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February 05, 2010

World’s most powerful laser could trigger fusion power

LONDON : The world’s most powerful laser could trigger fusion reaction in October this year, which will be a pivotal step in the march towards fusion power, the “holy grail” of sustainable clean energy.

What kind of research is this?

Scientists in the US are preparing for the dramatic moment when the world’s most powerful laser unleashes the nuclear force that lights up the sun and achieves “ignition”.

What would happen during this fusion?

During this moment, 192 laser beams housed in a building, the size of three football pitches will focus on a target the size of a peppercorn to trigger a self-sustaining fusion reaction.
Although no more than a test of the technology, it could mark the start of a revolution that will change the science and politics of energy forever.

Scientists have spent decades chasing the dream of fusion power, which holds out the promise of producing unlimited amounts of clean energy from hydrogen, the most abundant element in the universe.

Nuclear fusion happens when the nuclei of atoms are driven together so hard that they fuse to form a heavier particle.

A self-sustaining chain reaction occurs as more atomic nuclei collide, releasing huge amounts of energy in the process.

What are the problems?

  • The biggest problem facing fusion scientists is how to generate the enormous temperatures and pressures necessary for long enough in a confined space.
  • Self-sustaining fusion requires conditions more extreme than at the centre of the Sun, with temperatures of around 100 million centigrade.

Where it will be held?

At the new National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, scientists are closer to overcoming this hurdle than anyone has been before.

Opened last year, the facility houses an array of optical and electronic devices designed to split a laser 192 ways and boost the combined energy of the beams to 1.8 megajoules.

At its heart, the “nut” is a tiny beryllium capsule the size of a peppercorn, designed to hold a dash of nuclear fuel in the form of deuterium and tritium.

What is the aim behind this?

  • The aim is to focus the laser beams on the capsule and blast it with a pulse of energy that causes the fuel to implode in an instant, reaching temperatures and pressures greater than those at the centre of the Sun.
  • Crushed together, the deuterium and tritium nuclei will fuse, releasing a flash of energy.
  • If the experiment is a success, more energy will be generated than was pumped into the capsule in the first place.
The latest progress at the NIF shows that the scientists are on target for starting ignition in October.
Report: ANI

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