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Sunday, December 28, 2008

British Scientists Plan to Ignite Tiny Man-Made Star

Man's quest for knowledge is limitless and it shows in profound ways. It seemed like an impossible feat eons ago, scientists at the National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, today now believe that they are on the verge of harnessing the power of nuclear fusion, which is the reaction that burns at the heart of the sun. A team of scientists will begin attempts to ignite a tiny man-made star inside a laboratory and with the goal of triggering a thermonuclear reaction.
Its goal is to generate temperatures of more than 100 million degrees Celsius and pressures billions of times higher than those found anywhere else on earth, from a speck of fuel little bigger than a pinhead. If successful, the experiment will mark the first step towards building a practical nuclear fusion power station and a source of almost limitless energy.

At a time when fossil fuel supplies are dwindling and fears about global warming are forcing governments to seek clean energy sources, fusion could provide the answer. Hydrogen, the fuel needed for fusion reactions, is among the most abundant in the universe. Building work on the £1.2 billion nuclear fusion experiment is due to be completed in spring. Source: UK Telegraph
This is absolutely fascinating. Scientists at the NIF will use a laser that concentrates 1,000 times the electric generating power of the United States into a billionth of a second. The result should be an explosion in the 32ft-wide reaction chamber which will produce at least 10 times the amount of energy used to create it.
"We are creating the conditions that exist inside the sun," said Ed Moses, director of the facility. "It is like tapping into the real solar energy as fusion is the source of all energy in the world. It is really exciting physics, but beyond that there are huge social, economic and global problems that it can help to solve."

Inside a structure covering an area the size of three football pitches, a single infrared laser will be sent through almost a mile of lenses, mirrors and amplifiers to create a beam more than 10 billion times more powerful than a household light bulb. Housed within a hanger-sized room that has to be pumped clear of dust to prevent impurities getting into the beam, the laser will then be split into 192 separate beams, converted into ultraviolet light and focused into a capsule at the center of an aluminium and concrete-coated target chamber.

When the laser beams hit the inside of the capsule, they should generate high-energy X-rays that, within a few billionths of a second, compress the fuel pellet inside until its outer shell blows off. This explosion of the fuel pellet shell produces an equal and opposite reaction that compresses the fuel itself together until nuclear fusion begins, releasing vast amounts of energy. Scientists have been attempting to harness nuclear fusion since Albert Einstein’s equation E=mc², which he derived in 1905, raised the possibility that fusing atoms together could release tremendous amounts of energy. Under Einstein’s theory, the amount of energy locked up in one gram of matter is enough to power 28,500 100-watt lightbulbs for a year. Until now, such fusion has only been possible inside nuclear weapons and highly unstable plasmas created in incredibly strong magnetic fields.

The work at Livermore could change all this. The sense of excitement at the facility is clear. In the city itself, people on the street are speaking about the experiment and what it could bring them. Until now Livermore has had only the dubious honour of being home of the US government’s nuclear weapons research laboratories which are on the same site as the NIF. Souce: UK Telegraph
This is fascinating and bodes well for the world. If all goes well, the NIF will be able to fire its laser and ignite a fusion reaction every five hours, but to create a reliable fusion power plant the laser would need to ignite fusion around 10 times a second. According to the UK Telegraph, the scientists are already working with British counterparts on the next step towards a fusion power station. A project known as the High Powered Laser Research facility aims to create a laser-powered fusion reactor that can fire once every couple of minutes. This experiment just proves what the mind can conceive, it can achieve.


M. Simon said...

The odds on this are a little better IMO:

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