Scientists Say Their Giant Laser Has Produced Nuclear Fusion

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Researchers at a laboratory in California say they've had a breakthrough in producing fusion reactions with a giant laser. The success comes after years of struggling to get the laser to work and is another step in the decades-long quest for fusion energy.

Omar Hurricane, a researcher at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, says that for the first time, they've produced significant amounts of fusion by zapping a target with their laser. "We've gotten more energy out of the fusion fuel than we put into the fusion fuel," he says.

Strictly speaking, while more energy came from fusion than went into the hydrogen fuel, only about 1 percent of the laser's energy ever reached the fuel. Useful levels of fusion are still a long way off. "They didn't get more fusion power out than they put in with the laser," says Steve Cowley, the head of a huge fusion experiment in the U.K. called the Joint European Torus, or JET.

The laser is known as the National Ignition Facility, or NIF. Constructed at a cost of more than $3 billion, it consists of 192 beams that take up the length of three football fields. For a brief moment, the beams can focus 500 trillion watts of power — more power than is being used in that same time across the entire United States — onto a target about the width of a No. 2 pencil.

Written By: Geoff Brumfiel
continue to source article at npr.org

26 COMMENTS

  1. If I were Bill Gates, I would have given a huge chunk of change from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to people researching fusion power. Alleviating hunger and disease now won’t do a lick of good in the long run if half the farmland on Earth is made useless by Global Warming. Using fusion has the potential to slow down or even halt the warming of our planet. We have enough Deuterium and Tritium in our oceans to provide power for many millennia and the only waste product will be harmless Helium-4. If we can eventually exploit the He-3 in the regolith of the moon, we will effectively have an infinite source of clean energy.

    Another reason to get fusion power up and running as fast as possible, is that it will make fossil fuels close to worthless, enabling us to tell Saudi-Arabia and other oily, Islamic despotisms to go screw themselves to the nearest minaret.

    • In reply to #2 by Negasta:

      If I were Bill Gates, I would have given a huge chunk of change from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to people researching fusion power. Alleviating hunger and disease now won’t do a lick of good in the long run if half the farmland on Earth is made useless by Global Warming. Using fusion has…

      I hear you, but unfortunately funding alone won’t make the day. Even if scientists had unlimited funding it’s still a very time consuming process. Even if we had the knowledge you would have to convince corrupt politicians and corporations that it’s profitable in the short term to make investments. Saying that you can make a fortune in ten years will hardly get you anywhere. You need to be able to get good profits right here and right now. Why would these corporations even want these new technologies? I mean, they have invested so much in the fossil fuel industry that they would lose a ton of money. The future of the earth is not their concern. They want to make money and they need to make money here and now. Like you mention tritium has always been a much better options for creating energy. But, you can’t make bombs out of tritium so they preferred enriching uranium and plutonium. Let’s face it, nuclear energy is a by product of the US government wanting a great weapon. Hence, the only way to make people interested in fusion in this day and age is if you can turn it into a weapon. That’s the only thing governments are willing to spend trillions of dollars developing.

      • In reply to #4 by Nunbeliever:

        In reply to #2 by Negasta:

        If I were Bill Gates, I would have given a huge chunk of change from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to people researching fusion power. Alleviating hunger and disease now won’t do a lick of good in the long run if half the farmland on Earth is made useless by Globa…
        I hear you, but unfortunately funding alone won’t make the day. Even if scientists had unlimited funding it’s still a very time consuming process. Even if we had the knowledge you would have to convince corrupt politicians and corporations that it’s profitable in the short term to make investments.

        Very true. The only reason every car today isn’t running on electricity is because of corrupt politicians and greedy oil companies. The companies knew they were polluting the world and causing cancer with leaded gasoline but paid off scientist to lie to congress and of course the politicians getting paid by big oil were all too eager to eat it up.

    • In reply to #2 by Negasta:
      >

      Using fusion has the potential to slow down or even halt the warming of our planet. We have enough Deuterium and Tritium in our oceans to provide power for many millennia and the only waste product will be harmless Helium-4. If we can eventually exploit the He-3 in the regolith of the moon, we will effectively have an infinite source of clean energy.

      We could also extract Deuterium and Tritium from huge quantities of cometary ice in the outer Solar-System and from water ice on moons of the gas giant planets.

      We could also use it in fusion drives for interplanetary travel, and hopefully to move to the moons of the outer planets, before the Sun expands in to a Red Giant Star and fries the Earth.

      Eventually exiting the Solar-System to look for new worlds in our merged expanded galaxy in about 5 billion years. Perhaps a lot sooner! – if we can get our act together, and avoid self extinction, or regressing into primitive tribes, in the nearer future.

      I explained the present state of the technology here:-

      http://www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2012/12/19/tau-ceti-s-planets-nearest-around-single-sun-like-star#comment-box-17

      http://www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2012/12/19/tau-ceti-s-planets-nearest-around-single-sun-like-star#comment-box-6

      http://www.richarddawkins.net/news-articles/2013/3/21/voyager-1-space-probe-reaches-outer-fringe-of-solar-system?category=Science#comment-box-28

      • In reply to #21 by JDBishop5:

        A little heavy on the racist peddle there Negasta.

        Islam isn’t a race, it is an extremely noxious and repugnant religion, that is practiced by people of every shade of skin colour. It is the tenets of Islam that I loathe, not the skin colour of its practitioners.

        In reply to #22 by Prassy90:

        @Negasta. Don’t put the blame on charity and alleviating hunger. There is a hindu temple here in southern India where the average daily donation to the temple’s treasury, by devotees tops 250 to 500 thousand U.S dollars a day. The net donation by devotees in 2011 alone set a record of 275 million U….

        You’ll hear no argument from me that it as an obscene misapplication of funds and energy to give such vast sums to temples and thereby enrich the robed charlatans that run them. The Bill Gates point was just the first thing that came to mind when I wrote my original post.

  2. “Giant Pencil Created By Scientists!”

    But, seriously, I thought there was a looming helium shortage. What will the fusion process use for fuel?

    Never mind… just answered my own question. D’oh! Helium balloons for everyone!

    Steve

  3. In reply to #4 by Nunbeliever:

    In reply to #2 by Negasta:

    If I were Bill Gates, I would have given a huge chunk of change from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to people researching fusion power. Alleviating hunger and disease now won’t do a lick of good in the long run if half the farmland on Earth is made useless by Globa…

    Small correction, it already is a weapon. That is what the hydrogen bomb is all about.

    • In reply to #6 by Sheepdog:

      Small correction, it already is a weapon. That is what the hydrogen bomb is all about.

      H-Bombs do use Tritium as fuel for their fusion stage, but you still need to detonate a conventional plutonium cored implosion warhead to heat and compress the tritium and deuterium enough to cause it to fuse. All the energy is released in a tiny fraction of a second, making it great for vaporizing cities, but useless for power generation. The trick is to get the tritium and deuterium to fuse in a slow and controlled manner, while releasing enough energy to sustain the reaction. This has yet to be achieved.

    • In reply to #6 by Sheepdog:

      In reply to #4 by Nunbeliever:

      In reply to #2 by Negasta:

      If I were Bill Gates, I would have given a huge chunk of change from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to people researching fusion power. Alleviating hunger and disease now won’t do a lick of good in the long run if half the farmland o…

      Well, yes. But you still need a fission explosive to trigger the fusion.

  4. I find this sort of thing incredibly exciting. I may not live to see the amazing Ian M Banksesque future this promises, but someone will!

    That said I have watched too many Bond films to see the phrase ‘their giant laser’ without thinking, ‘It’s not a proper giant laser unless it’s in a hollowed out volcano with lots of little buggies full of henchmen and scientists in white coats buzzing about.’

  5. In reply to #9 by mmurray:

    Does anyone have an informed opinion on the merits of fusion version thorium fission and on which is easier to get up and running soon? Thanks.

    Thorium reactors are already under development by the Chinese with US participation. They could have been developed long ago if uranium had not been given priority because of its military uses.

    http://www.itheo.org/thorium-energy-conference-2012

    Thorium waste has a much shorter half life than uranium, so reduces the nuclear waste problem. Fusion power-generation is still a long way off, but does not have a waste problem.

    • In reply to #11 by Alan4discussion:

      In reply to #9 by mmurray:

      Does anyone have an informed opinion on the merits of fusion version thorium fission and on which is easier to get up and running soon? Thanks.

      Thorium reactors are already under development by the Chinese with US participation. They could have been developed long ago i…

      Thanks Alan. I’ve been reading various reports on thorium by the Australian Government. There are political complications for us as we have no existing nuclear power and so there is opposition to starting anything. So we don’t seem to be doing any research. Kind of weird as we have more thorium than anyone else.

      It seems to me that with the world wide dragging of feet over reducing CO2 emissions the various conservation groups are going to have to defer a solar, tide, wind, geothermal hydrogen future and compromise on thorium. It would be better thank shale oil and fracking!

      Michael

      • In reply to #12 by mmurray:

        In reply to #11 by Alan4discussion:

        I’ve been reading various reports on thorium by the Australian Government.

        No doubt the Chinese will eventually sell the technology to them – at a price!

  6. Now that’s what I call a frickin’ laser.

    We have a mere million years worth of Deuterium and Tritium on the planet (at current energy consumption rates) and it is the ultimate fossil fuel, made once in the big bang. Its the one I would argue is the one needed for heavy duty interplanetary haulage. Best not over-dilute the oceans of them, in the next few centuries, before we can get to harvest Enceladus.

    The solar flux, after all, is brought to our front door for free….

  7. Well, er, good for them I suppose. But I think lasers are a blind alley. A friend works at JET here in Oxford and the proof-of-concept is all there. The scaled-up version (ITER, in France) is on track to produce commercially viable fusion power by 2020.

  8. @Negasta. Don’t put the blame on charity and alleviating hunger. There is a hindu temple here in southern India where the average daily donation to the temple’s treasury, by devotees tops 250 to 500 thousand U.S dollars a day. The net donation by devotees in 2011 alone set a record of 275 million U.S dollars. I myself have been there with my superstitious family and saw rich indian millionaires dropping gold oranments and money into this big hanging sack in front of the shrine. If you wanna blame something, blame superstition and the money wasted on it. http://www.ndtv.com/article/andhra-pradesh/balaji-temple-nets-rs-1-700-crore-income-162329
    http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2012-04-02/hyderabad/31274596_1_hundi-parakamani-pilgrim-rush

  9. This is a great step. I’m not a physicist, but perhaps someone could advise if it would be possible to sustain such a fusion reaction with energy from lightning? i.e. build a fusion reactor in a lightning prone area (eg https://www.google.com/search?q=lightning%20prone%20areas…), fish for a strike with a lightning rod/conductor, and channel the strike into the reactor to (i) fire up the reaction, and (ii) sustain it until it becomes self fuelling >>> permanent, clean, natural energy… Would this work?

    • In reply to #24 by Tim Sladden:

      This is a great step. I’m not a physicist, but perhaps someone could advise if it would be possible to sustain such a fusion reaction with energy from lightning? i.e. build a fusion reactor in a lightning prone area (eg https://www.google.com/search?q=lightning%20prone%20areas…), fish for a strike…

      The source energy per laser pulse is 422 Million Joules, of which only 1.8 Million Joules reaches the target. Fusion energy releases from that were expected to be 20 to 45MJ. That input energy is equivalent to a modest lightning strike and the amount reaching the target is equivalent to the heat in a 3 minute shower. The output power from the resultant fusion was expected to be the equivalent of 40 to 90 bowls of cornflakes. This latter, as it fails to point out on the side of the packet is equivalent to 10 Kg of TNT.

      Though people have tried to capture lighting’s energy its hard to get it all to stay in the bowl without vapourising it.

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