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NIF Aims For the Ultimate Green Energy Source

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the crazy-eddie's-discount-power dept.

Power 234

theodp writes "Edward Moses and his team of 500 scientists and engineers at Lawrence Livermore's National Ignition Facility are betting $3.5B in taxpayer money on a tiny pellet they hope could produce an endless supply of safe, clean energy. By the fall of 2010, the team aims to start blasting capsules containing deuterium-tritium fuel with 1.4 megajoules of laser power, a first step towards the holy grail of controlled nuclear fusion. Not all are convinced that Moses will lead us to the promised land. 'They're snake-oil salesmen,' says Thomas Cochran, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Moses, for his part, seems unfazed by the skepticism, saying he's confident that his team will succeed."

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234 comments

Did slashdot just got slashdotted? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30105770)

This is first time I ever saw this - Error 503 Service Unavailable Service Unavailable Guru Meditation: XID: 595044882 Varnish

Re:Did slashdot just got slashdotted? (1)

tyroneking (258793) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105800)

I saw this a few hours ago for a link into the YRO section also - now I'm worried!

Re:Did slashdot just got slashdotted? (5, Funny)

Soulskill (1459) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105822)

Greedy databases rose up and demanded free space. We negotiated a settlement.

Re:Did slashdot just got slashdotted? (2, Interesting)

tyroneking (258793) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105938)

speaking for myself, I was deeply disturbed - I'm well used to my clients' mission-critical clustered systems becoming unavailable for days because of databases issues (no free space, someone forgot to trunc the logs, the db monitor says the db is running but it isn't, someone changed a password, the new DBA went into the server room with the db manufacturer's manual in hand and is now missing, the DBA finally applies a year-old patch, etc.) - hell, even Google goes down relatively often (usually when they try to re-route something?) but when it happens to Slashdot, then I really get surprised ;)

Re:Did slashdot just got slashdotted? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30106082)

Never thought I would ever be held hostage by a database. Good call!

A better alternative (3, Insightful)

amightywind (691887) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105774)

$3.5 billion? This is a better alternative than giving the money to the UAW.

Re:A better alternative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30105868)

Yes, because an unlimited fusion energy source would eliminate all power, economic, environmental concerns and oil dependence in the entire world.

Re:A better alternative (4, Insightful)

v1 (525388) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106214)

cheaper power has several positive side effects

- lowers pollution and environmental damage by displacing formerly cheapest-power sources such as coal and oil
- encourages recycling which can sometimes not be worth it due to energy requirements
- raises quality of life pretty much across the board

Basically when power becomes cheaper, "the way things are done" changes in a lot of places because things that used to be more economical to do one way, become more economical to do another way. This almost always works to society's advantage. And as a result the prices on a lot of things gets cheaper because goods and services are cheaper to produce. When products (cost of living) goes down without average wage going down, quality of life goes up.

Re:A better alternative (3, Interesting)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106382)

Not really, people people get outraged over having to pay extra taxes. And without the extra taxes you wind up in the paradox of efficiency, where there's no net gain. As energy gets cheaper, people drive more and development tends to get spread out more. Which leads in nearly all cases to the efficiencies being overshadowed by greater use.

Seattle has the some of the greatest fuel efficiency in the US largely because it resides in a part of the country with a high gas tax. We've got the same vehicles available to us that are in most parts of the country, but because of the gas taxes we tend to consider more carefully whether we drive and how far and what we drive.

Re:A better alternative (0)

shentino (1139071) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107056)

I myself support high gas taxes for this very reason.

Though in this case I call it collecting damages on behalf of mother earth, who sadly doesn't have the legal capacity to sue the human race for injury.

Re:A better alternative (2, Insightful)

Ozlanthos (1172125) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106958)

In a time where politicians are trying to limit the ability of Americans to drive their vehicles freely, why would you think any of them would want something as potentially liberating to humankind as this???

. -Oz

Re:A better alternative (4, Insightful)

Comatose51 (687974) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106056)

Yeah you know what's funny? When you look at the price tags for the bail out for banks, GM, etc., and the cost of the wars and then compared to the price tags for these possibly world changing scientific research, you start to wonder why we're not pouring even more money into research. The Large Hadron Collider is puny compared to the Supercollider we were building and then shut down because of cost. Seems pretty silly now because we ended up giving even more money so some execs can keep their yachts.

Re:A better alternative (0)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106124)

"endless supply" = fraud.

If you want to waste money on a pipe dream (and an endless supply of clean safe energy is just that, make no mistake about it), please just give me 2 million dollars and I'll think about all the world's problems, and then solve them.

Re:A better alternative (1)

frieko (855745) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106430)

We already have clean, safe fusion energy in the form of solar panels. The barriers to a more "direct" approach to fusion are therefore clearly a matter of technology. In what way is that a pipe dream?

Re:A better alternative (1)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107100)

Because solar power is very finite.

One could argue about what the term endless means. You might say "There will always be more of it." I would then point out that there will always be more oil as well.

All energy in this sense is endless. Therefore, I'd suggest that the world endless here actually implies unlimited.

Don't get me wrong, I love clean energy, I love emission taxes, I love regulation on energy efficiency, etc, I just dismiss anything that promises unlimited clean safe energy.

Re:A better alternative (1)

boudie2 (1134233) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106368)

Three and a half billion would probably just cover the bills for a month in Iraq. One of these days Uncle Sam's gonna reach in his pocket for more money and find out he spent it all!

Re:A better alternative (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106796)

Yeah, I don't get that. How come the US, UK etc all seem to be in so much "national debt". Who do we owe this debt to? And what's to stop us from going further in to debt, if we're already trillions of dollars/pounds into it? What is the limit, and who's meant to come round and break our fingers if we don't pay up?

Re:A better alternative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30106952)

China

Re:A better alternative (4, Informative)

stevelinton (4044) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107074)

Mainly to "ourselves". The government borrows money from its own companies and citizens (and pension funds, in particular). To a lesser extent, we owe this money to foreign banks, mainly in th efar east.

Re:A better alternative (3, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106344)

Not really, the UAW is probably the only reason why we have an auto industry in the US at this point. It never ceases to amaze me, the amount of ignorance and union bashing that goes on. Perhaps you'd like to give up your 40 hours work weeks, week ends, OSHA regulations, retirement and disability insurance.

You're not going to get far with energy sources if you're not replacing the older gas guzzlers with newer fewer efficient cars. Despite all the ignorance, the UAW workers don't actually make that much more than their non-union counterparts in the South, but you get the same blind rage from people because ZOMG UNIONS~!!1!!11ONEONEELEVEN

Re:A better alternative (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106630)

Indeed. The idea that the UAW is the reason that the automobile industry cant turn a profit selling $20,000 and up vehicles is amazingly ignorant.

Doing a little back-of-the-envelope calculation, GMNA (GM North America) sells at least 32 vehicles per North American employee per year (based on their worst year in recent history, 2008)

GM had been reporting between $10,000 to $15,000 in per unit profit for SUV sales, so each employee was *making* the company between $320,000 and $480,000 per year.

Well cry me a river if the employees wanted a raise every once in awhile and a decent health insurance package. When you mame your employer that kind of money in profit each year, you deserve to be treated well.

Re:A better alternative (1)

Devout_IPUite (1284636) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107136)

Your back of the envelope math fails to take into account facilities and maintenance I suspect. They're going to lose X billion dollars to have all the factories they do, now each vehicle they make makes Y dollars. If they don't sell X/Y vehicles they lose money.

That being said, GM really does/did have serious mismanagement issues.

Re:A better alternative (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107288)

Your back of the envelope math fails to take into account facilities and maintenance I suspect.

It accounts for every employee they had in North America (includes Mexico and Canada), and they seem to have sold 32 vehicles per employee in North America in the same time frame, 2008.

The $10,000 to $15,000 in profit per SUV was stated by GM themselves. Thats above all production/facilities/maintenance costs.

If you make your employer a yearly profit greater than a quarter of a million dollars per year, wouldn't you expect.. even demand.. a decent health-care package?

Re:A better alternative (4, Insightful)

DJRumpy (1345787) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106666)

I don't think anyone doubts that unions did great things for the American workforce. What they tend to bash is tipping the balance too far to the side of the union workers. When their demands become too unreasonable that they threaten the very company they serve, then there is a problem.

Had they been more accommodating, they probably wouldn't be in bankruptcy. The cost of the insurance packages, retirement packages, 3 people to do one job, union rules that prevent simple jobs from being done, even when they could be done safely, etc.

Not all that is union is golden...

Re:A better alternative (2, Insightful)

yndrd1984 (730475) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106712)

the UAW is probably the only reason why we have an auto industry in the US at this point
the UAW workers don't actually make that much more than their non-union counterparts in the South

How is that not self-contradictory? And why should we keep using tax money that everyone pays to prop up the companies the use the UAW? If non-union companies compensate their employees just as much, and employ US workers, what's the point? I don't think most people have a problem with unions per se, it's the constant need for favoritism that bothers them.

Perhaps you'd like to give up your 40 hours work weeks, week ends, OSHA regulations, retirement and disability insurance.

It seems a bit overblown to give all of the credit for those to unions, and to assume that they're all unambiguously beneficial.

Re:A better alternative (4, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106806)

The UAW is the reason that most of the car manufacturing industry has moved to other countries. People who are doing jobs that require not more education or skill than a Walmart worker are being paid 3 times as much. Worked nice for a while, but it isn't sustainable. It's not like auto workers have any special skills. In fact, with the advent of robots, I would have to say that their skills became less and less important. So, while I think it's important for people to have good working conditions, I really dont' understand why the average factory worker would get paid so much more than somebody who works in a retail store, or fast food joint. They really providing anything extra to any company.

Mirror of the mirror (4, Interesting)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105776)

What bothers me is that, back in the 70s, LIvermore built the Mirror Fusion Test Facility, at a cost of somewhat over a billion dollars, to test a fusion concept. The project was cancelled by the Reagan administration the day the facility was finished.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mirror_Fusion_Test_Facility

Do we have more stick-to-it spirit these days? Or is this another few billion dollars spent with no other purpose than to improve the economy of Livermore, California?

Re:Mirror of the mirror (5, Interesting)

WaywardGeek (1480513) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105876)

Bush Jr also canceled all the funding for fusion experiments. It's the only reason we ever even heard of the Bussard Polywell [wikipedia.org], since the scientists were free to talk about it after their contract with the Navy ended. Of course, now that the Navy funding is back, we're not allowed to hear how development is going.

The obvious conspiracy theory is Big Oil doesn't like the threat of an alternative energy source, and they have a lot of clout at the White House when Republicans are in power. Other Bush Jr decisions included halting nearly all new permits for solar array power stations. [commondreams.org] So, the conspiracy theory has legs.

Re:Mirror of the mirror (4, Interesting)

tgd (2822) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106024)

If you're looking for conspiracy theories, there's a better one that is actually backed by better facts.

Its a common activity of the federal government (and arguably not an unreasonable one) to spend billions of dollars on projects that are not intended to ever succeed in the role they are sold to the public as, but rather to support industries that are deemed critical to national interest or security.

The ISS/Space Shuttle is probably the best and most widely known example. This was hundreds of billions spent to keep engineers and, more importantly, defense contractors, employed and solvent between DoD contracts, and to ensure that the skills they collectively had weren't lost through retirement or otherwise.

The US has the same problem with the skills around nuclear (fission and fusion) research and engineering, particularly since we stopped building and testing nuclear weapons. The argument has been made before, because the scientific justification is so bad, that many of these projects like the NIF are done for the same reason, and focus deliberately shifts around projects as the need for the project to actually produce something starts to come to a head.

IMO, the NIF alone is a giant waste of money, but if it serves as an act of corporate welfare to keep the scientists and contractors involved in the project active and up to date, then perhaps its not a bad investment.

But I don't think any experts who aren't getting a paycheck related to it really expect a viable solution to fusion power to come from it.

Re:Mirror of the mirror (1)

aurispector (530273) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106320)

That isn't conspiracy, that's good policy. In the real world, even the most brilliant scientists have to feed their families. If you don't pay them to use their brilliance, it will be wasted mopping floors or whatever. With the private sector shutting down their R&D (goodbye, Bell Labs) if we want to keep these folks in the US we have to find something for them to do. A far better use of tax money than entitlements.

Re:Mirror of the mirror (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106420)

I'm sure that happens, that's the whole reason why we have that stupid Tanker deal being punted about. It was always more about Boeing's bottom line than needing to upgrade the fleet.

That being said, creating initiatives that are just to spend money is bad policy. Spending money on longshots isn't necessarily bad neither is spending money on long term goals. The ISS/Space shuttle despite all the opinions to the contrary has been very productive. There's a lot of technology that gets designed for that which spills over in to more practical day to day life. Battery technology being a good example, but also technologies that rely upon crystals have gotten a boost from the research.

Re:Mirror of the mirror (4, Informative)

je ne sais quoi (987177) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106208)

To back this up, there have been substantial job cuts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory twice in its history. [rockymountainnews.com] The first time was when Reagan cut the staff by about 50%, and Bush, Jr. cut about 10% in 2005. Considering that NREL is one of the centers of expertise of photovoltaics in the world, and often hold the record for efficiency for photovoltaics [nrel.gov] it does look pretty suspicious.

Re:Mirror of the mirror (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106678)

It's not a Conspiracy, it's a Business decision. When this Fusion thingy does start working, it won't be useful till someone plugs it in to the power grid. Now the folks that control the Power Grid are going to smile. Energy Suppliers are going to start patenting, and litigating like there's no tomorrow; and for them, if they can't find a way to sell their energy, there won't be a tomorrow. Deuterium-Tritium can be picked up off the ground, but not on planet earth. Someone is going to have to go to the moon and get a bucket of the stuff.

Re:Mirror of the mirror (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106736)

Keep in mind that the halting of permits was specific to PUBLIC LAND. Why should these things be built on public land right now, exactly? Wouldnt it be in the publics best interest to let this technology (and others) mature to the point of being actually competitive before tying up the land for decades?

Re:Mirror of the mirror (1)

stewartm0205 (1443707) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106966)

The Mirror Fusion facility was closed at the bequest of the Oil and Uranium industries. Many people don't seem to understand that these companies will do whatever it takes to protect their profits even if it means that the rest of the world suffers. Just look at the climate debate.

Re:Mirror of the mirror (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30107248)

We could to much better than fusion:

We can get our energy straight from the vacuum:

http://www.energyfromthevacuum.com/

See the trailers:
http://www.youtube.com/user/AJCraddock

We need to continue the work of people like Tesla.. working with Maxwell's original equations and NOT the MODIFIED and simplified Maxwell-Heaviside equations that are now thought all over the world as if they are Maxwell's original equations.

NRDC? (1, Insightful)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105786)

So a member of an anti-nuke group doesn't approve of someone's attempts to build a workable fusion reactor? Is anyone really surprised by that?

Re:NRDC? (2, Insightful)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106128)

If he was actually trying to build a working fusion reactor, that may actually be a surprising response (no need for fission reactors means fewer potential nukes out there).

The design at NIF is not relevant to solving the problems in getting electricity from inertial confinement fusion. It takes over 300MJ for them to power their lasers, while the best output they can hope for from their fusion is about 50MJ. They're also focusing on D-D and D-T fusion, which is not actually "clean" in that it will make the reactor radioactive over time. That's not to say ICF is "bad," or will never work, just that NIF was not designed as an alternative energy experiment. If he's got a reactor design, it's based on other ICF experiments (the one in Japan is nice).

A solar energy guy took over DOE and now they have to say these things to keep their jobs, that's all that's happening here.

Re:NRDC? (1)

sycodon (149926) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106948)

This isn't a pissing contest.

ALL the possibilities need to be explored. So Mr. Thomas Cochran needs to STFU and deal with his proposed solutions and quite bitching about efforts of others.

"Step" towards controlled fusion? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30105792)

We have had Farnsworth fusors for decades. We can control fusion. You know, for a geek website we sure do play fast and loose with facts and poor summaries.
Maybe "step towards controlled fusion power"? Words convey meaning, folks.

Re:"Step" towards controlled fusion? (0, Offtopic)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105966)

"Words convey meaning, folks."

Absolutely, and your convey a great deal about your personality.

Lighten up, Francis.

Re:"Step" towards controlled fusion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30106102)

Yes, you mean I'm an engineer and details mean something? That's right. False implications like in the summary drive me nuts. We have had controlled fusion for decades. And H-bombs are controlled fusion too, they blow up when we want them to.

creative name (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30105806)

Guess they didn't bring in the high priced consultant to come up with a better name than the stogie-esque National Ignition Facility.

On Free Energy (0, Offtopic)

CranberryKing (776846) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105810)

"Oh.. Well unless you really, really like the food at the New Yorker Hotel, you probably don't want to go there" -- Nick Tesla

Proof of Concept (4, Insightful)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105816)

Cochran says the NIF laser is still not powerful enough. Even if it were, he says, "these machines are just going to be too big, and too costly, and they'll never be competitive."

Proof of concept devices area always oversized and more costly than the production versions. Once you know it works and how it works, you can start shrinking it down and since the development is done, the cost per unit goes down further.

Re:Proof of Concept (2, Interesting)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106164)


Proof of concept devices area always oversized and more costly than the production versions.

Uhh.. maybe for electronics, but usually for power generation you start small scale and build much larger versions.

Here's some scale. The article says this thing will produce just over a mega-joule of energy per-fire. They fire the thing a few times a day. 6 GIGA-joules is the amount of chemical energy in a barrel of oil. That means that per-fire, this thing produces the about the same amount of energy as is in a fluid Oz. of oil.

I still think we should be doing it, but I sure wouldn't bet on the thing becoming smaller and cheaper.

Re:Proof of Concept (1)

hey! (33014) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106380)

Which makes sense. Measuring our fusion progress on the bang-the-rocks-together-guys to steam-engine scale, we're just at the point where we've figured out how to make pretty sparks.

If they break even, it's significant breakthrough, even if they don't net much. It puts fusion power in a different risk category for investing research dollars.

Re:Proof of Concept (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106538)

The problem as I see it is the time it takes to set the machine up for each run and (with the Z-Pinch at least) the amount of equipment that is one-use only. What we need is a machine that can run steady-state and without the need to destroy bits of itself in the process. I just wish they'd give EMCC enough to put us out of our misery viz. whether or not the thing will work! It'd be just dandy if we could get H+11B working practically: bye-bye steam turbines!

Re:Proof of Concept (2, Insightful)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107090)

Uhh.. maybe for electronics, but usually for power generation you start small scale and build much larger versions.

In terms of power production, yes. In terms of power to physical size ratio, no. The first fusion bomb was the size of a small building. Electrical generators and other devices were much larger in the early days compared to modern counterparts. They are trying to provide proof of concept here. The sheer amount of power required to produce fusion is the cause of the sheer size of this, nothing more. If you could produce fusion using 6 joules of power, there would be no need for it to be so big and you could probably do it in a single room.

Re:Proof of Concept (1)

Xyrus (755017) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106810)

Just like building software. The first version is never the best version, but it's a good place to start from.

~X~

Re:Proof of Concept (1)

Dumnezeu (1673634) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107314)

Cochran says the NIF laser is still not powerful enough. Even if it were, he says, "these machines are just going to be too big, and too costly, and they'll never be competitive."

Proof of concept devices area always oversized and more costly than the production versions. Once you know it works and how it works, you can start shrinking it down and since the development is done, the cost per unit goes down further.

Sustaining the parent: what could we ever do with a tranzistor [wikipedia.org]? It's too big and expensive for any practical use. Diodes are pretty big, too! And why would anybody want to see the image on TV in color when black&white is just fine? Yeah, that's what I thought.

Idiots like Cochran get big jobs, they cost us too much technological advancement and they're anti-competitive by killing technology even before its birth.

40 years (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30105836)

Moses leading a team? Will he stop and ask for directions?

Re:40 years (1)

Iskender (1040286) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107014)

Moses leading a team? Will he stop and ask for directions?

No, it'll take 40 years again. After all, fusion is always 40 years in the future. It will certainly be now!

Maybe they'll get lucky, but I'm not hopeful (1)

indytx (825419) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105840)

I'm hesitant to say that nothing would do more to solve the world's problems than the availability of cheap, clean energy, but it would be on my top five. However, every few years I hear about a new fusion project, and then I never hear anything else about it. Here's to hoping that it works and that it works in a way that can be commercialized before we destroy the planet.

Re:Maybe they'll get lucky, but I'm not hopeful (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30105900)

I'm not convinced that whether or not you have heard of something means much.

Cheap clean energy will utterly destroy the planet (3, Interesting)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106642)

Or rather.

What will happen is it will allow the economy, unlimited growth. With that goes consumption. Humans will literally build, eat and fuck the planet into a desolate wasteland.

 

yeah but (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107152)

cheap energy also means we can get off this planet

so we can build, eat and fuck other planets into desolate wastelands

so it all works out, see?

synchronizing nearly 200 lasers (3, Interesting)

gordona (121157) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105842)

Has anyone wondered how to synchronize these lasers to less than a microsecond? Sure one could measure the path lengths and calculate the delays at approx 9 ns per foot. However, about 12 years ago I wrote the software for a system that sync'd a remote quartz clock to a local cesium clock to within a nanosecond over 10 -100 km of fiber. Changes in path length we automatically compensated. It was fun to write this code and put the system together. A prototype was delivered to the Lawrence Livermore Lab for just this purpose.

Re:synchronizing nearly 200 lasers (5, Interesting)

joe_frisch (1366229) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106000)

These days synchronizing lasers to microseconds is easy. At LCLS/SLAC we synchronize our conventional and X-ray laser to 100 femtoseconds. We've also done 40 km of fiber to about 1 picosecond (and I think other labs have done better)

Re:synchronizing nearly 200 lasers (-1, Offtopic)

orlanz (882574) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106700)

Anyone else think the Slashdot IDs were perfectly appropriate for the posts?

Deuterium is hardly "endless" (0, Flamebait)

Antique Geekmeister (740220) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105866)

Deuterium is limited by the amount of deuterium in ocean water, which is the largest source on Earth but remains quite limited.

And sadly, unless these wishful dreamers can find an energy efficient way to harvest deuterium in bulk, there is very little point to this research. None of the available fusion processes work well with plain hydrogen, and barring a miracle occurring, deuterium refinement is still only done with stunningly high energy costs, nowhere near even theoretical break-even costs for bulk refinement and use in fusion.

No, this is an excuse to spend money on fusion weapons research under the guise of "energy research". It's flat-out pork-barrel money for military facilities who will otherwise "lose American jobs!". Spend it instead on solar mirror research, which has a much better return-on-investment and merely requires large-scale engineering, not hoped-for scientific breakthroughs that remain unlikely to occur in our lifetimes.

Re:Deuterium is hardly "endless" (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30106018)

Um, except that one factory in Norway in the 40s made 12 tons a year of it and one ton fused contains the same energy as 29 BILLION tons of coal. We also seem to have some 10^15 tons of it out in the ocean before we have to go to space to go shopping.

Re:Deuterium is hardly "endless" (4, Informative)

Waffle Iron (339739) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106044)

I can't tell if you're joking, but everything you said about deuterium is 100% false. There is more D in the earth's oceans (1/6500th of all the water) than we could ever imagine using for fusion. It's also extracted cheaply and easily.

Re:Deuterium is hardly "endless" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30107406)

I can't tell if you're joking, but everything you said about deuterium is 100% false. There is more D in the earth's oceans (1/6500th of all the water) than we could ever imagine using for fusion. It's also extracted cheaply and easily.

Don't worry, I'm sure human kind will struggle hard enough to find something to do with all that energy, because if it just stays there, then it's not energy and it's just useless. Maybe build an ultra-mega-super-duper laser and point it out in space or power a huge particle collider that revolves the particles at speeds over the speed of light. Who knows? We've ALWAYS found a way to drain nature of all we had available, regardless of our actual needs.

Re:Deuterium is hardly "endless" (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30106094)

I think you should look up "quite limited." Deuterium is naturally found at something like every 1 in 10000 hydrogens in the ocean. There is a lot of hydrogen in the ocean - this is a mind boggling huge number. There are plants in existence which can produce over a 100 tons of heavy water (contain deuterium) a year. The article said that a reaction required milligrams.

I am more concerned about the tritium they require - this is rare. Though, it can be produced in fission plants.

Re:Deuterium is hardly "endless" (2, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106378)

deuterium refinement is still only done with stunningly high energy costs

A buck per liter of pure D is not all that "stunning". In insulated liquid tanker car loads, you could probably buy it somewhat cheaper. True, there is an inherent lower limit regardless of bulk purchase or whatever, I'm guessing probably around 50 cents per liter wholesale. The manufacturers are not operating as a charity, they probably use 100% electrically operated machinery, and probably most of their costs are labor and capital, so I feel confident that a liter of D takes only a couple KWh at most. Perhaps you know so little about the topic that you're confusing stunningly high U-235 fission fuel refining costs with D refining costs? I'm thinking the fuel cost is not going to be an issue, like a rounding error in the budget.

http://www.isotope.com/cil/products/displayproduct.cfm?prod_id=8827&cat_id=35&market=research [isotope.com]

Another way to put it, by volume, retail gasoline is about as expensive as D, but the same volume of D when fused generates exactly one zillion times more energy than burning gasoline.

Wow; just WOW (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106906)

I read your posting and all I can think of is why is America failing? At one time, we succeeded because we did NOT put all of our eggs in one basket. We actually spread the money and approaches around so that we could figure out the best approach. Now, I have to read the idiot postings that LOVE coal/Oil, Hate AE, and at best tolerate Nukes. Or we have the pure nuke lovers that hate AE/coal/Oil. Finally, we have ppl like you that imagine that this is weapons research and not really a way to lower our energy costs.

Why do ppl like you push this kind of crap? Solar research IS progressing. In many countries. BUT, we need to take multiple tacks and make sure that we have a cheap alternative.

NIF not the only or even best technology (5, Insightful)

Eravnrekaree (467752) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105870)

It would be great if NIF could produce a working fusion system within the next century, but i find it a bit doubtful. There are two other fusion technologies which have aimed to reduce the size and complexity of fusion systems, instead of building massive billion dollar generators to instead build smaller technologies. These inlcude Polywell and Focus Fusion. Both are developed by engineers and appear to be honest attempts to develop fusion power and to do it with a reasonable amount of money, under 20 years, rather than centuries. While the government has given NIF billions of dollars, the polywell has received about 8 million in funding, despite the fact that if it is possible it could save the planet. Some scientists seem so enamored by the size and complexity, and unfeasibly of such machines as ITER they seem unwilling to consider smaller, cheaper and more practical alternatives, thus fusion always remains something far off in the centuries away future, when it is desperately needed now.

Id like to see polywell, focus fusion and the NIF fully funded however, since it is possible that one may be right and the others not workable, it increases the chance of finding a solution.

Three points (5, Interesting)

cmowire (254489) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105894)

Point one: Not spending money on fusion research is incredibly dumb. It's not likely to pan out in the near-term future, but there's plenty of ancillary science to be done on the subject. For example, the VASMIR space drive built on fusion research, it's just not hot enough to provoke fusion

Point two: Relying on fusion power to make for a short-term fix is also dumb. Especially if you think it's going to be safe and clean. The problem with fusion is how many neutrons it emits. Even when you use one of the fusion chains designed not to produce neutrons, you produce a good amount. The reactor core is going to be even more radioactive than a fission reactor core. And even if you get to a "Breakeven" point, that doesn't mean that you'll be price-competitive with other forms of power.

Fusion is easy. Just take a GIANT ball of gas, let it collapse into a star, and put solar panels around the star.

Point three: Calling it the Ultimate Green Energy Source is a cover story. A 2007 report by the National Research Council's Plasma Science Committee concluded that "NIF is crucial to the NNSA Stockpile Stewardship Program because it will be able to create the extreme conditions of temperature and pressure that exist on Earth only in exploding nuclear weapons and that are therefore relevant to understanding the operation of our modern nuclear weapons."

In other words, the NIF will be used, at least some of the time, to re-create the conditions inside of an exploding nuclear warhead so we can design new nukes without testing them and therefore violating the test ban treaties.

Re:Three points (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106150)

The reactor core is going to be even more radioactive than a fission reactor core.

Why? Other than an appeal to authority, or FUD, I don't see it. And I'm fairly well educated in this area.

The inherent problem with "spent" fission fuel, is we have very little control over how the atoms fission. Generally you get about 1/3 and 2/3 chunks but a graph of the relative weights shows two wide peaks. The stuff thats stable for millions of years is harmless, because, well, its stable for millions of years before it does anything. Likewise for the stuff with a half life of a few seconds, like the silver isotopes, because an hour after shutdown its all reacted. But there are plenty of icky cobalt and strontium and other isotopes that have an annoying half life "around a human generation long" that are really hazardous biologically. So there is no way to run a fission reactor without accumulating icky radioactive waste. Don't want a fission reactor full of cobalt and strontium isotopes? Well, tough luck, that is an inherent byproduct of the fuel itself.

On the other hand, fusion doesn't use "stuff" that inherently involves bad half lives. Don't want a fusion reactor full of cobalt and strontium isotopes? Well then don't build the reactor out of it.

... solar panels ...

Ah I see it was all just astroturfing or something.

Re:Three points (1)

cmowire (254489) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106310)

You are clearly not educated enough.

Look up neutron activation. When neutrons are flying around in a nuclear (of any type) reactor core, some of them hit the material in the walls, causing the atoms to absorb a neutron and change isotopes. Which tends to result in a reactor core that is radioactive, even though it wasn't made of radioactive materials and didn't absorb any isotopes.

Fusion reactors put off a hell of a lot more neutrons than fission reactors. You can do aneutronic fission, but not with the sort of reactions people have been talking about....

Re:Three points (4, Interesting)

vlm (69642) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106506)

Look up neutron activation. When neutrons are flying around in a nuclear (of any type) reactor core, some of them hit the material in the walls, causing the atoms to absorb a neutron and change isotopes. Which tends to result in a reactor core that is radioactive, even though it wasn't made of radioactive materials and didn't absorb any isotopes.

I know a lot about that topic. Lets make our reactor vessel out of iron. Nice and strong. We need a table of nuclides, but wikipedia is an adequate substitute. So, lets see what horrible long term waste results from neutron activation of iron.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isotopes_of_iron [wikipedia.org]

Most of the half lives are in the ms range. If you manage to strike the same atom simultaneously with five neutrons, you get a 44 day halflife, this is irrelevant in practice. Overall, neutron activation of iron is not a significant issue.

Some materials can be neutron activated, some simply cannot. Don't worry about distilled water, or lead.

The important point, is you choose the structural material so neutron activation is simply, inherently irrelevant. Hence the intense interest in material science in fusion reactors.

You could intentionally make a fusion reactors walls out of U-235 and generate tons of contamination, but why?

Re:Three points (3, Interesting)

cmowire (254489) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106904)

You do realize that iron would become brittle as steel from the neutron flux if you built your reactor vessel out of it, right? It's a vague problem with fission reactors that required some procedural adjustments once neutron embrittlement was better understood, but with orders of magnitude greater neutron flux...

Nor can you rely on a isotope chart of a single element to predict what's going to occur in a high neutron flux environment.

For example, Fe 58 is stable. Capture a neutron it becomes Fe 59, with a 44 day halflife to Co 59. If Co 59 captures a neutron, it becomes Co 60, which is a long-lived radioisotope.

So I guess you do get a reactor vessel with a certain amount of cobalt isotopes, no?

I wouldn't classify this as an "unsolvable problem" but you can't magically wave your hands and make them go away.

For all the "oh my god radioactivity" crap that's going around, the simple fact of the matter is that you can access the core of a fission reactor while it's online whereas you cannot access the core of a fusion reactor while it's online.

Re:Three points (2, Funny)

smoker2 (750216) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107158)

You do realize that iron would become brittle as steel ...

If the rest of your explanation is as accurate as that, I'm glad I stopped reading.

Re:Three points (1)

mako1138 (837520) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107424)

As long as you're comparing fusion to fission, you might want to consider the total amount of waste created. Usually we hear about Cobalt-60 in the context of nickel activation of stainless steel reactor vessels. Cobalt-60 isn't long-lived compared to the high-level waste generated by fission; it has a half-life of about 5 years. Just mothball the reactor core for a few decades, as opposed to trucking tons of highly radioactive material out to a vault (that doesn't exist yet) where it's going to have to sit for thousands of years.

Of course, instead of stainless steel, we're supposed to have "advanced materials" someday which will obviate these issues...

Re:Three points (1)

FoolishBluntman (880780) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106894)

"You can do aneutronic fission,"
What the hell is aneutronic fission?

Re:Three points (2, Interesting)

cmowire (254489) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106940)

Fusion that does not produce neutrons.

Eg, D + He 3 -> He 4 + p vs. D + T -> He 4 + n. The first, deuterium and helium-3 produces helium 4 and a proton. No neutrons. But deuterium and tritium produces helium 4 and a neutron.

The problem is, not perfect. With the deuterium hanging around in a reactor, you'd get some degree of neutron-producing reactions anyway.

Re:Three points (1)

shentino (1139071) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107282)

I think emitting particles that are both massive AND charged is WORSE than particles that are just massive.

You do realize that p is good old fashioned H+ right?

Hydrogen ions,

1) The same stuff that makes acids so corrosive
2) Once neutralized, the same stuff that made the hindenburg go boom.

Re:Three points (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107078)

Point One sounds pretty cool, but check your spelling, it's "V A S I M R" [wikipedia.org]. Point Two, this energy generation method is not Short Term, at least not from what I have been reading. The Neutron issue sounds interesting, except for the case of when Neutrons fly away, won't the Electrons, and Protons have as much freedom as the Neutrons? And why do Neutrons "stick" to Protons in the first place? Point Three shows a lack of doing your home work, yes there will always be some evil genius trying to build a better mouse trap. But the people that make the global decisions are not Evil Geniuses, or Politicians; they're Wealth Mongers, and they completely understand that killing customers is bad for business. I still think about Point One! Damn! A working VASIMR Space Drive; now that's cool.

Could the NIF be scaled to a fusion process? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30105902)

From what I've seen the NIF could never be a fusion reactor. All those lasers focus on a single pellet in a closed chamber.

Even if they get fusion, how would they turn this into a reactor where you could feed in a constant source of fuel and get continuous energy output?

Re:Could the NIF be scaled to a fusion process? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30105950)

Worse than that, how do you make electricity out of that? End of the day, we're still in the Steam Age.

Re:Could the NIF be scaled to a fusion process? (1)

joe_frisch (1366229) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106022)

NIF can be a good test bed for fusion research, but it isn't a practical reactor. We would need much more efficient, and higher repetition rate lasers.

Re:Could the NIF be scaled to a fusion process? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30106212)

NIF can be a good test bed for fusion research, but it isn't a practical reactor. We would need much more efficient, and higher repetition rate lasers.

So your point is, even if this test is 100% successful, all the lasers will have to be replaced with "much more efficient, and higher repetition rate lasers" for many more billions of dollars before we can even consider building an actual prototype, commercial, power-producing reactor.

What century are you expecting completion?

Re:Could the NIF be scaled to a fusion process? (1)

mako1138 (837520) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107518)

NIF is a weapons program first and foremost. I don't know why they've been trying to sell it to the public lately. Perhaps they're worried about a cut in funding?

You've put your finger on one of the main issues with Laser ICF: repetition rate. Let's say NIF is designed to do one "shot" per day right now. I've heard that a reactor is going to need to do one shot per second for the economics to work out.

Related to that is the construction of the Hohlraum that holds the DT ice and also serves to re-radiate the incoming laser energy as x-rays. A few years ago each one cost a million bucks a pop. With mass production, it's probably possible to reduce the price enough to make things work out economically. And also there's "direct drive" technology that makes the Hohlraum unnecessary.

Anyway, I don't think Laser ICF is that promising in the short term. The supporting technologies just aren't there yet.

Waste of money ... (2, Interesting)

tgd (2822) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105946)

There is big physics that is a good place to sink money, and big physics that is not.

Only the physicists and engineers who are payed by grants in this area seem to think its a good use of money.

And unfortunately projects like this pull billions of taxpayer money from research projects that may actually benefit society.

The NIF is the ISS of the physics world.

Re:Waste of money ... (1)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 4 years ago | (#30105994)

The NIF is the ISS of the physics world.

A great work that will die early because of the biterness of scientists who don't get to play with it?

Re:Waste of money ... (2, Insightful)

MartinSchou (1360093) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106406)

And unfortunately projects like this pull billions of taxpayer money from research projects that may actually benefit society.

It would be better, if these billions of dollars were pulled from bank executives who were responsible for the economic collapse.

Maybe we can drop by their houses with pitchforks and torches and ask them to kindly donate their bonuses.

Easy (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30106110)

It should come right from the vacuum:

http://www.energyfromthevacuum.com/

See the trailer:
http://www.youtube.com/user/AJCraddock

Tesla's Radiant Energy is REAL.

The nation that comes up with fusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30106190)

will be instantly empowered to enslave and slaughter all other nations. And it won't even have to declare war, because that nation will be the only one left. It's a weapon of unlimited power. The only other horror almost comparative to it is the slow but sure erosion of everybody's privacy on facebook.

HiPER (2, Informative)

Xinvoker (1660417) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106358)

HiPER will be a European project that will take advantage of the findings of NIF to use IC Fusion as an energy source. (NIF has mainly military purposes).It will hopefully be ready sooner than ITER, and much cheaper. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HiPER [wikipedia.org]

Snake oil (1)

Idiomatick (976696) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106414)

This may not work but it isn't snake oil. I mean snake oil salesmen sell something that doesn't work from the get go. They sell a lie. Its not like all the physicists will be like huzzah, enjoy your free energy if it doesn't work. I mean that doesn't even make sense. They'll go "Fuck, it doesn't work, sorry". Totally different.

Natural Resources Defense Council objects... (1)

ghostis (165022) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106434)

The Natural Resources Defense Council spokesman calls fusion "snake oil". Couldn't have seen that one coming... ;-) Reminds me of "Thank You For Smoking."

Re:Natural Resources Defense Council objects... (2, Insightful)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106706)

They're right, in a sense. Fusion's not going to solve any problems related to climate change -- we need something else for the near-term. But in a hundred and fifty years, it'd be nice to be able to produce 50x the current energy output of the world with no environmental consequences.

It's long-term, not short-term.

The net effect... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30106494)

So,

In one experiment the LHC could in theory create a small black hole that sucks stuff in.
In the second experiment, fusion could in theory create a small sun that ejects stuf out.

In theory, the two experiments cancel each other out and nothing happens :)

As usual, in theory, government spending goes for naught!

Worth doing, but kick the military out (2, Informative)

Entropius (188861) | more than 4 years ago | (#30106688)

There was a long (~1 hour) plenary talk about this at a recent American Physical Society conference.

The NIF is exciting scientifically for studying both fusion and "extreme" materials science. No, it's not going to turn into a power plant once we get it working, but fusion power is too promising to not take steps toward it. We won't be able to roll out fusion power in time to avert climate change, of course, so it's not a first priority for energy research. But it is certainly worth doing on its scientific merits alone.

Trouble is, the main intent behind the NIF isn't science -- it's "stockpile stewardship" and weapons development. If it were simply a science experiment I imagine that the science goals could be achieved far more cheaply, and with a higher degree of openness. (For instance, some of the other approaches to fusion seem more promising. But the US's flagship fusion project is this one -- just because you can learn about bombs with it.)

Science that is worth doing (which in my opinion the NIF is) should be done completely independent of the military (so it can be done honestly) and it should be done openly (so it can be useful to society).

NIF == Nuclear Test Ban Treaty workaround (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#30107176)

The sole purpose of NIF is reproducing conditions similiar to a nuke without setting off a nuke. Its basically a way to work around various test ban treaties the US is signatory to.

Their token attempt at producing electrical power is just that no serious person expects that anything approaching commercial viability will EVER come out of such a design.

Dense Plasma Focus is more promising. (2, Interesting)

John Sokol (109591) | more than 4 years ago | (#30107208)

Dense Plasma Focus technology is the next best thing to what cold fusion had promised. Best of all it's real and doesn't use any questionable physics.

Safe, small, low cost, low maintenance and efficient. It looks like it will be small enough that it could be ran from inside a rail car or truck.

It's far ,more likely to work then blasting deuterium-tritium with lasers, but they can't get funding!

Slashdot's reported this several times.
A-Step-Closer-To-Cheap-Nuclear-Fusion [slashdot.org]

And I have posting my research in to this too.
green ideas thinktank [blogspot.com]

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