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Power Science

Laser Fusion Passes Major Hurdle 354

chill writes "The National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has performed their first controlled fusion experiments using all 192 lasers. While still not ramped up to full power, the first experiments proved very fruitful. The lasers create a lot of plasma in the target container and researchers worried that the plasma would interfere with the ability of the target to absorb enough energy to ignite. These experiments show that not only does enough energy make it through, the plasma can be manipulated to increase the uniformity of compression. Ramping up of power is due to start in May." The project lead, Dr. Sigfried Glenzer, is "confident that with everything in place, ignition is on the horizon. He added, quite simply, 'It's going to happen this year.'"
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Laser Fusion Passes Major Hurdle

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  • So... (Score:2, Funny)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 )

    In 5 years I can have Mr. Fusion where I can put junk to power my flying car...

    I just hope that fax machines don't come back into style and have multiple for every house.

    • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Lord Byron Eee PC ( 1579911 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:51AM (#30949280)
      Clean, safe, American-made, no foreign oil, low level of pollutants, and a reasonable amount of entropy (heat) released. Sounds like a winner to me.
      • Re:So... (Score:4, Funny)

        by d3ac0n ( 715594 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:53AM (#30949320)

        Just don't take it any faster than 85 miles an hour.

        Unless you want to visit the '80's, the '50's, or the old west.

      • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CRCulver ( 715279 ) <crculver@christopherculver.com> on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:54AM (#30949330) Homepage
        However, just as with fission, it's likely nothing will be built without massive amounts of subsidy, and it will pay off only in a span of decades. Unless the public and officials are willing to think longterm, fusion is going to be delayed regardless of whether the technical hurdles are overcome.
        • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

          by ElSupreme ( 1217088 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @11:16AM (#30949616)
          What is wrong with a pay off in decades. This "profit now" attitude is going to kill America. You think the interstate system paid off sooner than decades? You think the interstate system was a failure?
          • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

            by amplt1337 ( 707922 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @11:28AM (#30949800) Journal

            You think the interstate system was a failure?
            Well... given that the existence of the interstate infrastructure created the incentives that destroyed the locomotive as the main means of in-land shipping in America, and in other ways promoted the reliance on the automobile that's ended public transit in most areas and greatly exacerbated global warming... possibly yes. : p

            But I think the parent's point was actually the same as yours -- cynicism about Everybody Else's willingness to do something that'll have a profit after the next quarterly earnings report.

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by PPalmgren ( 1009823 )

              No, it killed passenger trains. Rail is the preferred method of inland transportation in the container shipping industry, and is cheaper than trucking. As a matter of fact, the reason passenger trains are so expensive is because cargo shipped on rail is that beneficial to everyone involved that passenger trains can't compete with it.

              • No, it killed passenger trains.

                Yes, the interstate highway system did kill trains, especially the interurban trains surrounding urban areas. But that isn't the point. The building of the interstate system, a massive government project, succeeded in reaching its goal of allowing the utilization of vast swaths of under-utilized land, allowing commensurate increases in economic capacity. This was the real goal of pushing automobile transportation. Unfortunately, implicit in this goal was a massive surge in

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by daveime ( 1253762 )

              and greatly exacerbated global warming

              How many times, global warming is NOT caused by man ... it's caused by the sun, you idiot.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by delinear ( 991444 )
            There's nothing wrong with a pay off in decades other than it will effectively kill off the investment that's required now. The governments and heads of corporations don't want to feather someone else's nest, so they'll constantly make short term decisions. I really wish we could have political parties who looked to the future good of our countries instead of their short term political survival, but experience seems to indicate otherwise. They'll rarely decide to potentially gift their rivals 30 years in th
            • Yes, the fuel/energy companies of today are used to long term payoffs. They will be the ones making these investments. Assuming there aren't liability potentials with Fusion (insurance liabilities are whats really hampering nuclear, and the feds inability to see into the future isn't helping). These companies will be investing. But don't expect them to invest until the science is proven either.

            • Re:So... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by rhsanborn ( 773855 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @12:31PM (#30950816)
              Unfortunately, we need a populace that is capable of looking to the future as well. Without that, we'll never get the political structure you're describing. People don't vote for politicians who spend money on long term projects.
              • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

                by geekoid ( 135745 )

                What the country needs to do is give me ultimate authority for creating long term clean electricity program.

                We would use half the oils we use now in 9 years, and 90% less in 18 years.

        • However, just as with fission, it's likely nothing will be built without massive amounts of subsidy, and it will pay off only in a span of decades

          I think you would actually find a coalition of both democrats and republicans that could be for fusion subsidies. And, the whole lot will get cheaper as the much smaller free electron lasers replace the laser design in NIF.

        • Looks like a tabletop fusion wanabe. It is made of laser, that could teoreticaly fit a smaler volume, and pelets of deuterium, that is quite easy to gather from nature. It may quite well lead to fusion machines so easy to create that the governemnt couldn't hope to control. Of course, that is more than 20 years on the future :)

          Anyway, does anybody know what are the results of deuterion fusion (is it He4 or it irradiates something)? And about the pelets composed of deuterium and tritium, I didn't know one co

        • The same goes for any power generation plant. They all take decades to pay off. Personally I think we should just take the nationalized energy approach due to the high up front costs. (Its either that or give away money so private companies can do it) but ya...
    • by ledow ( 319597 )

      You're fired.

  • Terminology ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:53AM (#30949322)
    What does "ignition" mean for the energy gain of this type of fusion? Is this going to be worthwhile enough to overcome the inherent difficulties of this approach? Right now, inertial confinement seems to be suited for one-off events but not for sustained power generation since the fuel pellet will need to be lined up nearly perfectly for the lasers to not just blow it apart. Is "ignition" going to produce enough energy to make all this setup worthwhile in anything but an experimental sense?
    • That's one of the things the experimental reactor is supposed to determine, no?

    • Re:Terminology ? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Jojoba86 ( 1496883 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @11:25AM (#30949762)

      Ignition means more fusion energy released than laser energy in. Yes, there are issues in scaling it up, but none that are known to be insurmountable. Already there have been experiments to look at target injection (a 2 GW power plant would be at the 5 - 10 Hz region), high rep-rate lasers (Mercury is an example of a high power, high rep-rate laser) and the lining up of the laser in this situation requires less precision than that of anti-missile systems that are around.

      Also the Hohlraum approach is unlikely to be used in a power-plant, as it doesn't give the biggest energy gains, so this is basically a significant step towards projects such as HiPER [hiper-laser.org]. If NIF achieves success in ignition as is widely expected the money should be around for projects like HiPER.

      • Re:Terminology ? (Score:5, Informative)

        by deglr6328 ( 150198 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @01:30PM (#30951838)

        I agree with most of what you said but I don't know where you got "and the lining up of the laser in this situation requires less precision than that of anti-missile systems that are around". That's definitely not true. Laser irradiation on a direct drive target for ignition requires exquisite precision. We recently demonstrated a significant hit on fusion yield in implosions of cryogenic, layered deuterium tritium ice capsules when beam pointing was off by TEN MICRONS. If you're injecting targets into your reactor chamber at 10Hz, you are going to need some serious, super accurate laser pointing unless you want your fusion yield to be severely diminished. That means real time tracking of the target with hundreds of final focusing lenses that are all about 10 meters (at least) away from the target chamber center. Good luck!

        You don't even want to get into the problem of the cryogenic microcapsules melting before they reach the target chamber center. I've seen DT ice filled microcapsules melt, boil and explode within ~3 seconds of exposure to the thermal radiation from the inner wall of the TC at ambient temperature. Wanna take a guess as to how much that time is going to be reduced when your TC is at 800 Kelvin reactor operating temperature? Yeah, that means you are going to need to inject the pellets at extremely high velocity to minimize the thermal exposure time, and your lasers will then have to track it that much faster. Furthermore, how the hell do you deal with the horrible vibration on your focus lenses created by detonating the equivalent of roughly 50 pounds of dynamite (200 MJ) in the TC at 10Hz. Yeah... I'm as excited about this as anyone, but we have a LOT of problems still left to solve.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by nutshell42 ( 557890 )

          I agree with most of what you said but I don't know where you got "and the lining up of the laser in this situation requires less precision than that of anti-missile systems that are around". That's definitely not true. Laser irradiation on a direct drive target for ignition requires exquisite precision.

          I think you seriously underestimate the precision required for missile defense.

          • The airborne laser has to focus on a target 300km (600km for ICBMs but let's be conservative) away.
          • It has to hold that focus for 5s,
          • through the atmosphere
          • on a supersonic target
          • that is accelerating the whole time,
          • while being mounted on an airplane.

          10 micrometer at a distance of 5m corresponds to about 60cm at 300km.

          True the beam is 1.5m across as it leaves the mirror but due to atmospheric turbulence you can never be qu

    • by dtolman ( 688781 ) <dtolman@yahoo.com> on Friday January 29, 2010 @11:29AM (#30949828) Homepage

      By definition, when they achieve ignition - there will be a self sustained, fusion reaction - the fusion reaction will sustain itself until its fuel is exhausted. More energy will be produced than was put in - a net positive in energy.

      Of course there isn't any mechanism in NIF to collect the energy, but thats not really the point of the project...

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by jank1887 ( 815982 )

        More energy will be _released_ than was put in - a net positive in energy.

        your don't produce energy. you release it. just saying.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by linuxpyro ( 680927 )

        Would this basically be like creating a tiny star?

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by MoonBuggy ( 611105 )

          Yes in that stars release energy by nuclear fusion (although there are different types of fusion cycle depending on the temperature of the star), no in that stars are self-confining and self-perpetuating (for limited values of 'perpetual').

          Although I'm sure we'll be swamped by sound bites from the media talking about how we've "created a star" or some such, there's not actually a huge amount that can be deduced based on that information. I don't mean to belittle your question at all - as I said it is a fair

      • by pauljlucas ( 529435 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @12:10PM (#30950460) Homepage Journal

        By definition, when they achieve ignition - there will be a self sustained, fusion reaction - the fusion reaction will sustain itself until its fuel is exhausted.

        AFAIK, this method of fusion is not nor will ever be self-sustained -- it simply doesn't work that way. You have to repeatedly fire the laser, once per fuel pellet. Once the pellet ignites, energy is released. After it's released, the pellet is exhausted. To release more energy, you have to insert a new pellet and repeat. It's not like there's a lot of fuel at the focus of the lasers that just needs one firing to ignite the fuel and it will chain-react. The only way to have a chain-reaction sustain itself with no input of energy would be to have the fuel at the high pressure and high temperature that's found at the core of a star. The laser temporarily creates a tiny spot of such pressure and temperature, but there's no way the reaction can sustain itself without repeated firing of the lasers.

        • by dtolman ( 688781 ) <dtolman@yahoo.com> on Friday January 29, 2010 @12:16PM (#30950548) Homepage

          uh... you must have a different definition of self-sustained than I do. Just because it isn't a star doesn't make it a failure. This isn't an infinite energy source they are producing. Its just one that will create a nuclear fusion reaction that doesn't require any more outside help to continue.

          The reaction will be self-sustained until the fuel (a single tiny pellet) is exhausted.

        • by srleffler ( 721400 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @02:51PM (#30953122)
          No, the gp was right but you misunderstood. "Ignition" means that the laser triggers a self-sustained reaction within the pellet. The laser fires once per pellet. By itself, the laser doesn't provide enough energy to fuse more than a tiny fraction of the atoms in the pellet before it explodes. Ignition means that the energy from the laser-triggered fusion helps sustain the temperature and pressure in the pellet long enough for a greater fraction of the atoms to fuse. I don' t know if the amount expected to fuse is a significant fraction of the total atoms in the pellet--I suspect not, but ignition means that many times more atoms fuse than would otherwise.
        • The point of a "self-sustained" laser fusion device is that it produces more power from each fusion blast than is needed to power the lasers.

          The idea is that each fusion blast produces enough energy to fire the lasers for the next blast, plus some additional amount that can be used to do useful work.

          Sure, it takes a constant stream of pellets as input, but a fission reactor uses fuel rods the same wayl.

    • You know what's really funny - I was in junior high school, 8th grade to be exact, and living in Fremont, CA when we had a school field trip to ... you guessed it, Lawrence Livermore Labs.

      That would have been around 1990 or thereabouts. And I'll be damned if they didn't give us a tour of a many-laser fuel pellet ignition fusion system that I thought was frigging cool at the time (I swear it was something like 40 or 60 pulsed lasers), though I recall wondering how they were ever going to get it to keep rele

      • I find this incredibly sad. Aren't there any better, new ideas in fusion research to invest money and time into for experimental purposes?

        Lots of people are working on different methods. Turns out they all take a lot of time and development to actually get working.

        What I find sad is that so many of us don't seem to have the patience for things that are honestly and truly difficult to work out and that could really take many years to figure out. 30 years isn't very long in the history of science. Things m

      • there are lots of approaches, that one just happens to be very promising.
        Now as for the time it's taken it's not like they haven't been getting anywhere it's just that there's the little problem that what they're trying to do is really really hard.

      • It's certainly not a new idea, but ITER (tokamak) is under construction in southern France. Of course, it won't be completed for some 10 years, and then the project is expected to run over 20 years after that. The plan is to sustain 500MW for up to 1000 seconds. Of course, they don't generate any electricity either, it's purely research.
        I'm afraid we won't see any actual fusion power plants for quite a while barring something revolutionary.

      • I find this incredibly sad. Aren't there any better, new ideas in fusion research to invest money and time into for experimental purposes?

        How about Focus Fusion [focusfusion.org]?

        Some of the major differences with this technique is that it doesn't produce neutrons as a by-product (which makes it much cleaner - no deadly neutron radiation requiring expensive shielding and disposal), and it produces electricity directly from the reaction, rather than the traditional method of producing heat for steam for a turbine generator.

      • ..horrendously glacial pace of fusion research...

        Well other than orders of magnitude increase in confinement and understanding, i guess its "glacial" (compared to what? Improvments in coal burning?). The whole point of research is to find out what you already know, what you don't know, and what you need to find out. It turns out plasmas are bloody difficult to deal with and there was a lot to find out.

        Our energy future need to lose this horrendously short sightedness. Its rather short sighted to assume nothing is been done just because you have no ide

  • by fredrated ( 639554 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:55AM (#30949348) Journal
    Now fusion energy is only 10 years away!
    • by radtea ( 464814 )

      Now fusion energy is only 10 years away!

      And will be for the next fifty years.

      • To be fair it used to be 15 years away (admitedly more than 10 years ago) so in 50 years it'll only be 2 or 3 years away.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      I really pity the first person who gets fusion to work for energy:

      "Hey Bob, fusion energy here."
      "Yea Benny, I know, in ten years. I know that one.."
      "No, here, just made it work. See: fusion here in my ignition facility. Energy output meter shows lot's of power. I made it!!"
      "You actually realize that you effectively destroyed a years old meme in the Internet? FUCK YOU!"

    • You must be North Korean. We've had fusion energy for almost 60 years: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivy_Mike [wikipedia.org]
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohnNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday January 29, 2010 @10:55AM (#30949350) Journal

    The project lead, Dr. Sigfried Glenzer, is "confident that with everything in place, ignition is on the horizon. He added, quite simply, 'It's going to happen this year.'

    Huh. I had always thought that some international police force like "The International Fusion Gestapo" would be dispatched upon hearing this news and show up at your lab and start smashing mirrors and urinating on lasers until you revised your statement to be "15 to 20 years away" so that all their dues paying members would have time to reach tenure before you ruined the party.

    I mean, there was no other logical explanation why so many seemingly brilliant scientists continually gave us incorrect estimates of achieving milestones in fusion research. Is this just being overly optimistic or was he carefully picking his words so that they will know if this method is viable (above break even energy production) or not within a year? And if so, where will he get his funding given the if not scenario?

    • by pavon ( 30274 )

      The 15 to 20 years estimate is always for energy-positive, viable power plant. The one year date is just when this particular device will be fully operational. There are already many operational fusion devices that exist for research, and this adds another that may or may not give us a breakthrough.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gmueckl ( 950314 )

      My interpretation is simply that they want to reach the density and temperature required to start fusion within the plasma. This only means that the fusion reaction is starting to happen. Only after that can one start to ask the interesting questions (can enough energy be extracted to have a net surplus? can the energy output be improved? is this economically viable?). So they aren't done for several years yet.

    • The more I read your comment, the less I can tell whether you're mocking a silly conspiracy or trying to create one. But either way, even with a successful ignition tomorrow, I'm sure it would still take 15 years or more to get electricity from it onto the grid. Even building a fission reactor with a proven design takes about that long in the US. But besides just working, fusion would have to produce more energy than it consumes, it has to be scaled up to a significant output, and then the price has to c
    • Note he is just saying they should start hydrogen burn this year. The 20 years thing is for economically viable fusion power plants- this research helps bring us closer to that but 20 years would still be optimistic. This announcement is like the LHC saying they'll be running the beam at full power by the end of the year (but without the bad track record for the equipment)- you seem to treat it similar to CERN saying they will find the Higgs by the end of the year. His prediction sounds reasonable enough to
    • What you are describing is Frank Herbert's: The Tactful Saboteur. [google.com] An excellent short story.

      In Lieu of Red Tape

  • Understand just enough to know that I don't understand enough, but this sounds fantastic.
    • by AaxelB ( 1034884 )

      Understand just enough to know that I don't understand enough, but this sounds fantastic.

      Agreed! Even more so because the picture in TFA clearly shows that they totally built Cerebro!

      Except that instead of enhancing the telepathy of whomever's inside, it blows things up with lasers. I'd call that an improvement.

  • ... something to think about the next time you brag to your friends about your 300mW pocket laser pointer popping balloons & burning wood.

  • but its low powered and has quick half-lives. additionally, there are no geopolitical overtones concerning fuel sources: you just need sea water. no climate changing pollution/ city-choking smog for that matter. no peak oil this or that, no bubbles and spikes in supply or pricing

    additionally, if everyone had electric cars, there would be no petrodollars funding saudi arabia, a backwards fundamentalist regime that funds wahhabi madrassas in places like pakistan, that give rise to all of these well-funded (from saudi "charities") militant assholes in the muslim world

    no funding of gas bag chavez in venezuela, no funding of neoimperial russia and putin, no funding for nigerian graft and corruption...

    it will take a long time, but if we can remove the reason for the world to have any vested interests in backwards regimes, propping them up and preserving them unnaturally, and we instead let these regimes instead rise and fall on their own intrinsic value in governing fair societies, then we will have taken a mighty step forward in terms of progress in this world

    of course, it will be decades before we're all driving electric cars powered by fusion plants. but one can dream, cant' they?

  • 1) May: ramping up power
    2) June 1st: Flick the switch
    3) ???
    4) June 2nd: They are now the proud owners of a 2mile wide smoking crater...
    5) Tourist industry profits...
  • OK, Fusion within 2010. Great.

    The question now becomes: will this generate more energy than it takes? And can it sustain power generation?

    And, let's admit everything works: what quantity of nuclear waste will such a machine produce? And of what type?

    Don't give me the "it's fusion, so it's clean, duh" line: this machine is going to generate an enormous amount of energy and a lot of that will in the form of a "carefully controlled thermonuclear explosion" (BBC dixit) -- which means radiation, which also means

    • by Chris Burke ( 6130 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @11:38AM (#30949940) Homepage

      And, let's admit everything works: what quantity of nuclear waste will such a machine produce? And of what type?

      Don't give me the "it's fusion, so it's clean, duh" line: this machine is going to generate an enormous amount of energy and a lot of that will in the form of a "carefully controlled thermonuclear explosion" (BBC dixit) -- which means radiation, which also means neutrons. And neutrons are not really good for your health.

      Later in TFA it says they'll eventually be fusing a fuel containing a mix deuterium and tritium. Deuterium-deuterium fusion yields tritium and a neutron, and deuterium-tritium fusion yields helium-4 and a neutron. So the byproducts are Helium-4 (not radioactive in the slightest) and neutrons.

      High energy neutrons are very bad for you, yes, but that just means you won't be standing near the unshielded reaction chamber. It's not like you have to dump a big pile of poisonous neutrons somewhere. The neutrons will affect the containment itself, but the biggest problem there is just that it becomes brittle, not necessarily radioactive.

      It is basically true that fusion is clean. The waste is minimal.

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Technically the process will generate some radioactive material due to neutron activation of the reactor components, but we're talking small amounts that only need to be stored for a few decades until they are perfectly safe.

        One interesting proposal has been to use the neutron flux produced by fusion reactors to transmute long-lived high-level radioactive waste produced in fission reactors into short-lived waste products. So potentially the by-product of fusion reactors would allow us to reduce the impact o

    • My understanding (and IANALaserologist) is that fusion only generates low level nuclear waste, the sort of stuff you get as a by product of various machines in hospitals and... relatively... safe to handle, so I guess the real question is about the quantity, whether it's within the bounds we already deal with or exceeds those by several order of magnitudes could be the key factor.
    • by Dr_Barnowl ( 709838 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @12:00PM (#30950306)

      And can it sustain power generation?

      You're talking about zapping a very small, supercooled, gold-uranium alloy target with a beryllium sphere containing about 1mg of DT fuel, about 10 times a second.

      Have a thought experiment about the engineering involved

      • Producing the "ammunition" - bear in mind that tritium is one of the rarest and most expensive substances on earth[1]
      • Positioning it and aligning it - ten times a second
      • Charging and firing the most powerful laser array on earth - ten times a second
      • Somehow removing the heat from the reactor vessel without impeding the laser paths

      what quantity of nuclear waste will such a machine produce?

      DT fusion produces fast neutrons, so some. You're looking at much shorter half-lives ; the reactor core will have the same activity as coal ash after about 300 years.

      And will ITER be quickly refactored to take this into account?

      ITER is a totally different design, so no. I think ITER is a far more credible design than laser-fusion, given that the engineering challenges seem some orders of magnitude easier.

      NIF is just a testbed for nuclear fusion, without the inconveniently illegal use of real nuclear weapons.


      If you're firing at 1mg of fuel, by mass, 3/5 of it is Tritium or 0.6mg so (60 * 60 * 24) seconds in day * 10 per second * 0.0006 g = 518.4 g of tritium per day.

      The total production in the USA between 1955 and 1996 was 225kg ; the stockpile in 1996 stood at 75kg

  • Lasers? (Score:5, Funny)

    by RealErmine ( 621439 ) <commerce@wo r d hole.net> on Friday January 29, 2010 @11:14AM (#30949596)
    Why aren't they using an array of neural-network-controlled, articulated metal arms to control the fusion chamber?
  • by lxs ( 131946 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @11:16AM (#30949622)

    Are you sure it's wise to ignite your nation?

    I'm glad that there's plenty of water between me and the nation in question.

  • My house, Saturday night. Bring Your Own Bottle and Laser Pointer.
  • Not yet (Score:2, Funny)

    by syrinx ( 106469 )

    Everyone knows fusion power doesn't become available until 2050, and microwave power comes first.

  • Please calm down... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Yvanhoe ( 564877 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @11:21AM (#30949706) Journal
    I don't understand why this is even doing news. The temperatures that were reach are commonly reached inside tokamaks. Fusion itself has already been sustained in them for several seconds,a feat a laser confinement mechanism cannot do. Of course these reactions did use more energy than it created. Laser mechanisms have a longer way to go in order to be credible fusion power plants.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Jojoba86 ( 1496883 )

      Of course laser fusion can't provide a sustained burn for seconds, that's not how it works! Your car engine doesn't burn fuel in a sustained way, but it does a pretty good job of providing enough average power right?

      The key point here it's a step towards getting gain in a fusion plasma. And hopefully in 2010. The earliest a tokamak is likely to achieve the same is 2020. The steps towards a powerplant are different for tokamaks and lasers, but high rep-rate lasers exist and projects like HiPER [hiper-laser.org] will

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by plague911 ( 1292006 )
      "Laser mechanisms have a longer way to go in order to be credible fusion power plants." ... They all do... As someone who has done some work with tokamaks sure we should be able to break even with energy. But honestly people have no idea when they would break even financially with other tech... If ever.
  • .. which said that it was never that fusion was 50 years away, but that it was 500 billion dollars away. The fifty years was just an estimate based on how much funding, brainpower, and so forth went into it. Let's face it, you can't just put a basket in a storage locker with a placard atop it reading FUSION, then come back in fifty years and expect to find something in the basket.

    We have not spent the large amounts of money required to do the research. When we do, it's in fits and starts, buffeted by peo

  • A commercial reactor would generate steam [wikipedia.org] to drive a turbine to create electricity at about 35% efficiency. We've been using steam to generate electricity for at least 100 years. There HAS to be a better way.
  • as a physicsist... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Goldsmith ( 561202 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @12:36PM (#30950906)

    I'm a physicist, I love these experiments, but...

    The people running this thing need to think really, *really* hard how their comments play out in the media, maybe try and be a little more clear. The difference between getting fusion (the physical process) to work and getting fusion (the power generation system) to work is huge! Should they accomplish their goals in a year, they will still be a very long way away from thinking about building an electricity generating system. The line of "getting more power out than we put in" for fusion in the lab was crossed decades ago, and it's still unclear how doing this with yet another method of creating a fusion plasma is going to result in a more straightforward commercial reactor design.

    This is how we end up with government officials who think we're all full of hyperbole, and don't actually do any work. I know they're fighting for their jobs at Livermore, but I don't see how they can keep this up long term. At some point, some Congressional committee is going to ask them to deliver on what has been promised, even if it was a confused, incorrect promise mis-translated by the media.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      The line of "getting more power out than we put in" for fusion in the lab was crossed decades ago..

      Care to back that up. Other than nuclear bombs, there is no fusion device that has achieved ignition (which is not the same as getting more power out than you put in) that i am aware of, and i keep up with the field.

      Ignition can be described as fusion energy output is higher than losses from the plasma.

  • Polywell (Score:3, Informative)

    by Colin Walsh ( 1032 ) on Friday January 29, 2010 @02:00PM (#30952376)
    The Navy-funded Polywell [wikipedia.org] experiment is looking to hit break-even in some time less than the frustrating "20 years away" event horizon that's been plaguing magnetic confinement and laser based devices such as this one. I'd say it's a good bet that Polywell will achieve break-even first.

Adding manpower to a late software project makes it later. -- F. Brooks, "The Mythical Man-Month"