• metta

    Posts: 44702

    Jun 01, 2009 5:50 AM GMT
    US lab debuts super laser

    Glenn Chapman

    SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) – A US weapons lab on Friday pulled back the curtain on a super laser with the power to burn as hot as a star.

    The National Ignition Facility's main purpose is to serve as a tool for gauging the reliability and safety of the US nuclear weapons arsenal but scientists say it could deliver breakthroughs in safe fusion power.

    "We have invented the world's largest laser system," actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said during a dedication ceremony attended by thousands including state and national officials.

    "We can create the stars right here on earth. And I can see already my friends in Hollywood being very upset that their stuff that they show on the big screen is obsolete. We have the real stuff right here."

    NIF is touted as the world's highest-energy laser system. It is located inside the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory about an hour's drive from San Francisco.

    Equipment connected to a house-sized sphere can focus 192 laser beams on a small point, generating temperatures and pressures that exist at cores of stars or giant planets.

    NIF will be able to create conditions and conduct experiments never before possible on Earth, according to the laboratory.

    A fusion reaction triggered by the super laser hitting hydrogen atoms will produce more energy than was required to prompt "ignition," according to NIF director Edward Moses.

    "This is the long-sought goal of 'energy gain' that has been the goal of fusion researchers for more than half a century," Moses said.

    "NIF's success will be a scientific breakthrough of historic significance; the first demonstration of fusion ignition in a laboratory setting, duplicating on Earth the processes that power the stars."

    Construction of the NIF began in 1997, funded by the US Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

    "NIF, a cornerstone of the National Nuclear Security Administration's effort to maintain our nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing, will play a vital role in reshaping national security in the 21st century," said NNSA administrator Tom D'Agostino.

    "This one-of-a-kind facility is the only place in the world that is capable of providing some of the most critical technical means to safely maintain the viability of the nation's nuclear stockpile."

    Scientists say that NIF also promises groundbreaking discoveries in planetary science and astrophysics by recreating conditions that exist in supernovas, black holes, and in the cores of giant planets.

    Electricity derived from fusion reactions similar to what takes place in the sun could help sate humanity's growing appetite for green energy, according to lab officials.

    "Very shortly we will engage in what many believe to be this nation's greatest challenge thus far, one that confronts not only the nation but all of mankind -- energy independence," said lab director George Miller.

    The lab was founded in 1952 and describes itself as a research institution for science and technology applied to national security.

    "This laser system is an incredible success not just for California, but for our country and our world," Schwarzenegger said.

    "NIF has the potential to revolutionize our energy system, teaching us a new way to harness the energy of the sun to power our cars and homes."

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  • Posted by a hidden member.
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    Jun 01, 2009 3:55 PM GMT
    I hope it works. They still haven't harnessed fusion, but we're one step closer.
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    Jun 01, 2009 4:44 PM GMT
  • jeepguySD

    Posts: 689

    Jun 01, 2009 9:05 PM GMT
    This in an interesting development at NIF. Back in 2001 General Atomics was able to achieve fusion in one of their Labs near San Diego. They used magnetic fields to contain and accelerate the nuclei in order to get the temperatures necessary for successful fusion, but it took more energy to achieve the fusion than the fusion itself produced. This new approach by LLNL may pave the way for getting more enery out of the reaction than what goes in - essentially how stars work. This could be huge in renewable, clean, energy, provided the reactions can be sustained once started. There are still a lot of obstacles to overcome.
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    Jun 01, 2009 9:12 PM GMT
    Sedative saidPewpew!

    Marry me.

    Anyway, the real issue here is not so much about sustaining reactions nor energy gain, but a way to utilize the energy that is released. Because of the nature of that sort of "burst" reaction, you have to cope with how to capture the energy from the burst and store it for use (as you're likely to get a significant amount of energy all at once that can't be fed directly into the transmission system). Because of the expense involved in this type of energy, if you can't capture a good portion of that excess energy you'll have a source of energy that is far too expensive to actually be used. If they can overcome that hurdle of energy capture and utilization, and bring the costs down, well that would certainly be cool.