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National Academies Recommend Continued High Priority for Fusion Experiments

Posted on the 25 February 2013 by Dailyfusion @dailyfusion
The exterior of the National Ignition Facility, a ten-story building the size of three football fields, is pictured at sunset. NIF is the world's largest and highest-energy laser system and the nation's largest scientific project. It is located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in northern California. (Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Security)

The exterior of the National Ignition Facility, a ten-story building the size of three football fields, is pictured at sunset. NIF is the world's largest and highest-energy laser system and the nation's largest scientific project. It is located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in northern California. (Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Security)

National Research Council have recently issued a report called “An Assessment of the Prospects for Internal Fusion Energy,” highlighting that the current U.S. fleet of internal fusion facilities offers a unique opportunity for experiments at “fusion scale” where fusion conditions are accessible for the first time. Report aims to determine, how best to exploit this opportunity and judges that “potential benefits of internal fusion energy justify it as part of the long-term U.S. Energy R&D portfolio.” According to the report, the target physics programs at the National Ignition Facility, Naval Research Laboratories (NIKE laser), Laboratory for Laser Energetics (OMEGA EL Laser) and Sandia National Laboratory (Z machine) should receive continued high priority.

Research into IFE is a key objective of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s National Ignition Facility (NIF)—the world’s premier research facility in this area of science and technology. The NIF was built by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) primarily to provide data in support of its defense programs, but also has broad applications in basic science and fusion energy.

The National Academies state that “The National Ignition Facility, designed for stockpile stewardship applications, also is of great potential importance for advancing the technical basis for inertial fusion energy (IFE) research.” A near-term goal of the NIF is to demonstrate “ignition,” or energy breakeven, which would mark the culmination of more than 50 years of effort and is a principal research pillar of the NNSA’s mission. From the perspective of energy applications, in the view of the Academies, this would be the “appropriate time for the establishment of a national, coordinated, broad-based inertial fusion energy program.”

A number of important conclusions and recommendations have been drawn by the Academies on the impact and future direction of this field. They note that there is unanimity among the expert review committees on NIF’s potential to achieve ignition. The committee asserts that while NIF has not yet achieved ignition (since its construction in 2009) that does not lessen the long-term technical prospects for IFE. They go further, noting that “[s] o far as target physics is concerned, it is a modest step from NIF scale to IFE scale.”

As a result, they recommend that, “planning should begin for making effective use of the National Ignition Facility as one of the major program elements in an assessment of the feasibility of inertial fusion energy.” They state that this should include appropriate economic analyses of inertial fusion power plants, within a comprehensive system engineering approach.


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