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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  1. J. Cook Silver badge
    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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: One has to wonder...

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

    2. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
      Terminator

      Re: One has to wonder...

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

    3. dssf

      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!

  2. Daedalus Silver badge
    Headmaster

    Boring arrogant factoidery

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

    1. Annihilator
      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...

      1. durandal
        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?"

      2. Arthur the cat Silver badge
        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.

        1. dssf

          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

          ?

        2. DougS Silver badge
          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.

  3. hungry thylacine
    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?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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

      1. MacroRodent Silver badge
        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.

      2. Oninoshiko
        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.

    2. Muckminded

      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

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

        > ... Use friggin magnets ...

        Fridge magnets. Lots of them.

    3. Esskay
      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.

      1. dssf

        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...

    4. Geoff Campbell
      Boffin

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

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

      GJC

    5. Gordon 10 Silver badge
      Trollface

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

      Your momma.

  4. Robert Carnegie Silver 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.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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?

        1. David 30

          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.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            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.

        2. Chemist

          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.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          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 ...

          1. dssf
            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....

      2. The First Dave
        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)

      3. Mike Richards 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.

    2. Parax
      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.)

    3. stanimir

      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.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

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

  5. Abend

    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.

    1. Schultz

      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.

  6. Pen-y-gors Silver badge
    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.

    1. frank ly Silver badge
      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.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        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.

        1. ed 8
          Joke

          Re: K.I.S.S.

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

        2. CaptainHook
          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.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @CaptainHook 08:54

            Thanks for that, I have indeed looked in reasonable detail at infernal and external combustion engines, both rotating and reciprocating, thank you. Thermodynamics was one of my favourite subjects when I took my physics degree. Solid state physics was another. I don't do physics any more, I are engineer.

            Have YOU looked in any detail at how the fusion people are proposing to extract electricity from their pulsed fusion reactions?

            Go on, give me a link or three, and someone with a clue will pull the physics and/or engineering to pieces within hours. Not *just* because it's pulsed, but the pulsing isn't exactly helpful.

        3. Anonymous Coward
          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.

        4. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: K.I.S.S. downvotes

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

        5. hayseed

          Re: K.I.S.S.

          Not true about miniaturization. Scientists have noted that technology for much smaller lasers exists today, so the same facility could be rebuilt much smaller say ten years in the future, at which time advances the military is making in making high-powered compact lasers would allow it to be more compact ten years from then, etc.

      2. Neil B

        Re: K.I.S.S.

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

    2. fatchap
      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?

      1. dkjd

        Re: K.I.S.S.

        Solar powered mobile phone chargers

      2. Nigel 11

        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.

        1. 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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