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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 amightywind (691887) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @10:23AM (#30105774) Journal

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

    • by Comatose51 (687974) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @11:06AM (#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: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by timeOday (582209)

        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 hedwards (940851) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @11:43AM (#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 Rockoon (1252108)
        Indeed. The idea that the UAW is the reason that the automobile industry cant turn a profit selling $20,000 and up vehicles is amazingly ignorant.

        Doing a little back-of-the-envelope calculation, GMNA (GM North America) sells at least 32 vehicles per North American employee per year (based on their worst year in recent history, 2008)

        GM had been reporting between $10,000 to $15,000 in per unit profit for SUV sales, so each employee was *making* the company between $320,000 and $480,000 per year.

        Well cry
        • Your back of the envelope math fails to take into account facilities and maintenance I suspect. They're going to lose X billion dollars to have all the factories they do, now each vehicle they make makes Y dollars. If they don't sell X/Y vehicles they lose money.

          That being said, GM really does/did have serious mismanagement issues.

          • by Rockoon (1252108)

            Your back of the envelope math fails to take into account facilities and maintenance I suspect.

            It accounts for every employee they had in North America (includes Mexico and Canada), and they seem to have sold 32 vehicles per employee in North America in the same time frame, 2008.

            The $10,000 to $15,000 in profit per SUV was stated by GM themselves. Thats above all production/facilities/maintenance costs.

            If you make your employer a yearly profit greater than a quarter of a million dollars per year, wouldn't you expect.. even demand.. a decent health-care package?

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              Was in $10,000 to $15,000 in profit per SUV or $10,000 to $15,000 in per unit profit per SUV?

              Unit Profit is the profit made on production of an initial unit.

              Profit is the profit made on the production of a unit with the fixed costs amortized over all of the units produced.

              If you really meant unit profit, I stand by my assertion. If you really meant profit: "Okay. Interesting."

      • by DJRumpy (1345787) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:22PM (#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...

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by yndrd1984 (730475)

        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

      • by CastrTroy (595695) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:41PM (#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.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by adamchou (993073)

        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

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by R3d M3rcury (871886)

        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 w

  • Mirror of the mirror (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Geoffrey.landis (926948) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @10:25AM (#30105776) Homepage
    What bothers me is that, back in the 70s, LIvermore built the Mirror Fusion Test Facility, at a cost of somewhat over a billion dollars, to test a fusion concept. The project was cancelled by the Reagan administration the day the facility was finished.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_Fusion_Test_Facility

    Do we have more stick-to-it spirit these days? Or is this another few billion dollars spent with no other purpose than to improve the economy of Livermore, California?

    • by WaywardGeek (1480513) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @10:43AM (#30105876) Journal

      Bush Jr also canceled all the funding for fusion experiments. It's the only reason we ever even heard of the Bussard Polywell [wikipedia.org], since the scientists were free to talk about it after their contract with the Navy ended. Of course, now that the Navy funding is back, we're not allowed to hear how development is going.

      The obvious conspiracy theory is Big Oil doesn't like the threat of an alternative energy source, and they have a lot of clout at the White House when Republicans are in power. Other Bush Jr decisions included halting nearly all new permits for solar array power stations. [commondreams.org] So, the conspiracy theory has legs.

      • by tgd (2822) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @11:02AM (#30106024)

        If you're looking for conspiracy theories, there's a better one that is actually backed by better facts.

        Its a common activity of the federal government (and arguably not an unreasonable one) to spend billions of dollars on projects that are not intended to ever succeed in the role they are sold to the public as, but rather to support industries that are deemed critical to national interest or security.

        The ISS/Space Shuttle is probably the best and most widely known example. This was hundreds of billions spent to keep engineers and, more importantly, defense contractors, employed and solvent between DoD contracts, and to ensure that the skills they collectively had weren't lost through retirement or otherwise.

        The US has the same problem with the skills around nuclear (fission and fusion) research and engineering, particularly since we stopped building and testing nuclear weapons. The argument has been made before, because the scientific justification is so bad, that many of these projects like the NIF are done for the same reason, and focus deliberately shifts around projects as the need for the project to actually produce something starts to come to a head.

        IMO, the NIF alone is a giant waste of money, but if it serves as an act of corporate welfare to keep the scientists and contractors involved in the project active and up to date, then perhaps its not a bad investment.

        But I don't think any experts who aren't getting a paycheck related to it really expect a viable solution to fusion power to come from it.

        • That isn't conspiracy, that's good policy. In the real world, even the most brilliant scientists have to feed their families. If you don't pay them to use their brilliance, it will be wasted mopping floors or whatever. With the private sector shutting down their R&D (goodbye, Bell Labs) if we want to keep these folks in the US we have to find something for them to do. A far better use of tax money than entitlements.

        • by hedwards (940851)
          I'm sure that happens, that's the whole reason why we have that stupid Tanker deal being punted about. It was always more about Boeing's bottom line than needing to upgrade the fleet.

          That being said, creating initiatives that are just to spend money is bad policy. Spending money on longshots isn't necessarily bad neither is spending money on long term goals. The ISS/Space shuttle despite all the opinions to the contrary has been very productive. There's a lot of technology that gets designed for that whi
      • by je ne sais quoi (987177) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @11:29AM (#30106208)
        To back this up, there have been substantial job cuts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory twice in its history. [rockymountainnews.com] The first time was when Reagan cut the staff by about 50%, and Bush, Jr. cut about 10% in 2005. Considering that NREL is one of the centers of expertise of photovoltaics in the world, and often hold the record for efficiency for photovoltaics [nrel.gov] it does look pretty suspicious.
      • It's not a Conspiracy, it's a Business decision. When this Fusion thingy does start working, it won't be useful till someone plugs it in to the power grid. Now the folks that control the Power Grid are going to smile. Energy Suppliers are going to start patenting, and litigating like there's no tomorrow; and for them, if they can't find a way to sell their energy, there won't be a tomorrow. Deuterium-Tritium can be picked up off the ground, but not on planet earth. Someone is going to have to go to the
        • Actually, assuming that the would operate the plants, actually the corporations who control the power grid would want fusion power to succeed-- fusion power plants fit very well into their business model.

          ... Deuterium-Tritium can be picked up off the ground, but not on planet earth.

          Not on any planet. Tritium has a 12.3 year half-life; it doesn't exist naturally.

          Someone is going to have to go to the moon and get a bucket of the stuff.

          You're thinking of Helium-3, another possible fusion fuel. (One that's harder to ignite, but once it's ignited, easier to produce electrical power from).

      • by Rockoon (1252108)
        Keep in mind that the halting of permits was specific to PUBLIC LAND. Why should these things be built on public land right now, exactly? Wouldnt it be in the publics best interest to let this technology (and others) mature to the point of being actually competitive before tying up the land for decades?
        • But Bush Jr issued premits for oil/gas drilling on public land next to national parks.
          • by Rockoon (1252108)
            Pumping oil up from the ground is a great value. When we talk about revenue from oil wells, we speak in millions, billions, and trillions. When we talk about solar panel sites, we rarely get to millions and never get to billions.
    • by IonOtter (629215)

      The project was cancelled by the Reagan administration the day the facility was finished.

      Reagan had a total hard-on for the destruction of ANYTHING that looked even remotely green. Barely a week after he was in office, he wiped out the entire solar initiative-including the panels on the roof-turned up the thermostat and eliminated ALL price controls on domestic oil, which set us up for the biggest oil glut the world had ever seen. Executive order 12881 [utexas.edu]

      The popular phrase for such folks, is "They couldn't

  • Proof of Concept (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Ironsides (739422) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @10:32AM (#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.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Vellmont (569020)


      Proof of concept devices area always oversized and more costly than the production versions.

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

      Here's some scale. The article says this thing will produce just over a mega-joule of energy per-fire. They fire the thing a few times a day. 6 GIGA-joules is the amount of chemical energy in a barrel of oil. That means that per-fire, this thing produces the about the same amount of energy as is in

      • by hey! (33014)

        Which makes sense. Measuring our fusion progress on the bang-the-rocks-together-guys to steam-engine scale, we're just at the point where we've figured out how to make pretty sparks.

        If they break even, it's significant breakthrough, even if they don't net much. It puts fusion power in a different risk category for investing research dollars.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ironsides (739422)

        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

    • by Xyrus (755017)

      Just like building software. The first version is never the best version, but it's a good place to start from.

      ~X~

  • 40 years (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Moses leading a team? Will he stop and ask for directions?

    • by Iskender (1040286)

      Moses leading a team? Will he stop and ask for directions?

      No, it'll take 40 years again. After all, fusion is always 40 years in the future. It will certainly be now!

  • I'm hesitant to say that nothing would do more to solve the world's problems than the availability of cheap, clean energy, but it would be on my top five. However, every few years I hear about a new fusion project, and then I never hear anything else about it. Here's to hoping that it works and that it works in a way that can be commercialized before we destroy the planet.
    • by Colin Smith (2679) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:20PM (#30106642)

      Or rather.

      What will happen is it will allow the economy, unlimited growth. With that goes consumption. Humans will literally build, eat and fuck the planet into a desolate wasteland.

       

      • cheap energy also means we can get off this planet

        so we can build, eat and fuck other planets into desolate wastelands

        so it all works out, see?

      • by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @02:17PM (#30107702)

        Recycling and clean manufacturing processes will become economically viable because the energy to do it will be cheap.

        Planting in the desert will become economically viable because the energy to desalinate water will be cheap.

        People will fight fewer wars over geographically concentrated energy resources.

        Wealthy people reproduce less than poor ones, so population growth will be slowed or even reversed.

        Cheap clean energy will save the planet.

        • by Colin Smith (2679)

          Recycling and clean manufacturing processes will become economically viable because the energy to do it will be cheap.

          Recycling already takes less energy than mining for example. Say copper. However it is still *more profitable* to run a copper mine. The low cost of energy makes mining cheap. *Expensive* energy makes recycling viable.

          People will fight fewer wars over geographically concentrated energy resources.

          So reducing death rates and increasing populations, growing the economy. Concrete concrete, everywhere.

          Wealthy people reproduce less than poor ones, so population growth will be slowed or even reversed.

          Wealthy people consume vastly more. Compare the USA with Bangladesh.

          Cheap clean energy will save the planet.

          Take a look around at what cheap oil did. Cheaper energy means more concrete, more steel, more glass. Cheaper energy (clean

  • by gordona (121157) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @10:37AM (#30105842) Homepage

    Has anyone wondered how to synchronize these lasers to less than a microsecond? Sure one could measure the path lengths and calculate the delays at approx 9 ns per foot. However, about 12 years ago I wrote the software for a system that sync'd a remote quartz clock to a local cesium clock to within a nanosecond over 10 -100 km of fiber. Changes in path length we automatically compensated. It was fun to write this code and put the system together. A prototype was delivered to the Lawrence Livermore Lab for just this purpose.

  • by Eravnrekaree (467752) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @10:41AM (#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 mako1138 (837520) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @02:20PM (#30107742)

      The history of fusion energy research is marked by concepts that have not worked as their designers anticipated them to. In the first half of the 20th century, they built pinches, only to discover MHD instabilities. They built tokamaks, only to discover more and different kinds of MHD instabilities. They built spheromaks, only to find that the energy density couldn't go high enough. They built pinches of various kinds, only to find that the particle leakage was too high. They built inertial confinement devices, only to find that the ions would lose their energy rapidly.

      So you see, I am skeptical that these "new" concepts will be successful anytime soon. Economical generation of fusion energy is a hard problem. I wish the small-scale guys luck, but I'm not holding my breath.

  • Three points (Score:5, Interesting)

    by cmowire (254489) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @10:46AM (#30105894) Homepage

    Point one: Not spending money on fusion research is incredibly dumb. It's not likely to pan out in the near-term future, but there's plenty of ancillary science to be done on the subject. For example, the VASMIR space drive built on fusion research, it's just not hot enough to provoke fusion

    Point two: Relying on fusion power to make for a short-term fix is also dumb. Especially if you think it's going to be safe and clean. The problem with fusion is how many neutrons it emits. Even when you use one of the fusion chains designed not to produce neutrons, you produce a good amount. The reactor core is going to be even more radioactive than a fission reactor core. And even if you get to a "Breakeven" point, that doesn't mean that you'll be price-competitive with other forms of power.

    Fusion is easy. Just take a GIANT ball of gas, let it collapse into a star, and put solar panels around the star.

    Point three: Calling it the Ultimate Green Energy Source is a cover story. A 2007 report by the National Research Council's Plasma Science Committee concluded that "NIF is crucial to the NNSA Stockpile Stewardship Program because it will be able to create the extreme conditions of temperature and pressure that exist on Earth only in exploding nuclear weapons and that are therefore relevant to understanding the operation of our modern nuclear weapons."

    In other words, the NIF will be used, at least some of the time, to re-create the conditions inside of an exploding nuclear warhead so we can design new nukes without testing them and therefore violating the test ban treaties.

    • Re:Three points (Score:5, Interesting)

      by vlm (69642) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @11:20AM (#30106150)

      The reactor core is going to be even more radioactive than a fission reactor core.

      Why? Other than an appeal to authority, or FUD, I don't see it. And I'm fairly well educated in this area.

      The inherent problem with "spent" fission fuel, is we have very little control over how the atoms fission. Generally you get about 1/3 and 2/3 chunks but a graph of the relative weights shows two wide peaks. The stuff thats stable for millions of years is harmless, because, well, its stable for millions of years before it does anything. Likewise for the stuff with a half life of a few seconds, like the silver isotopes, because an hour after shutdown its all reacted. But there are plenty of icky cobalt and strontium and other isotopes that have an annoying half life "around a human generation long" that are really hazardous biologically. So there is no way to run a fission reactor without accumulating icky radioactive waste. Don't want a fission reactor full of cobalt and strontium isotopes? Well, tough luck, that is an inherent byproduct of the fuel itself.

      On the other hand, fusion doesn't use "stuff" that inherently involves bad half lives. Don't want a fusion reactor full of cobalt and strontium isotopes? Well then don't build the reactor out of it.

      ... solar panels ...

      Ah I see it was all just astroturfing or something.

      • by cmowire (254489)

        You are clearly not educated enough.

        Look up neutron activation. When neutrons are flying around in a nuclear (of any type) reactor core, some of them hit the material in the walls, causing the atoms to absorb a neutron and change isotopes. Which tends to result in a reactor core that is radioactive, even though it wasn't made of radioactive materials and didn't absorb any isotopes.

        Fusion reactors put off a hell of a lot more neutrons than fission reactors. You can do aneutronic fission, but not with the

        • Re:Three points (Score:5, Interesting)

          by vlm (69642) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:03PM (#30106506)

          Look up neutron activation. When neutrons are flying around in a nuclear (of any type) reactor core, some of them hit the material in the walls, causing the atoms to absorb a neutron and change isotopes. Which tends to result in a reactor core that is radioactive, even though it wasn't made of radioactive materials and didn't absorb any isotopes.

          I know a lot about that topic. Lets make our reactor vessel out of iron. Nice and strong. We need a table of nuclides, but wikipedia is an adequate substitute. So, lets see what horrible long term waste results from neutron activation of iron.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotopes_of_iron [wikipedia.org]

          Most of the half lives are in the ms range. If you manage to strike the same atom simultaneously with five neutrons, you get a 44 day halflife, this is irrelevant in practice. Overall, neutron activation of iron is not a significant issue.

          Some materials can be neutron activated, some simply cannot. Don't worry about distilled water, or lead.

          The important point, is you choose the structural material so neutron activation is simply, inherently irrelevant. Hence the intense interest in material science in fusion reactors.

          You could intentionally make a fusion reactors walls out of U-235 and generate tons of contamination, but why?

          • Re:Three points (Score:4, Interesting)

            by cmowire (254489) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:55PM (#30106904) Homepage

            You do realize that iron would become brittle as steel from the neutron flux if you built your reactor vessel out of it, right? It's a vague problem with fission reactors that required some procedural adjustments once neutron embrittlement was better understood, but with orders of magnitude greater neutron flux...

            Nor can you rely on a isotope chart of a single element to predict what's going to occur in a high neutron flux environment.

            For example, Fe 58 is stable. Capture a neutron it becomes Fe 59, with a 44 day halflife to Co 59. If Co 59 captures a neutron, it becomes Co 60, which is a long-lived radioisotope.

            So I guess you do get a reactor vessel with a certain amount of cobalt isotopes, no?

            I wouldn't classify this as an "unsolvable problem" but you can't magically wave your hands and make them go away.

            For all the "oh my god radioactivity" crap that's going around, the simple fact of the matter is that you can access the core of a fission reactor while it's online whereas you cannot access the core of a fusion reactor while it's online.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by smoker2 (750216)

              You do realize that iron would become brittle as steel ...

              If the rest of your explanation is as accurate as that, I'm glad I stopped reading.

            • by mako1138 (837520)

              As long as you're comparing fusion to fission, you might want to consider the total amount of waste created. Usually we hear about Cobalt-60 in the context of nickel activation of stainless steel reactor vessels. Cobalt-60 isn't long-lived compared to the high-level waste generated by fission; it has a half-life of about 5 years. Just mothball the reactor core for a few decades, as opposed to trucking tons of highly radioactive material out to a vault (that doesn't exist yet) where it's going to have to sit

              • by HiThere (15173)

                A design that I saw called for an inner wall of lithium. Something about generating tritium, though I don't remember the details. They did figure it would need to be replaced occasionally, but that it would be well worth it.

                • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                  by mako1138 (837520)

                  Yeah, it's envisioned that there will be a layer of lithium in order to breed tritium. However lithium cannot be the so-called "first wall" material. You would put the lithium behind the first wall.

            • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

              by ultranova (717540)

              You do realize that iron would become brittle as steel from the neutron flux if you built your reactor vessel out of it, right?

              What does that matter? It's inner lining for a reactor wall, it doesn't have to withstand hits or bear weight. It doesn't even have to contain the reactant, since that's done by magnetic fields. It simply has to sit there and absorb neutrons.

    • Point One sounds pretty cool, but check your spelling, it's "V A S I M R" [wikipedia.org]. Point Two, this energy generation method is not Short Term, at least not from what I have been reading. The Neutron issue sounds interesting, except for the case of when Neutrons fly away, won't the Electrons, and Protons have as much freedom as the Neutrons? And why do Neutrons "stick" to Protons in the first place? Point Three shows a lack of doing your home work, yes there will always be some evil genius trying to build a bet
    • In other words, the NIF will be used, at least some of the time, to re-create the conditions inside of an exploding nuclear warhead so we can design new nukes without testing them and therefore violating the test ban treaties.

      So, this keeps us from having to explode nuclear weapons, and thus violate treaties?

      Plus, it has side research benefits like experimental data for inertial confinement fusion?

      And it only costs 3.5 Bn initially? That's not much more than an accounting error in a budget the size of Dept.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dkf (304284)

      The problem with fusion is how many neutrons it emits. Even when you use one of the fusion chains designed not to produce neutrons, you produce a good amount. The reactor core is going to be even more radioactive than a fission reactor core.

      That's not actually necessarily a problem, you know. It all depends really on two factors.

      1. How much do the neutrons disrupt the atomic-level structure of the reactor. Different materials respond to this sort of insult in different ways; some become brittle or degrade, yes, but others do not. Guess which ones are used in reactors? In fact, fusion reactors actually rely on the neutron flux to create tritium from deuterium, so it's actually useful.
      2. How "hot" are the reactor parts afterwards. In fact, "hot" (i.e.
  • by tgd (2822) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @10:53AM (#30105946)

    There is big physics that is a good place to sink money, and big physics that is not.

    Only the physicists and engineers who are payed by grants in this area seem to think its a good use of money.

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

    The NIF is the ISS of the physics world.

    • The NIF is the ISS of the physics world.

      A great work that will die early because of the biterness of scientists who don't get to play with it?

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MartinSchou (1360093)

      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.

  • HiPER (Score:2, Informative)

    by Xinvoker (1660417)
    HiPER will be a European project that will take advantage of the findings of NIF to use IC Fusion as an energy source. (NIF has mainly military purposes).It will hopefully be ready sooner than ITER, and much cheaper. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HiPER [wikipedia.org]
  • This may not work but it isn't snake oil. I mean snake oil salesmen sell something that doesn't work from the get go. They sell a lie. Its not like all the physicists will be like huzzah, enjoy your free energy if it doesn't work. I mean that doesn't even make sense. They'll go "Fuck, it doesn't work, sorry". Totally different.
  • The Natural Resources Defense Council spokesman calls fusion "snake oil". Couldn't have seen that one coming... ;-) Reminds me of "Thank You For Smoking."

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Entropius (188861)

      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 kwerle (39371)

        Well... Kinda. If this pans out in 10 years (not bloody likely), and we can build one of these that is actually productive in another 10 years (not bloody likely), then I'd bet all my nickels that China will build a whole bunch of these in 30 years. And while it might not help OUR situation, now, it would sure as hell help ward off the disaster that China will be in 50 years - unless there is a clean alternative.

  • by Entropius (188861) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @12:25PM (#30106688)

    There was a long (~1 hour) plenary talk about this at a recent American Physical Society conference.

    The NIF is exciting scientifically for studying both fusion and "extreme" materials science. No, it's not going to turn into a power plant once we get it working, but fusion power is too promising to not take steps toward it. We won't be able to roll out fusion power in time to avert climate change, of course, so it's not a first priority for energy research. But it is certainly worth doing on its scientific merits alone.

    Trouble is, the main intent behind the NIF isn't science -- it's "stockpile stewardship" and weapons development. If it were simply a science experiment I imagine that the science goals could be achieved far more cheaply, and with a higher degree of openness. (For instance, some of the other approaches to fusion seem more promising. But the US's flagship fusion project is this one -- just because you can learn about bombs with it.)

    Science that is worth doing (which in my opinion the NIF is) should be done completely independent of the military (so it can be done honestly) and it should be done openly (so it can be useful to society).

    • True, but resources are scarce. What would that $3.5B buy if it went towards grants and research in wind, solar, tide, geotherm and other renewables? Solving the bird/bat problem for wind for example would be a big economic driver (as a random example of odd solutions that grant programs can help solve but industry might not take on until later in the market cycle).

      NIF would never get funded if it didn't have a military benefit driving it. Selling NIF as a renewable energy project seems somewhat like callin

  • by John Sokol (109591) on Sunday November 15, 2009 @01:30PM (#30107208) Homepage Journal

    Dense Plasma Focus technology is the next best thing to what cold fusion had promised. Best of all it's real and doesn't use any questionable physics.

    Safe, small, low cost, low maintenance and efficient. It looks like it will be small enough that it could be ran from inside a rail car or truck.

    It's far ,more likely to work then blasting deuterium-tritium with lasers, but they can't get funding!

    Slashdot's reported this several times.
    A-Step-Closer-To-Cheap-Nuclear-Fusion [slashdot.org]

    And I have posting my research in to this too.
    green ideas thinktank [blogspot.com]

  • Just a reminder, femtoseconds may be common/easy today, but what we did was done 12 years ago as a prototype an proof of concept. I'm not talking about femtosecond lasers either. This project was to synchronize multiple devices over varying distances from each other and from a source, not to generate ultra short pulses.

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