What's the Latest Development?
Last month at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), scientists conducting experiments in nuclear fusion witnessed, for the first time ever, a reaction in which more energy was produced than consumed. The experiments involve training 192 laser beams into a structure that contains a small pellet of hydrogen fuel. The beams release X-rays that strike, heat and compress the pellet to the point where fusion reactions take place. Until now, most of the energy supplied by the lasers was absorbed by the fuel.
What's the Big Idea?
Based at California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the NIF is one of several facilities around the world that have been chasing the dream of unlimited cheap energy promised by nuclear fusion. The stated goal -- to demonstrate net energy production -- was originally set for September 2012, but technical problems and other issues resulted in a shift away from fusion research and towards weapons research. The recent success should result in renewed focus...once the NIF team gets back to work after being furloughed due to the US government shutdown.
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