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article imageFirst major step towards a nuclear fusion

By Sukhdeep Chhabra     May 29, 2009 in Science
The world's largest and highest-energy laser, certified for operation by the U.S. Department of Energy on March 27, 2009 is scheduled to go into operation on May 29th. However full fledged experiments start in 2010.
The National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California has been fired up today. Believed to be the most powerful machine on the planet, it is the first major step towards achieving fusion ignition in the laboratory, or the same conditions found in the cores of stars and planets, the same reactions that provide the life-giving energy of the sun and the same conditions present in the explosions of hydrogen bombs.
The world’s most powerful laser system will focus 192 giant lasers housed in a ten-story building the size of three football fields, onto small BB-sized hydrogen pellets fusing, or igniting, the hydrogen atoms' nuclei in the world's first controlled thermonuclear reaction, according to the NIF. The experiments will be undertaken at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 2010.
At its full capacity, the NIF will focus nearly two million joules of ultraviolet laser energy on a tiny target in the center of its target chamber. That is almost 500 trillion watts of power, about 3,000 times the average electricity consumption of the whole of planet Earth. The resultant fusion reactions could lead to the practicality of fusion energy and because of its resemblance to hydrogen bombs, it will allow America to carry out nuclear tests without actually physically testing any weapons, reports The Economist. This has been stated as the prime reason of the project not being suspended despite the budget overrun, which places its total cost at $4 billion and its running five years behind schedule.
If everything goes as planned, the fusion reaction will produce many times more energy than the laser energy required to initiate the reaction, a feat accomplished never before, thus allowing to test the fusion as a power source, but those experiments are likely to be delayed until 2025.
More about National ignition facility, Laser, Nuclear fusion
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