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Fun in Fusion: The National Ignition Facility
The National Ignition Facility (NIF) is a huge laser at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Its construction was a magnificent technological achievement, and a great credit to the team that built it. The laser has demonstrated the ability to deliver up to two megajoules of energy in blue light. This light is focused by 192 beams onto a tiny spherical capsule, which contains deuterium and tritium fuel. The irradiation evaporates the capsule’s surface and rocket action compresses the capsule, which is then shock heated to high temperatures.
It is possible, however, that the choice of ignition in its title was a mistake; since it has many duties beyond ignition that are important to Department of Energy programs in national security and fundamental science. Unfortunate, because, despite the stated goal of igniting a fusion capsule, the experimentalists have not succeeded yet.
In this chapter, you can read about the Shiva Winners Altruistic Trust (SWAT), in which scientists from across the country estimated (guessed) the neutron production from a single burning capsule–to be compared with the achievement by a certain date—not even close to the stated goal.The situation is eerily reminiscent of an earlier time, and the expected and actual achievement during the first phase of operation of the Shiva inertial fusion laser system. This laser had 20 beams and produced ten kilojoules of energy in the infrared. What happened in its early operation is captured in chapter 13 of my memoir, Fun in Fusion Research, which you can read below.
It’s not just inertial fusion that can suffer from an unwisely stated goal; an example from magnetic fusion is also given. Looking to the future, I note that in the end Shiva did reach its goal. I believe that NIF will, too, if adequately supported to try various approaches.
You can read more about the Shiva laser system, the NIF and John’s insight into fusion energy by picking up your own copy of Fun in Fusion Research at the Elsevier Store which can be purchased at a 30% discount by entering discount code “STBCNF13” at checkout.
About the Author
John Sheffield is known worldwide because of his involvement in numerous multi-national fusion energy projects fro the U.S. and Europe: In the 1970s, he was on the design team for the 16 nation, Joint European Torus project at Culham in England; in the 1990s, he served as a U.S. representative on committees that defined and then gave technical advice to the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER)—China, Europe, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States.
John received his BSc from Imperial College, London and an MSc and PhD from London University. He is a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Nuclear Society.
He served on the US-DOE’s Fusion Energy Sciences Advisory Committee for over a decade, chairing it from 1996 to 2000. From 1988 to 1994, he was director of Fusion Energy at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory. From 1995 to 2003, he was director for Energy Technology Programs at ORNL, and from 1997 also director of the Joint Institute for Energy and Environment at the University of Tennessee. There he remains as a Senior Fellow in what is now called the Institute for a Secure and Sustainable Environment. He served recently on a National Academy of Sciences committee reviewing inertial fusion energy, and on an Electrical Power Research Institute committee reviewing near term options for fusion energy.
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