Nuclear fusion has been something that scientists have been trying to figure out for a long time now. Although there are many instances where it has been created, it has never been done in a way that is energetically viable.
At the National Ignition Facility, based at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory tests are carried out daily using lasers to make nuclear fission happen in a variety of different manners. Hosting the largest laser in the world, this laboratory is the workplace of many talented scientists who are continually collaborating to try and solve this nuclear fusion conundrum.
Currently, the facility creates nuclear fusion by first creating a weak laser pulse, which is then split into 48 beams and is then distributed to 48 preamplifiers that increase the energy of the pulse. The 48 beams are then injected into 192 main laser amplifier beamlines. These beams then travel through two more glass amplifiers, increasing the weak laser pulse from approximately 1 billionth of a joule to 4 million from start to finish, all in less than one second.
Once the beams have passed through the amplifiers, they are split into 2×2 arrays and pass through a final optics assembly where the laser pulses are converted into ultraviolet light. These arrays get directed into a chamber where they are focused on the target, called the hohlraum. To create nuclear fusion, the lasers are beamed in through the top and the bottom of the hohlraum creating x-rays that compress the frozen fusion fuel capsule so much until it eventually ignites.
However, even though scientists have achieved nuclear fusion, it is nowhere near efficient enough to be used for anything useful. The main problem they are experiencing is that energy that is being released is too erratic and needs to be denser to convert more into thermal energy.
So, the NIF and affiliates have come together to see if another approach would be better at trying to solve this problem. Having already invested over $3 billion in this type of ignition technology, they are not looking to scrap what they are doing, just change the way that they are doing it. One step the team is taking to eliminate the unstableness of the ignition is by making the heating process more controlled by increasing the size of the cylinders they use. But, in doing this, more energy will be used initially, but should produce better end results. It will then be down to the scientists to modify that idea and make it more efficient.
It may seem like one big circle that the NIF are doing at the moment, but once they do get it right it could be very helpful shortly. And with a deadline given to them by the Department of Energy of 2020 to get the issues ironed out you can assure the team are working hard to make progress happen as quickly as possible.
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