Did you know? Short rant on Nuclear Fusion.
I am not a physicist but this topic sounds interesting to me.
The National Ignition Facility in Livermore, CA made the news when on July 5th, 2012 it fired 500 trillion watts worth of energy into a 2 millimeter diameter target by simultaneously pulsing 192 incredibly powerful laser beams¹. Can you imagine what 500 trillion watts look like?
What is the experiment for? Turns out the experiment was a planned one out of a series with a goal of getting enough precision to power a nuclear fusion reaction (do not confuse with nuclear fission that is used in today’s nuclear power plants).
What’s the point of nuclear fusion, you might ask? Well, it is the reaction that powers the stars, namely our closest star – the Sun. So long time ago in 20th century the scientist are set out to re-create a mini Sun on Earth to meet highest energy demands. The recent tests made that goal a lot closer. The information gathered during the tests and the methods to achieve such precision will be used when the most advanced nuclear fusion power plant called ITER goes live in 2019 (as planned2).
How does nuclear fusion work? Approximately like this : atoms of Deuterium and Tritium are fused together, producing a lighter atom of hydrogen. Because a small amount of atoms’ mass is lost, it must be released as energy. Considerable amounts of energy will be produced if enough atoms of Deuterium and Tritium are fused together. The purpose of the lasers is to create enormous pressure to fuse the atoms that naturally repel one another.
You can read more about nuclear fusion and about National Ignition Facility here : https://lasers.llnl.gov/multimedia/publications/press_kit.php
1) Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory press release: https://www.llnl.gov/news/newsreleases/2012/Jul/NR-12-07-01.html