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Power Shark United States Science

Laser Fusion Put On a Slow Burn By US Government 143

Posted by Soulskill
from the world-shark-shortage-has-cost-us dept.
gbrumfiel writes "Those hoping to laser their way out of the energy crisis will have to wait a little longer. The U.S. government has unveiled its new plan for laser fusion, and it's not going to happen anytime soon. It all comes down to problems at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world's most powerful laser at Lawrence Livermore Lab in California. For the past six years researchers at NIF have been trying to use the laser to spark a fusion reaction in a tiny pellet of hydrogen fuel. Like all fusion, it's tougher than it looks, and their campaign came up short. That left Congress a little bit miffed, so they asked for a new plan. The new plan calls for a more methodical study of fusion, along with a broader approach to achieving it with the NIF. In three years or so, they should know whether the NIF will ever work."
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Laser Fusion Put On a Slow Burn By US Government

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  • Fusion future (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @07:02PM (#42255033)

    If you want to get an understanding of the state of fusion research, you need to look at this graph [imgur.com]. Fusion power is not unreasonable, nor even very far out of reach. This interview is good reading as well [slashdot.org].

    If we want to get serious about global warming, we could do worse than funding more fusion research.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @07:06PM (#42255061)

    All thermonuclear weapons are fusion bombs. They have been built since the late 50s. The designs have been refined, but we don't need to research much there. The bombs we have are powerful enough for all intents and purposes.

  • by mbkennel (97636) on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @07:10PM (#42255101)

    Please uprate previous comment. It is not a troll. The NIF project is funded primarily by the NNSA, the part of the Department of Energy which deals with the science & engineering of nuclear weapons. The DoE does not dispute this, it just likes to de-emphasize the reality of the primacy of the weapons effort.

    The design of the experiment and system matches the thermonuclear secondaries for weapons. Contrary to some people's belief, the nuclear physics is not difficult---it is the fluid mechanics and radiation transfer in extreme conditions which is the scientifically difficult part. (Radiation-driven secondaries are much much more difficult than fission primaries).

    The primary purpose of the NIF is to gain experimental data to calibrate the simulation codes for nuclear weapons engineering & reliability in the absence of nuclear weapons testing.

    There is a small energy related research project, but it is very very very far from practicality. There is little attention to actual engineering issues, compared to say ITER (magnetic confinement fusion) project, which is pretty heavily focused on engineering practicalities. Lasers are horribly inefficient energy transfer if you care about power breakeven but much better for making clean data for weapons code calibration. Most of the funded experimental runs will be for weapons, not energy research.

    In any case, neither inertial confinement nor magnetic confinement fusion will be used as a power source with customers for at least 60-100 years.

    We already know how to make nuclear reactors---and if we are not funding and churning out high-quality modular fission reactors now, it's foolish to think about fusion.

  • by kestasjk (933987) * on Tuesday December 11, 2012 @08:01PM (#42255541) Homepage
    It's not about increasing the power of new bombs, it's about increasing their reliability / taking care of old bombs without needing to do nuclear tests.

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