Birth of a Star – Nuclear Fusion’s Bold Dream
Searching for an answer to the global energy crisis, government scientists are attempting to create a high energy reaction using nuclear fusion which would have similar potential energy to a small star.
The Lawrence Livermore National laboratory has created a laser the size of three football fields — easily the largest laser in the world – for the purpose of creating the reaction.
“We have a very high confidence that we will be able to ignite the target within the next two years,” thus proving that controlled fusion is possible, said Bruno Van Wonterghem, a manager of the project, which is called the National Ignition Facility (NIF).
Cynics point to the fact that nuclear fusion was introduced five decades ago as a potentially credible energy source and has thoroughly failed to live up to its hype.
Worse yet, this month the U.S. Government Accountability Office released the results of an audit at NIF which lists technical difficulties to be overcome, inexplicable delays in implementing prior recommendations and poor managerial decisions as reasons the project has stalled. That being said, the US GAO still seems to support the project if NIF can improve their implementation of recommendations on this go-round.
The recipe for creating the proposed nuclear fusion reaction, described in layman’s terms, sounds very much like an explanation typically given in a Grade B science fiction novel.
- Build an enormous laser.
- Split the laser into 192 separate beams.
- Concentrate all 192 beams on a single point.
- Apply reactive isotopes of hydrogen in a gold capsule to the focal point of the beams.
The project designers hope that the resulting reaction will produce more than 100 million degrees Celsius – hotter than the center of the sun – and exert more pressure than 100 billion atmospheres. Ideally the hydrogen isotopes will smash together with sufficient force and heat that their nuclei will fuse, sending off energy and neutrons.
Project spokeswoman Lynda Seaver claims that the endeavor does not pose any risk to public health. “There’s no danger to the public,” said Seaver. “The [worst possible] mishap is, it doesn’t work.”
This summer, NIF hopes to try its first test run, creating a star that will be 5 microns (smaller than the width of a human hair) and die 200 trillionths of a second after it’s ignited.
“This is something you’re going to tell your grandchildren about,” Seaver told CNN. “You were here when they were about to get fusion ignition.
“It’s like standing on the hill watching the Wright brothers’ plane go by.”