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Britain And Us Join Forces On 'laser Fusion' Energy Source


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Interesting article!

Is 'laser fusion' the future? Britain and US join forces as laser flash releases more power than the whole world was using

Britain has joined forces with America to investigate a hi-tech new way of producing 'clean energy' - not from wind or waves, but from firing huge arrays of high-powered lasers at pellets of hydrogen.

The process causes the hydrogen atoms to fuse together into helium - the same reaction found in hydrogen bombs and stars such as our Sun - but in a controlled reaction that could power homes and businesses.

For the instant during which NIF's laser is fired, it uses more power than the electricity consumption of the whole of America. But the returns are increasing.

In an experiment this week, a burst of power was released from the fusion reaction that was equivalent to the entire world's consumption.


ok I know you guys love to tear apart articles like this, so go ahead :lol:

But on a positive note, it would be incredible if this became a practical success one day. And great for the West.


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It's conning dumb people by confusing them with energy & power.

You can have tremendous amounts of power with little energy. Totally useless

These are highly unlikely to lead to any large stable energy output

You either fuse a lot and blow up half the continent or you fuse so little that it is worthless.

Of course you could argue that they could fuse multiple small amounts very quickly. Good luck with making that a commercial success

Overall. Worthwhile as the money would otherwise have gone to sex change diversity equality co operators

......but almost certainly will have no success in continuous usable power output

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In these post-cold war times, it looks like the AWE (Atomic Weapons Establishment - funny how they don't mention that) is in as much a need of a raison d'etre as the NIF!

Magnetic confinement is far more advanced, though. The JET tokamak near Oxford has already achieved 70% of breakeven for several seconds, and its successor in France, ITER, is expected to reach at least 10 times breakeven for a number of minutes. And even then, commercialisation remains a distant prospect.

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For as long as I can remember fusion power has been said to be about 30 years in the future. In the 1970s this seemed to be a pleasing coincidence with the then oft stated fact that we only had 30 years worth of oil left. Fusion power was going to arrive just in time to save us from global cooling. Having quite a lot of past to remember teaches you not to believe 'experts' with vested interests pontificating about the future.

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The NIF was originally built to allow the Americans to test fusion processes without needing to detonate nuclear weapons - in other words a way round the comprehensive test ban treaty. One of the by products of this project is that it could also be used to test laser induced nuclear fusion.

There are three types of methods currently postulated for generating power from nuclear fusion. Cold fusion is thought of by most mainstream physicists as pseudo science, cannot be explained by any conventional scientific theories and IMHO very unlikely to work. That said I'm willing to accept that physicists don't know everything bout nuclear fusion and there remains the possibility that something may have been overlooked. I shall continue to watch things like the Rossi superreactor with interest, but with a great deal of scepticism.

The second method, magnetic confinement, has been researched for years. In this method the fusion plasma is confined in a magnetic "bottle" to prevent it touching the sides of the fusion reactor, whcih causes it to quench and lose energy. So far at the Culham JET reactor some of the basic principles of power generation have been explored, but no "working" reactor has yet been produced (definition of working of course debate-able). A second reactor, ITER, is currently being built in southern France, and this will test out final concepts for a commercial fusion reactor. There are a couple of technical challenges in addition to the ones that have been solved in JET in order to make a fusion reactor viable. One is materials science, making materials that will withstand the intense neutron bombardment inside the reactor and not degrade with time. Once ITER has been completed, the program calls for a prototype power generating station, DEMO, which would actually be hooked up to the grid and generate power, the worlds first commercial fusion power station. I think the current estimate of this happening (assuming appropriate funding) is around 2050. Most of the challenges for implementing fusion reactors are engineering rather than scientific, ie the science behind them is well understood, but actually making the science work is the difficult (and expensive) part. To be fair, the same could be said for many projects, including the LHC, the space shuttle, Apollo moon landings etc. It should be noted that although the JET/ITER/DEMO route is probably the best funded and most likely route to producing a fusion reactor, there are a number of other projects, for example MAST (also at Culham), a German project and some Japanese/Korean projects that although use the same basic principles as JET are investigating other methods of fusion plasma confinement, and several of these are looking quite promising.

The third method, laser induced fusion has also been looked at for some time, but it is only now that lasers powerful enough to cause it have been developed. In this method pellets of fuel are blasted with very high power lasers and the resulting temperatures generated cause them to undergo fusion. The NIF facility in the States was a long time in building and posed massive technical challenges (both in terms of the lasers and the optics to focus them). Primarily designed for testing nuclear weapons without the need for detonation, it has the side goal of researching laser induced fusion. The Europeans have proposed their own facility, HIPER, which would be aimed at researching power generation (the French are currently working on their own version of the HIF, the Mega Joule Laser Project).

So will Laser Induced Fusion actually be practical ? Well there are a number of serious engineering challenges that need to be resolved (as with magnetic confinement), but my belief is that it could be. Laser technology is advancing rapidly at the moment and lasers are becoming much more powerful/cheaper for a given power. The optical challenges are difficult, as well as finding methods for the pellet feed systems, but as far as I can tell there is no scientific reason why it won't be possible. Solving the kind of technical challenges that JET/ITER/DEMO and HIPER need in order to operate is one of the things that pushes humanity forwards and the potential benefits (cheap powerful lasers, new materials, control and handling systems) of cheap and plentiful power in my opinion make the projects worthwhile, much more so than something like the ISS, which I believe has cost 5x the amount of ITER (actually I'm not sure if anyone knows exactly how much the ISS has cost) to put 6 people in space and let them whizz around doing experiments on bugs.

One thing I would like to see is a greater consolidation in the projects, so the money can be more focused towards achieving the end objectives. In the case of facilities like the NIF this is probably going to be unlikely as these facilities have military applications. But certainly there is some room for consolidation in the magnetic confinement areas.

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