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Fusion Power Experiment Readied July 7, 2009

Posted by OldGuy in Alternatives.
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The $14 billion ITER project in France is hoping to demonstrate fusion – in 2014.  But researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, CA hope to achieve that goal much earlier, hopefully before the end of 2009.

In a sprawling building covering the area of three football fields, the National Ignition Facility (NIF) is taking shape.  The LLNL approach will use 192 powerful lasers to heat a 2 millimeter hydrogen pellet to a temperature of 100 million °C and a density 100 times that of lead–enough to start a fusion reaction.  The planned experiment will only fire the lasers for less than 20 nanoseconds, but the hopes are that will be enough to fuse the hydrogen into helium, with a release of releasing neutrons and x-rays.

If it all works, the lasers will deliver a pulse of power 500 times greater than the peak electricity-generating capacity of the United States. The pulse will ignite the thermonuclear explosion–essentially creating a tiny star.

The resulting chain reaction should continue to burn until the hydrogen fuel runs out, and demonstrate the way forward for a lasting supply of energy.  That is, if the system can be made more efficient.  While the fusion energy is more than the power of laser energy, it will take 10 times more power to generate the reaction than it will give off.

“Even if NIF is as successful as hoped, they’ll still be a very long way from being in a position to turn this into a practical energy source,” says Ian Hutchinson, a professor of nuclear science and engineering at MIT.  But it will, as he says, be “an incredibly impressive technological achievement.”

source:  Technology Review/Igniting Fusion, by Kevin Bullis



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