US scientists have produced a laser shot with an unprecedented energy level that could be a key step towards nuclear fusion, the US National Nuclear Security Administration said Wednesday, January 27, 2010.
The National Nuclear Security Administration announced that scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) [Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is located in Livermore, California, about 40 miles east of San Francisco in southern Alameda County] have successfully delivered an historic level of laser energy — more than 1 megajoule — to a target in a few billionths of a second and demonstrated the target drive conditions required to achieve fusion ignition. A megajoule (MJ) is equal to one million joules, or approximately the kinetic energy of a one-ton vehicle moving at 160 km/h (100 mph). This is about 30 times greater than the energy ever delivered by any other group of lasers in the world.
The peak power of the laser light, which was delivered within a few billionths of a second, was about 500 times that used by the United States at any given time.
“Breaking the megajoule barrier brings us one step closer to fusion ignition at the National Ignition Facility, and shows the universe of opportunities made possible by one of the largest scientific and engineering challenges of our time,” said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino. “NIF is a critical component in our stockpile stewardship program to maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent without underground nuclear testing. This milestone is an example of how our nation’s investment in nuclear security is producing benefits in other areas, from advances in energy technology to a better understanding of the universe.”
In order to demonstrate fusion, the energy that powers the sun and the stars, NIF focuses the energy of 192 powerful laser beams into a pencil-eraser-sized cylinder containing a tiny spherical target filled with deuterium and tritium, two isotopes of hydrogen. Inside the cylinder, the laser energy is converted to X-rays, which compress the fuel until it reaches temperatures of more than 200 million degrees Fahrenheit and pressures billions of times greater than Earth’s atmospheric pressure. The rapid compression of the fuel capsule forces the hydrogen nuclei to fuse and release many times more energy than the laser energy that was required to initiate the reaction.
This experimental program to achieve fusion ignition is known as the National Ignition Campaign sponsored by NNSA and is a partnership among LLNL, Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Laboratory for Laser Energetics, General Atomics, Sandia National Laboratories, as well as numerous other national laboratories and universities.
Source: National Ignition Facility News Release