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NIF Achieves Important Breakthrough in Nuclear Fusion Research

Nuclear fusion is rather different from nuclear fission. Fission, is the reaction currently used in nuclear power plants, and produces dangerously radioactive elements; fusion is the currently being researched by various laboratories around the world, and produces no radioactive waste and far more energy.

For years nuclear fusion has eluded scientists, yet very recently the researchers at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in the US have managed to pass a milestone that brings fully sustainable nuclear fusion closer realisation.

The NIF, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, uses 192 beams of the world’s most powerful lasers to deliver a pulse of energy 1000 times the capacity of the entire generating capacity of all power plants in the US combined. The pulse hits a tiny capsule of hydrogen which is then instantly compressed and heated up, creating a small nuclear fusion reaction.

Related article: Niger’s Hedges Bets on French Uranium Assets

Inside the target Chamber at the National Ignition Facility (NIF).
Inside the target Chamber at the National Ignition Facility (NIF).

The BBC reports that in September the amount of energy released from the fusion reaction at the NIF was recorded as higher than the energy that was absorbed by the hydrogen fuel pellet. The first time that this has been achieved anywhere in the world.

Ed Moses, the principal associate director for NIF, said that “the 13 August firing of NIF's 192-beam laser yielded 3 × 1015 neutrons, whose total energy reached 8 kilojoules. That output was nearly twice the 5 kJ of energy that produced the plasma in the peppercorn-sized sphere of fusion fuel.

The result puts NIF a factor of four to five away from ignition.”

Unfortunately, due to inefficiencies in the system only about 10-20 percent of the energy entered into the lasers actually reaches the capsule, so the lab is still some way off true ignition (when the nuclear fusion reaction generates more energy than supplied to the lasers); but this achievement is still proof that they are moving in the right direction.

Related article: Fusion Breakeven Very Close at National Ignition Facility

Moses said that “one to two more kilojoules reaching the plasma from the laser should be enough to yield the 15 kJ of fusion energy,” needed to achieve ignition. This means that improving the efficiency of the system is vital.

Despite the inability to reach full ignition, the BBC still claim that this is the most important breakthrough for fusion in years, and proof that it is only a matter of time before the NIF meets its goal.

The researchers at the laboratory will surely take this achievement as encouragement to continue in their research, and other experiments into nuclear fusion around the world will also be buoyed by the news.

Along with the NIF, another of the major fusion projects is the multi-billion-euro ITER facility in France. Whereas the NIF uses lasers to compress and heat the pellet, the ITER facility uses powerful magnetic fields, known as magnetic confinement.

By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com

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  • Sam on October 11 2013 said:
    more energy coming out than going in....Doesn't that defy some fundamental principle of Thermodynamics?

    Oh boy, where do you start? Perpetual motion machines exhibit no entropy - i.e. they don't change as they make their energy.

    Try taking the helium and neutron 'ash' of D-T fusion burning and burn it again. There are fusion reactions possible from that branch, but they will require more activation energy and emit less energy than the original D-T. Just like burning wood.
  • Donald Jasby on October 11 2013 said:
    How do the Livermore people know what minute fraction of the laser energy was instrumental in heating the DT fuel capsule?

    Only from computer simulation, which has been erroneous up to this point.

    In ay case the electrical energy input to the laser system in each pulse is at least 50,000 times the fusion energy produced in that pulse.
  • Don on October 10 2013 said:
    Aaron, E = mc2, and nuclear fusion converts a small amount of mass to a large amount of energy.

    There is more mass in the deuterium and tritium fuel than in the fused product helium, so the extra comes out as energy in fast neutrons and helium.

    It's the way the stars work, so it's definitely real.
  • Bach on October 09 2013 said:
    It takes energy to facilitate the initial part of the reaction. For example, igniting gasoline to start up your vehicle takes some electrical power supplemented by the battery to start combustion.
  • Aaron on October 09 2013 said:
    more energy coming out than going in....Doesn't that defy some fundamental principle of Thermodynamics? If not I have a perpetual motion machine to sell you, the Brooklyn bridge is free you just have to pay separate shipping charges.....

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