Fusion Factory Starts Up

The $4 billion U.S. National Ignition Facility opens for business

3 min read

Later this month in California, construction will be completed at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility, or NIF, the world’s most powerful laser system—12 years and roughly US $3.5 billion after it was begun. The plan is for NIF’s 192 neodymium lasers to create controlled moments of fusion by focusing their energy on 3-millimeter-wide pellets of deuterium and tritium. Together, the lasers will produce a 500â¿¿terawatt bolt of energy that will turn the surface of a target capsule to plasma. The plasma will then explode, compressing the hydrogen and creating shock waves that will squeeze the fusion fuel even further. The expected result is ignition, the start of a nuclear fire that will burn through the pellets, ultimately releasing up to 20 times as much energy as that introduced by the lasers.

When the project first got off the drawing board in 1996, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) had high hopes that NIF would strike three licks with the same stick. NIF’s lasers, any one of which would alone be the world’s most powerful, would help the DOE’s National Nuclear Security Administration to safely maintain the United States’ cache of nuclear weapons. Without any test detonation, NIF would validate supercomputer-generated three-dimensional simulations of a thermonuclear burn. The project’s champions also insisted that the 30â¿¿meter-tall behemoth would help scientists to better understand how to turn water into limitless amounts of carbon-free energy. And the project would advance basic astrophysics research, for example by simulating the explosion mechanisms inside supernovas.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

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