaps you'd like to give up your 40 hours work weeks, week ends, OSHA regulations, retirement and disability insurance.

    It seems a bit overblown to give all of the credit for those to unions, and to assume that they're all unambiguously beneficial.

  • by CastrTroy (595695) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @01:41PM (#30106806) Homepage
    The UAW is the reason that most of the car manufacturing industry has moved to other countries. People who are doing jobs that require not more education or skill than a Walmart worker are being paid 3 times as much. Worked nice for a while, but it isn't sustainable. It's not like auto workers have any special skills. In fact, with the advent of robots, I would have to say that their skills became less and less important. So, while I think it's important for people to have good working conditions, I really dont' understand why the average factory worker would get paid so much more than somebody who works in a retail store, or fast food joint. They really providing anything extra to any company.
  • by Ozlanthos (1172125) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @02:03PM (#30106958)
    In a time where politicians are trying to limit the ability of Americans to drive their vehicles freely, why would you think any of them would want something as potentially liberating to humankind as this???

    . -Oz

  • by Ironsides (739422) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @02:17PM (#30107090) Homepage Journal

    Uhh.. maybe for electronics, but usually for power generation you start small scale and build much larger versions.

    In terms of power production, yes. In terms of power to physical size ratio, no. The first fusion bomb was the size of a small building. Electrical generators and other devices were much larger in the early days compared to modern counterparts. They are trying to provide proof of concept here. The sheer amount of power required to produce fusion is the cause of the sheer size of this, nothing more. If you could produce fusion using 6 joules of power, there would be no need for it to be so big and you could probably do it in a single room.

  • by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @02:56PM (#30107520) Homepage

    The Mirror Fusion facility was closed at the bequest of the Oil and Uranium industries. Many people don't seem to understand that these companies will do whatever it takes to protect their profits even if it means that the rest of the world suffers. Just look at the climate debate.

    That's unlikely. Fusion would be a baseload electric power source, and that doesn't compete against oil (it competes against coal).

    Now, fast forward twenty years to 2009, and the technology is just beginning start getting available for realistic electric cars, and so some time in the moderate future, there may be enough electric cars on the roads that electrical power may actually make some significant inroads against oil as a transportation fuel-- but not in 1985, and the oil companies are (and were) perfectly aware of that.

    And, really, even if electric cars become popular, there are no shortage of uses for petroleum. The oil companies have nothing to worry about from fusion, their product is not going to go away, and they know it.

  • by timeOday (582209) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @03:43PM (#30108032)

    When you look at the price tags for the bail out for banks... seems pretty silly now because we ended up giving even more money so some execs can keep their yachts.

    There would be much less money and fewer jobs to go around for everybody if the banking system had been allowed to fail. It's sort of like saying, "wow, WWII really sucked, look how many GIs got killed and how much money it cost, imagine how much better off we'd be if we'd just stayed out of it!"

  • by EllisDees (268037) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @05:15PM (#30108968)

    Sure, nuclear fusion isn't unlimited in the sense of comparing it to infinity. For us puny humans though, it is for all practical purposes unlimited. We know from daily experience that fusion power is attainable. We also know that once we attain it, all other power sources will be obsolete. How this does not deserve a much larger portion of our resources boggles my mind.

  • Cheaper? (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 15, 2009 @06:36PM (#30109620)

    Cheaper power won't translate to "cheaper for consumers". All it will do is enable bigger profit margins for the power producers. Power will always sell at a "market value". In fact, the tragic truth is that if ever a power source were created that was SO cheap it wouldn't be worth distributing due to lack of profits, the big businesses just wouldn't push it. It would die silently, or be implemented solely by governments in socialist countries.

  • by adamchou (993073) on Monday November 16, 2009 @02:41AM (#30112558)

    Perhaps you'd like to give up your 40 hours work weeks, week ends, OSHA regulations, retirement and disability insurance

    First of all, you don't need a union to enforce OSHA regulations. There are plenty of other ways employees can get their employers to enforce OSHA regulations. Secondly, whats this nonsense about 40 hour work weeks and week ends and insurance? There are plenty of industries in the united states right now that don't offer any of those to their employees AND those employees make way less than their uneducated counterparts working in the unions. So please, get a reality check. UAW workers demand stuff they don't deserve. The fact that they get it is what pisses off the rest of us.

  • by tftp (111690) on Monday November 16, 2009 @02:46AM (#30112570) Homepage

    It isn't easy to repeatedly attach the same three bolts to part after part all day long or to operate a machine doing more or less the same.

    Many years ago I had a temporary job at a factory that made tools (drill bits, mills, etc.) It was tedious, just as you say - for about 3 days. And then it was smooth. You have whole day to think, for example. You load the blank part into the machine, press the button - and you have, say, 30 seconds of no action; the machine is doing what it's programmed to do. Then it stops, you remove the part and repeat. You don't need to think about it - your mind is free. Other workers, who were there for years, didn't see the repetitive labor as anything special; most labor is like that, whether you mop floors or sail ships or nail boards or solder parts onto a PCB. It is only surprising to a very narrow layer (class) of people who do mostly inventive, original work. But even an SQL coder who is asked to put together another boring VB form for another boring query is not that far apart from a machine operator at a factory.

    In my opinion the hardships of repetitive work fade compared to stresses at people-facing positions (I worked that one too, for a month.) I won't even mention agricultural jobs where you literally are standing in a mile-long field and need to work it all, rain or shine, usually in a very non-ergonomic posture :-( Auto workers have cushy jobs, compared to farm workers.

  • by R3d M3rcury (871886) on Monday November 16, 2009 @03:56AM (#30112884) Journal

    Perhaps you'd like to give up [...] OSHA regulations

    This is one of the things that always struck me as interesting.

    Way back when, employers created dangerous working conditions because it was cheaper than providing safe working conditions. Employees banded together to create unions to force employers to provide safe working conditions. And we all thought this was a good thing.

    Then the government came along and created OSHA--The Occupation Safety and Health Administration. So we now have a government organization that protects workers from dangers in the workplace. So what are the unions doing to keep employees safe that OSHA isn't doing? Do we really need two organizations looking out for employee safety?

It's a poor workman who blames his tools.