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Scientists Claim ‘Fusion Energy’ Breakthrough in California Lab

21st Century Wire says…

So what is fusion energy, or ‘fusion power’? 

Simply put, it’s humanity’s attempt to replicate the Sun’s own power system through process called nuclear fusion — bringing nuclei together, rather than splitting them. The fuel is derived from water and does not produce dangerous radioactive isotopes, as is the case with enriched uranium and plutonium in conventional nuclear power plants. Fusion power is also the primary area of research in plasma physics.

This latest breakthrough took place inside the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s $5 billion ‘National Ignition Facility’ in Northern California, and some critics say the research is expensive and has no guarantee of delivering the holy grail of science — an endless supply of clean, self-sustaining energy.

Watch this space…


Fusion energy milestone reported by California scientists

Joel Achenbach
Washington Post

Scientists are creeping closer to their goal of creating a controlled fusion-energy reaction, by mimicking the interior of the sun inside the hardware of a laboratory.

In the latest incremental advance, reported Wednesday online in the journal Nature, scientists in California used 192 lasers to compress a pellet of fuel and generate a reaction in which more energy came out of the fuel core than went into it.

There’s still a long way to go before anyone has a functioning fusion reactor, something physicists have dreamed of since Albert Einstein was alive. A fusion reactor would run on a common form of hydrogen found in seawater, would emit minimal nuclear waste and couldn’t have the kind of meltdown that can occur in a traditional nuclear-fission reactor.

“You kind of picture yourself climbing halfway up a mountain, but the top of the mountain is hidden in clouds,” Omar Hurricane, the lead author of the Nature paper, said in a teleconference with journalists. “And then someone calls you on your satellite phone and asks you, ‘How long is it going to take you to climb to the top of the mountain?’ You just don’t know.”

Hurricane and other scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, home of the multibillion-dollar National Ignition Facility, took pains to calibrate their claims of success. This was not fusion “ignition,” the NIF’s ultimate ambition. The experiment overall requires much more energy on the front end — all those laser shots —than comes out the back end.

Only about 1 percent of the energy from the laser actually winds up in the fuel, according to Debra Callahan, a co-author of the Nature paper. Most of the laser energy gets absorbed by surrounding material — a gold cylinder called a hohlraum, and a plastic capsule within that — before it reached the fuel, which coats the inside of the capsule and is made of two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium.

But the experiment worked as hoped. When briefly compressed by the laser ­pulses, the isotopes fused, generating new particles and heating up the fuel further and generating still more nuclear reactions, particles and heat. This feedback mechanism is known as “alpha heating” and is an important goal in fusion research.

“They’ve got a factor of about 100 to go,” said Mark Herrmann, director of the Pulse Power Sciences Center at the Sandia National Laboratories, a sister institution to the Livermore lab. “We want a lot of fusions. They made 5 million billion fusions, but we want more than that. We want 100 times than what they made.”

To frame the challenge further: Even if ignition is achieved in coming years, the contraption required is so extremely elaborate and capital-intensive — total cost of the NIF operation is in the realm of $5 billion — that it may be of limited practical application for generating electricity to power someone’s toaster.

Still, the new result represents progress in the fusion-energy field and came as a relief for Lawrence Livermore scientists after early efforts produced energy yields lower than what had been predicted from computer models. The process requires exquisite precision in operating the lasers to compress the fuel pellet by a factor of 35, like squeezing a basketball to the size of a pea, Callahan said…

Continue this story at Washington Post

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