Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Livermore Super Laser

This is obviously neat stuff and allows the energies to be ramped up on a lot of prospective experiments. Of course the pronouncements are sugar coated with a layer of green and a dollop of weapons application to slide it all past the congressional paymasters.

After all the dust settles, this is surely all about pure research mostly into the impact of focused energy on selected targets. This story is short on any technical details but the next one is more forthcoming.

This is an incredibly important tool for research. I imagine that it will be talked about quite a bit more in the coming months.

US lab debuts super laser

by Staff Writers
San Francisco (AFP) May 29, 2009

This potassium dihydrogen phosphate (KDP) crystal, weighing almost 800 pounds, was produced through a newly developed rapid-growth process that takes only two months, as opposed to two years using conventional methods. Each crystal is sliced into 40-centimeter-square crystal plates. More than 600 of these plates are needed for NIF.

A US weapons lab on Friday pulled back the curtain on a super laser with the power to burn as hot as a star.

The National Ignition Facility's main purpose is to serve as a tool for gauging the reliability and safety of the US nuclear weapons arsenal but scientists say it could deliver breakthroughs in safe fusion power.

"We have invented the world's largest laser system," actor-turned-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said during a dedication ceremony attended by thousands including state and national officials.

"We can create the stars right here on earth. And I can see already my friends in Hollywood being very upset that their stuff that they show on the big screen is obsolete. We have the real stuff right here."

NIF is touted as the world's highest-energy laser system. It is located inside the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory about an hour's drive from San Francisco.

Equipment connected to a house-sized sphere can focus 192 laser beams on a small point, generating temperatures and pressures that exist at cores of stars or giant planets.

NIF will be able to create conditions and conduct experiments never before possible on Earth, according to the laboratory.

A fusion reaction triggered by the super laser hitting hydrogen atoms will produce more energy than was required to prompt "ignition," according to NIF director Edward Moses.

"This is the long-sought goal of 'energy gain' that has been the goal of fusion researchers for more than half a century," Moses said.

"NIF's success will be a scientific breakthrough of historic significance; the first demonstration of fusion ignition in a laboratory setting, duplicating on Earth the processes that power the stars."

Construction of the NIF began in 1997, funded by the US Department of Energy National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

"NIF, a cornerstone of the National Nuclear Security Administration's effort to maintain our nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing, will play a vital role in reshaping national security in the 21st century," said NNSA administrator Tom D'Agostino.

"This one-of-a-kind facility is the only place in the world that is capable of providing some of the most critical technical means to safely maintain the viability of the nation's nuclear stockpile."

Scientists say that NIF also promises groundbreaking discoveries in planetary science and astrophysics by recreating conditions that exist in supernovas, black holes, and in the cores of giant planets.

Electricity derived from fusion reactions similar to what takes place in the sun could help sate humanity's growing appetite for green energy, according to lab officials.

"Very shortly we will engage in what many believe to be this nation's greatest challenge thus far, one that confronts not only the nation but all of mankind -- energy independence," said lab director George Miller.

The lab was founded in 1952 and describes itself as a research institution for science and technology applied to national security.

"This laser system is an incredible success not just for California, but for our country and our world," Schwarzenegger said.

"NIF has the potential to revolutionize our energy system, teaching us a new way to harness the energy of the sun to power our cars and homes."uper-laser project poses challenges

Snags hold up effort to spark fusion in the lab

By H. Joseph Hebert

updated 9:23 a.m. PT, Mon., May 23, 2005

LIVERMORE, Calif. - Ed Moses talks of the “grand challenge” that has consumed him for the past five years, comparing it to trying to hit the strike zone with a baseball from 350 miles away or tossing a dime into a parking meter from 40 miles.

“That’s the precision we have to have,” says Moses, the director of a high-energy physics adventure to produce the world’s most powerful laser — one that scientists hope will create in a laboratory the energy found at the center of the sun.

In a building the size of a football stadium, engineers have assembled the framework for a network of 192 laser beams, each traveling 1,000 feet (300 meters) to converge simultaneously on a target the size of a pencil eraser.

The trip will take one-thousandth of a second, during which the light’s energy is amplified many billions of times to create a brief laser pulse 1,000 times the electric generating power of the United States.

The goal is to create unimaginable heat — 180 million degrees Fahrenheit (82 million degrees Celsius) — and intense pressure from all directions on a BB-size hydrogen fuel pellet, compressing it to one-thirtieth of its size.

The result, the scientists hope, will be a fusing of atoms so that more energy is released than is generated by the laser beams, something scientists call fusion ignition. It is what happens when a hydrogen bomb explodes.

The 'Hubble' of lasers

Four of the beams have been tested. When completed in 2008, the
National Ignition Facility, or NIF as the laser at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories is called, will dwarf many times over any laser to date.

It will provide a platform for many experiments in high-energy and high-density physics, from learning more about the planets and stars to advancing the elusive hunt for fusion energy to generate electric power, Moses says.

“You have to think of this like the Hubble,” he says, referring to the space telescope. “It’s a place where you will see things and do things that you couldn’t do anywhere else.”

But the federal government is investing $3.5 billion, and possibly several billion dollars more, in NIF for another reason: national security.

If NIF achieves fusion ignition, it will for the first time in a laboratory simulate the pressures and heat of a nuclear explosion, allowing nuclear weapons scientists to study the performance and readiness of the country’s aging nuclear arsenal without actually detonating a nuclear device.

Underground nuclear testing in the Nevada desert ended in 1992.

The NIF laser “is essential to assessing the potential performance of nuclear weapons,” says Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. He says the experiments will help determine the effects of aging on warheads and help assure they will work as expected, should they be needed.

Fusion is fundamental

There have been other lasers, including a 10-beam Livermore project called Nova. NIF will produce 40 to 60 times more energy. “It’s the difference between a car and a jet engine,” Moses says.

For many supporters the “pass-fail” is whether the NIF lasers will achieve fusion ignition.

“We never intended to spend $5 billion to $6 billion to build a laser facility for ... civilian research,” Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., chairman of the Senate subcommittee that funds the NIF program, lectured an Energy Department scientist last year when he learned fusion ignition experiments might be postponed.

Energy Department officials now say the project remains on schedule with the first fusion ignition tests planned for 2010. Domenici remains skeptical.

“It’s a terrible expense and a drain” on other programs to maintain the nuclear arsenal, Domenici said in an interview. “They’re going to have to prove they can get the job done.”

Among some people, fusion ignition “has become the poster child for NIF being successful” and that shouldn’t be the case, counters George Miller, a former nuclear weapons designer and bomb tester who heads the project. He says there are many other experiments for which NIF will be valuable to nuclear weapons scientists.

“We are conscious of the importance of ignition” and “there’s no reason to think we’re not going to get it,” Linton Brooks, head of the federal National Nuclear Security Administration that oversees the country’s nuclear weapons arsenal, said in an interview.

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