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back to article Record-breaking laser pulse boosts fusion power hopes

The world's most powerful laser has fired a record-breaking pulse that exceeded even its own design goals. For 23 billionths of a second, the 192 ultraviolet lasers in the National Ignition Facility generated the equivalent of 411 trillion watts of peak power, which the NIF described as being 1,000 times more energy than the …

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Coat

One has to wonder...

... if the shot director said "commence primary ignition" and the whole lab made a downward -sweeping tone as it came up to full power.

Mines the one with the UV absorbing weave.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: One has to wonder...

And if they looked outside, all the street lamps went very dim.

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Terminator

Re: One has to wonder...

They should have asked for a plasma pulse laser in 40 watt range

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Bronze badge

Re: One has to wonder...

Whether half the lab followed it with:

"Hwonkk Hwonkk-Hwonkk -Hwonkk -Hwonkk!

Hwonkk Hwonkk-Hwonkk -Hwonkk -Hwonkk!

Spatial rift -- OPENING!

Hwonkk Hwonkk-Hwonkk -Hwonkk -Hwonkk!

Hwonkk Hwonkk-Hwonkk -Hwonkk -Hwonkk!

Spatial rift -- OPENING!

HWEE HWEEE HWEEE HWEEE HWEEE!

HWEE HWEEE HWEEE HWEEE HWEEE!

TEMPORAL destabilization -- IMMINENT!

TEMPORAL destabilization -- IMMINENT!

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Headmaster

Boring arrogant factoidery

Ah yes 1.8 MJ. About the energy stored in a car battery.

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Boffin

Re: Boring arrogant factoidery

Maybe, but try discharging a car battery in 23 billionths of a second in a single highly focused beam, I think you'll struggle. They didn't just drop a spanner on the batteries terminals and see what occurred...

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Boffin

Re: Boring arrogant factoidery

but I like to think that in the deepest, darkest part of the night shift, someone stood there thinking "what would happen if I put my finger in there?"

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Alert

Dropping spanners on batteries

A mate of mine did that by accident once. I'll swear I ducked so fast my feet left the ground due to Newton's third law. The forearm-long chrome vanadium steel spanner was bent through ~120 degrees and glowed yellow hot where it wasn't embedded in the garage wall.

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Bronze badge

Re: Dropping spanners on batteries

Did the air sizzle, or did it hum?

jzzzz jzzzzz-zzzzhhhhzzzhhzzz jzzzz jzzzzz-zzzzhhhhzzzhhzzz jzzzz jzzzzz-zzzzhhhhzzzhhzzz jzzzz jzzzzz-zzzzhhhhzzzhhzzz

or

ngyyeeeenggngggnnnggg ngyyeeeenggngggnnnggg ngyyeeeenggngggnnnggg ngyyeeeenggngggnnnggg

?

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Mushroom

That seems unlikely

If it "exploded", it couldn't have been in contact long enough to glow yellow hot. It certainly wasn't my experience when I did something similar. When I was in high school my lab partner and I dropped a large screwdriver across the terminals of a 12v auto battery the teacher had sitting in the front (this was before class started) There was some sparking, and the screwdriver welded itself to the terminals. It probably got really hot - no way to know as while it wasn't glowing no one was brave enough to touch it other than the teacher trying to knock it off with a wooden ruler.

Fortunately we didn't get in any trouble, since the teacher was the kind who didn't mind these sorts of "experiments" as its the sort of thing he'd have been likely to do himself . He once burned all the hair off one of his arms as an 8 foot tall flame leapt out of a gas nozzle when he was messing about for a class demo in a way the maker of that gas nozzle would clearly not recommend.

The battery was sitting on the table like that for the whole class, and after the first few seconds of sparking didn't do anything further, such as melting or exploding.

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Pint

...and they're containing it in, ....?

if and when they fire this tiny 'sun on earth' up what do they propose to keep it in?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ...and they're containing it in, ....?

They use magnetic fields to hold it in place.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magnetic_confinement_fusion

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Re: ...and they're containing it in, ....?

Obviously, they will need the expertise of Dr. Otto Octavius, who has excellent experience building tritium reactors in the hollowed-out shells of buildings. It's only a wee little piece of the sun, after all, no big whoop. Use friggin magnets and such.

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Boffin

Re: ...and they're containing it in, ....?

> They use magnetic fields to hold it in place.

Er, isn't the major advantage of the laser-ignited fusion that you don't have to confine the plasma? You shoot the lasers at a fuel pellet to ignite a miniature fusion explosion, harvest the energy from the short-lived fireball, then inject the next pellet for the lasers to ignite. So the reactor operates in a pulsed fashion, like an internal combustion engine.

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Joke

Re: ...and they're containing it in, ....?

Down the back of the couch. As everyone knows, the energy required to retrieve something from the back of the couch > the value of the object being retrieved.

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Boffin

Re: ...and they're containing it in, ....?

Oh, tsk. That's just an implementation detail.

GJC

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ...and they're containing it in, ....?

"Guy named Otto Octavius winds up with eight limbs. What are the odds?"

One of the greatest lines in motion picture history.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: ...and they're containing it in, ....?

> ... Use friggin magnets ...

Fridge magnets. Lots of them.

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Trollface

@thylacine Re: ...and they're containing it in, ....?

Your momma.

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Bronze badge

Re: ...and they're containing it in, ....?

Is any pre-filtering required? Imagine the possible contamination from coins, paper clips, body hair, skin, mites, and a few misplaced fusion pellets...

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Boffin

Re: Norfolk 'n' Goode

Actually, they are working on Inertal containment, NOT magnetic containment.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inertial_fusion_energy

ITER is working an Magnetic Containment. Frankly, I think Internal may be more promising though.

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Bronze badge

In the instant when they fire the National Ignition Facility death ray, that -is- how much energy the U.S. uses in an instant, that particular instant, or do I err?

I'm glad I don't get their electricity bill.

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Anonymous Coward

"or do I err?"

I think you err.

It's equivalent to 1000* the entire US electricity consumption but not for very long.

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Alert

Electricity Bill

Its really not much.. the 23billionths of a second is such a short duration it makes all the comparison numbers massive the 411trillion watts for example is joules per whole second. Its still only 2MJ total, which has been said above is about a car battery.

The next trick is to get more than 2MJ energy out.... how are they doing on that front? have they ignited fuel yet?

(btw just like black holes mini suns need fuel the fuel pellets contain enough fuel for the mini sun to burn for a tiny fraction of a second, meaning it will self extinguish very rapidly, containment is not necessary.)

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The energy burst is equivalent of keeping your home stove on for about 10minutes, (3.5kW*600 = 2.1MJ) the electricity bill is trivial on "that" consumption level.

Keep in mind the energy is released in just several billionths of a second.

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Silver badge

Considering the losses must be important, it probably corresponds to a largish kitchen.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "or do I err?"

But if this laser is in the US then how can it's energy usage be equivalent to 1000 times it's own energy usage?

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Re: "or do I err?"

That's the genius of it - it produces 1000* it's own energy, which then clearly becomes 1000*1000* it's own energy, and so on - thereby generating an infinite amount of energy, and solving the world's energy problems at a stroke.

Maybe.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "or do I err?"

If it produced 1000 times its own energy then you'd be right -- unfortunately it consumes 1000 times its own energy.

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Silver badge

Re: "or do I err?"

Are you actually asking a serious question ?

That's why AC said "it's equivalent to 1000* the US consumption" NOT the US consumption. As others have noted it's only a couple of MJ anyway and that is probably built up in the capacitors over a period.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "or do I err?"

In the US, nothing is 1000 times anything. 25.4 times, on the other hand, or 3.78541178 times, or ...

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Headmaster

Re: "or do I err?"

No, it isn't greater than the entire US consumption, since they are actually _in_ the USA, it may be greater than consumption at any _other_ instant, but cannot possibly be greater than (itself plus a little bit)

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Silver badge

Re: "or do I err?"

'It's equivalent to 1000* the entire US electricity consumption but not for very long.'

EDF would still find a way of overcharging you.

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Joke

Re: "or do I err?"

HAHAHA Huh?

A 10" gummy bear is 1000x bigger than a normal gummy bear.

http://giantgummybears.com/

I didn't look for values for Gummy Tongues, Gummy Brains, and Gummy Hearts...

I found that when querying "Texas is 1000 times bigger than..."

(They are in Raleigh, NC...)

Butt, I suspect that anyone eating a 10" Gummy Bear will prosume (produce and consume) all sorts of MJs trying to send that gelatin consumption back in time....

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Different objective

It's doubtful they will produce sustained fusion, which was never their objective anyway. Their mandate is to study nuclear fusion so that they can assess and maintain nuclear weapons without underground tests.

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Silver badge

Re: Different objective

Their objective is to prove that they can generate more energy in a single laser-driven fusion event than they need to create this very fusion event. If you ignore the fact that they spent significant amounts of energy to build, maintain and operate the whole thing, you might call this 'break even'.

Ooh, and of course they have the plans in the drawer to build the next generation ignition facility, which might actually generate electrical power. But that is some 30 years in the future ... some things just never change.

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Thumb Down

K.I.S.S.

All very clever from a techie point of view, but ultimately going in completely the wrong direction. Even if they reach their ultimate goal of harnessing fusion and generating terawatts (at a price too low to meter), it's a massively high risk strategy. Why do we need electricity/energy? Ultimately so that we can keep warm, lighten our darkness, cook our food and automate tasks. If we develop a society where we have to spend umpteen billion to build one fusion reactor (albeit one that will provide power for 100 million homes) we are done for. Because what happens when that reactor fails? Or becomes controlled by one person or corporation? And suddenly 100 million homes are cold and dark?

One of the biggest plus factors for many forms of renewable power generation is that they can be built and used and controlled locally. (Okay, same is true of coal, oil etc, but that's often dirty and dangerous) . There isn't a single point of failure that can affect thousands or millions of people. If I want to make a pot of soup I don't want to have to be dependent on 192 DEATH-RAYS under the control of some greedy/crazy government/corporation.

Small is beautiful folks.

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Happy

Re: K.I.S.S.

I understand your concerns, but as development proceeds then miniaturisation and mass production economies will eventually allow neighbourhoods or even individuals to have their own 'Mr. Fusion' reactor, to supply power under local control.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: K.I.S.S.

Some things can be miniaturised - transistors, my earning power, etc.

Some things are subject to fundamental physical constraints which make them hard (maybe even impossible) to miniaturise.

It's been a long while since I looked in detail at NIF but I'd be very surprised if the technology could be miniaturised in any meaningful way.

In fact as has been pointed out, it's not even intended to supply power on a continuous basis (ie not pulsed) which in itself raises quite a few questions re adapting the technology for meaningful power generation.

Power from fusion is still twenty years away, same as it has been for decades.

K.I.S.S. is a good idea in general. All eggs in one basket is a bad idea in general. Not sure why so many downvotes for the K.I.S.S post, but I guess I'm next.

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WTF?

Re: K.I.S.S.

Name one form of renewable power generation that, with current technology, can be built and used locally to the point where it can exclude the need for non-renewables?

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Joke

Re: K.I.S.S.

Dude, its american, they will definity have built it much bigger than necessary. its the american way.

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Re: K.I.S.S.

Solar powered mobile phone chargers

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FAIL

Re: K.I.S.S.

"In fact as has been pointed out, it's not even intended to supply power on a continuous basis (ie not pulsed)"

Wow, just wow.

Have you ever looked at a car engine? Pulses of power providing smooth power output for millions of people every single day.

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Re: K.I.S.S.

Glad I wasn't the only one thinking "Mr. Fusion" throughout that entire article.

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Yag
FAIL

Those who fail at history...

"One of the biggest plus factors for many forms of renewable power generation is that they can be built and used and controlled locally."

Well, let's go back in time... back to the 1800s...

All the major factories have their own local power generators - steam engines mostly. All the needed power was built and used and controlled locally.

The trouble was that the maintenance was a chore, the generator was not used to full capacity most of the time and if anything break, ouch.

Those are most of the reason for the switch to the centrally produced/grid distributed network we've got now.

- Maintenance : you don't need 1000 times the people to maintain a generator 1000 times more powerful. (heck! it's a good point! it creates jobzzzz! who care if the leecy bills goes up thru the roof due to the extra costs)

- Capacity : It's still a major issue, but it is far smoother than before.

- Breakdown : if one station fails, other stations can usually cope with it. Japan is still mostly functionnal even with the loss of one of the most powerful nuke station in the world*

- Reliability : The new** renewables are mostly those damned unreliable windmills that may produce 25MW one day and 0 the next...

If you've got another way for solving the last 3 issues than keeping a grid system, just tell me, I'm all ears.

And if you're stuck with a grid system, good luck to manage it if it's not centrally controlled...

Controlling the production is useless if someone else controls the distribution.

*I know, Fuckushima was planned for retirement, and the backup was already in place...

** Hydroelectric is not a new renewable. It have a lot of major advantages, like cheapness, mature technology, capacity and localized environnemental damages (Turning valleys in huge lakes *is* environmental damage...). And guess what? Power companies knows it and already invested in it since the beggining. In a lot of countries, there is not much room for further exploitation. Geothermal is another reliable renewable, but you have to live on a freaking volcano for it to be economically viable.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: K.I.S.S.

Power from fusion is always twenty years away. There's a kind of poetry in that statement.

But, and it's a big but, we only need one working example to be able to replicate it.

Once we have one generator pushing out the watts, it can be used to power the next experiments, for free.

Overnight it will have more funding than the oil industry.

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Silver badge

Re: K.I.S.S.

Solar (PV or thermal)

It's not economically competitive yet against burning fossil fuel(*), but if those fuels were not available it could certainly take over the planet's electricity generation and maintain a technological civilisation.

(*) Had just about got there in Arizona, but then the gas industry worked out how to extract tight gas by fraccing, and now there's a natural gas glut in the USA.

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Yag

Re: K.I.S.S.

Solar have a tendency to be quite unefficient at night and during winter.

Energy needs are at a peak during winter.

I won't even start to comment on the effects of desert sand dust on solar pannels or on mirrors.

However, solar is still a good way to reduce the energy needed for heating water in sunny areas.

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Facepalm

Re: K.I.S.S.

Which non-rare renewable earth metals are you using in your solar panels so I too can have some?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: K.I.S.S. downvotes

I would guess its because he used the term DEATH-RAYS in a semi serious way.

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