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Sunday, 31 May 2009 20:49

Largest laser lights Livermore

The world’s largest and most energetic laser system was just dedicated on Friday, May 29, 2009, at the U.S. Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The mission of the National Ignition Facility is to better national security, provide breakthroughs in astrophysics, and create fusion energy.

The news release “Dedication of world’s largest laser marks the dawn of a new era” from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) states that the new laser-based inertial confinement fusion research device is called the National Ignition Facility (NIF) laser system.

The NIF  “… consists of 192 laser beams that will focus nearly two million joules of energy and create temperatures and pressures that exist in the cores of stars and giant planets. By harnessing the massive power generated by its lasers, NIF will be able to create conditions and conduct a wide range of experiments never before possible on earth.”

The LLNL website states, "Let there be light."

The NIF lab is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

The laser system with the Livermore, California-based facility uses powerful lasers to heat and compress hydrogen fuel so that it eventually causes a nuclear fusion reaction to take place.

The scientists working at the NIF lab hope to create a single 500 terawatt (TW) controlled explosion of radiation (light) that reaches the target from numerous directions at the same time.

The NIF has a threefold mission: national security, astrophysics research, and fusion energy. Read more on page two.

The three primary goals of the National Ignition Facility is security, research, and fusion energy genration.

Specifically, they are:

(1)    “… to serve as a key component of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Stockpile Stewardship Program to ensure the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent without the need for nuclear testing.”

Tom D’Agostino, administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), stated that its classified mission is one of national security.

D’Agostino stated: “NIF, a cornerstone of the National Nuclear Security Administration's effort to maintain our nuclear deterrent without nuclear testing, will play a vital role in reshaping national security in the 21st century. This one of a kind facility is the only place in the world that is capable of providing some of the most critical technical means to safely maintain the viability of the nation’s nuclear stockpile"

(2)    “… groundbreaking scientific discoveries in planetary science and astrophysics.”

These mostly unclassified activities will help to simulate conditions on the boundary of black holes (what are called event horizons), inside supernovas, and in the cores of giant planets.

The LLNL article states, “NIF will help unlock the secrets of the cosmos.”

(3)    “… energy independence …”

The experiments of the NIF will help to develop fusion energy. Its lasers will collide hydrogen nuclei together in order to produce a controlled fusion reaction.

Edward Moses, director of the NIF, stated, “More energy will be produced by this ‘ignition’ process than the amount of laser energy required to start it. This is the long-sought goal of ‘energy gain’ that has been the goal of fusion researchers for more than half a century. NIF’s success will be a scientific breakthrough of historic significance – the first demonstration of fusion ignition in a laboratory setting, duplicating on Earth the processes that power the stars.”

The actual construction of the National Ignition Facility was certified complete on March, 31, 2009 by the U.S. Department of Energy. In May 2009, the first target experiments involving all of the 192 lasers were performed. The first ignition is scheduled in 2010.

Additional information on the National Ignition Facility is provided at the LLNL NIF’s The Power of Light.

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