The National Ignition Facility (NIF) in Livermore, California announced today that it reached a critical milestone in the quest for fusion power. On March 15, the NIF fired 192 lasers at the same time and recorded a record-breaking 1.875 million joules of ultraviolet laser light.
“This event marks a key milestone in the National Ignition Campaign’s drive toward fusion ignition,” said NIF Director Edward Moses. “While there have been many demonstrations of similar equivalent energy performance on individual beams or quads during the completion of the NIF project, this is the first time the full complement of 192 beams has operated at this energy. This is very exciting, like breaking the sound barrier.”
Though the pulse only lasted for 23 billionths of a second, it generated 411 trillion watts of peak power – 1,000 times more than the entire United States uses at any instant in time. Before passing through measurement devices on the way to the target chamber the ultraviolet pulse was 2.03 million joules, a world first and nearly 100 times more energy than any other laser in operation.
The beam was also one of the most precise ever recorded at the NIF. The energy produced was within 1.3 percent of its goal. The NIF stated that precision is important for achieving the pressures and temperatures required for fusion ignition. The energy distribution among beams determines how symmetrical an implosion is obtained in capsules containing fusion fuel.
“In 2003, we demonstrated this performance level on a single beam line, and in 2008 we repeated the demonstration on a single quad of four beams,” said NIF Operations Manager Bruno Van Wonterghem. “To achieve this performance level with this kind of precision, quality and reliability on all 192 beams is unprecedented and very exciting.”
This experiment was part of the groundwork for an NIF project to design compact electrical power plants called Laser Inertial Fusion Energy (LIFE), which they claim would provide abundant and sustainable clean energy. To that end, the laser pulse was a major step along the road to a major destination for the NIF: achieving fusion ignition and energy gain in a laboratory setting.