Waiting for ignition. New report says future research into inertial confinement fusion hinges on the ability of the National Ignition Facility, a giant laser device in California, to create a burning plasma using tiny polished capsule filled with cryogenic (supercooled) hydrogen fuel. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Future U.S. Fusion Research Should Keep Options Open, Report Concludes

by Daniel Clery on 20 February 2013, 4:00 PM

The United States should embark on a coordinated national research program into inertial confinement fusion—but only after researchers successfully demonstrate the scientific basis of the technology by creating a burning plasma in the laboratory, an expert panel assembled by the U.S. National Academies recommends in a report released today. That conclusion will pile the pressure on the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the $3.5 billion laser fusion project at the government’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. NIF, which was completed in 2009, was supposed to have achieved ignition—a burning plasma that produces at least as much energy as it consumes—by last year. Having missed that deadline, however, NIF is now awaiting a decision from Congress about its future funding. In the meantime, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asked the National Academies to explore what steps the United States should take to develop fusion power if NIF does eventually achieve ignition.

Fusion aims to generate power by melding light nuclei together to make larger ones, a process during which some of the nuclear mass is converted into energy. But creating fusion requires temperatures of more than 50 million°C and huge pressures. Inertial confinement fusion (ICF) seeks to create those conditions by taking a tiny capsule of fusion fuel (typically a mixture of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium) and crushing it at high speed using some form of “driver,” such as lasers, particle beams, or magnetic pulses.

Read more: Future U.S. Fusion Research Should Keep Options Open, Report Concludes – ScienceInsider.

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