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Fusion attempt successful

By Dave Armstrong - 08 Oct 2013 13:27:35 GMT
Fusion attempt successful

With only neutrons and helium as waste products, we have the ideal fuel reaction with nuclear fusion. The amount of energy produced is hoped to reach 100 times the amount needed for laser "blasting." Ordinary steam generators would be used to create electricity from the heat of the reaction if this useful idea finally makes it to completion. Inertial Fusion Energy image; Credit: © NIF

A new renewable energy! With nuclear fission almost totally disgraced, despite its continuance in some country's power stations, the possibilities and the extra element of safety with nuclear fusion are finally emerging. Livermore in California is the site of a $3.5bn facility, NIF (the National Ignition Facility) where they seek to produce more energy than the vast amount that fusion uses.

Inertial confinement fusion is the exact name of the game. Recently, "ignition" was not achieved, where the output equals the input energy, but at least the 192 laser beams caused enough reaction from the hydrogen fuel of tritium and deuterium (the isotopes of hydrogen) to create energy. Amazingly, this is quite an achievement in fusion.

The 300 trillion-watt laser known focusses its 192 beams through holes in a golden hohlraum, or experimental container. The 0.5mm solid hydrogen pellet inside is stimulated by the laser because x-rays are formed to destroy the outer shell of the ellet. By this time, the temperature has risen to 100 million degrees and equally enormous compression within the hohlraum can then instigate fusion of the hydrogen nuclei.

With no pollution and only hydrogen fuel, the possibilities of fusion have always been hopeful. The energy of the Sun and stars will be available to replace our outdated fossil-burning if we can develop this clean system. Sounds beyond us, but we thought that about every other energy source we used, since the discovery of simple fire!

In 2009, it was thought that it would take 3 years to produce net energy from fusion, but only mathematical models succeeded. The idea is that 10 to 10X the input energy should be produced. The elusive step has still not been reached, but this will certainly be a useful giant step for mankind, with the mathematical models agreeing now with the levels of energy produced. Now it's down to the other expensive facility, ITER, in Cadarache in France to be built, then start producing equally-promising results from magnetic confinement techniques.

It's amazing what a bit of competition can do.