March 30, 2009

“Super Laser” Fully Operational at Last (genghis)
— Open Blog

Yes! A million times yes! From AP via MSNBC comes news that DOE has finally completed a 12 year long project building a laser that may be able to to do lots of seriously cool shit. (The cool shit involves both weapons and the promise of nuclear fusion energy sources)

”WASHINGTON - After more than a decade of work and $3.5 billion, engineers have completed the world's most powerful laser, capable of simulating the energy force of a hydrogen bomb and the sun itself. “The federal Energy Department will announce Tuesday that it has officially certified the National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, clearing the way for a series of experiments over the next year that eventually is hoped will mimic the heat and pressure found at the center of the sun.” “The facility, the size of a football field, comprises 192 separate laser beams, each traveling 1,000 feet in one-thousandth of a second to converge simultaneously on a target the size of a pencil eraser.”

DOE, in conjunction with the Defense Department, has released a sketch of a proposed field test should the system prove to be viable in a lab setting:

I think I just wet myself. But there’s more! (below the fold, with a pic of the test chamber)
”NIF is expected to ramp up power gradually in a series of experiments over the next year, culminating at a power level in 2010 to achieve what scientists call "fusion ignition": enough heat and pressure to fuse hydrogen atoms in a tiny cylindrical target so that more energy is released than is generated by the laser beams themselves.” “That is what happens when a hydrogen bomb explodes and inside the sun, at its center. It's also what scientists would one day like to achieve on a continuing basis to produce a clean, safe form of energy by fusing atoms instead of splits them apart.” “Moses said he sees NIF as key in the move toward developing a fusion energy source. "What we want to show is scientific proof of the principle of fusion energy," said Moses, predicting that some experiments for a short time may produce 50 to 100 times more energy than the lasers generate.”

Which would be a pretty good return on investment, but if they can figure out a way to keep the reaction going, while containing it and then tap into it, it may be possible to have a nearly limitless energy supply. Bonus for the ecotards: no nuclear waste or radiation. And if something goes really wrong? No meltdown…it just fizzles out. There’s your green energy industry right there Mr. President. No dicking around with wind turbines and solar panels.

I am by no means a physicist but some of you morons are…feel free to educate in the comments. I’ve casually followed the development of Tokamak fusion reactors over the years, but had always heard that either the scientists couldn’t generate enough energy to sustain the reaction or had trouble maintaining the plasma stream within the magnetic field. The article doesn’t mention how they plan to maintain any reaction should they actually achieve one. Again, school us in the comments please…this is seriously fascinating stuff (otherwise, why would you be reading about it?)

This pic is of the inside of the test chamber with a couple of technicians. How’s that for a workplace? Kinda’ puts your cubicle to shame, no?

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