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UK Joins Laser Nuclear Fusion Project

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the if-it's-worth-doing-it's-worth-doing-with-lasers dept.

Power 199

arisvega writes with this quote from the BBC: "The UK company AWE and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory have now joined with [the National Ignition Facility in the U.S.] to help make laser fusion a viable commercial energy source. ... Part of the problem has been that the technical ability to reach 'breakeven' — the point at which more energy is produced than is consumed — has always seemed distant. Detractors of the idea have asserted that 'fusion energy is 50 years away, no matter what year you ask,' said David Willetts, the UK's science minister. 'I think that what's going on both in the UK and in the US shows that we are now making significant progress on this technology,' he said. 'It can't any longer be dismissed as something on the far distant horizon.'"

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erm 50 years away. (0, Flamebait)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352618)

If someone asked that question 50 years ago, shouldn't we have it by now? Just because something is hard.

Re:erm 50 years away. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37352642)

Wow, way to completely and totally misunderstand the point of that statement. I think I'll run you down in my flying car for that little gem of stupidity.

Re:erm 50 years away. (-1, Flamebait)

ciderbrew (1860166) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352746)

Wow, way to completely and totally misunderstand the point of a sarcastic remark. If they could start harnessing the power of autism you could solve the energy problems of the world. That was also a sarcastic remark - if that helps. 17:30 means beer o'clock. tata.

Re:erm 50 years away. (1)

elsurexiste (1758620) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352806)

What tata means, then?

Re:erm 50 years away. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37352838)

can have multiple meanings but in this context it means good bye.

Re:erm 50 years away. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353338)

it's an Indian car company; they own Jaguar and Land Rover now.

Re:erm 50 years away. (2)

FeepingCreature (1132265) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353508)

What tata means, then?

PO-TA-TO
Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew.

Re:erm 50 years away. (1)

Talderas (1212466) | more than 2 years ago | (#37354234)

It's what babies call tits. Something you haven't seen since you were one except those in the rampant collection of pornography you have.

Re:erm 50 years away. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353246)

You know, if you reply again, I'm sure you can make yourself sound even dumber. It will be difficult, but I'm quite certain you're up to the task.

Re:erm 50 years away. (1)

Tsingi (870990) | more than 2 years ago | (#37354140)

No one sounds dumber than an AC. The fact that you won't stand behind what you say drops 90% of your credibility before anyone even reads what you said.
Certainly, insulting people anonymously puts the 'C' in AC.

Fusion is 20 years away... (1)

invid (163714) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352854)

The phrase I heard before was "Fusion power is twenty years away and always will be."

Re:Fusion is 20 years away... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353146)

Part of the problem has been that the technical ability to reach 'breakeven' — the point at which more energy is produced than is consumed

Uh no. Breakeven is when the energy produced is the SAME as the energy consumed. What they really want is to achieve better than breakeven, not to reach it.

Typical Slashdot editor level of comprehension.

Re:Fusion is 20 years away... (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353310)

It also depends on what you call "breakeven"; it can be measured in many different ways. On the input side, you can consider only the energy which actually does useful work in the target, the total energy delivered to the target, the total energy consumed to power the delivery system, or the total energy consumed by the plant. On the output side, you can consider the raw total energy yielded by the fusion reactions, the total energy output by the whole fusion process (output of reactions minus whatever energy is used within in the plasma for initiating further reactions), the total captured energy, the total electrical energy produced after generation losses, or the total energy delivered to customers after delivery losses as well.

We've met breakeven by some metrics, not by others. Obviously, you ultimately need at least several times over breakeven using the harshest input and output metrics, plus realistic capital and operating costs per unit output, for it to be realistic for electricity generation.

Re:Fusion is 20 years away... (1)

DrBoumBoum (926687) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353550)

I like that one:

Fusion power is the energy of the future and always will be.

Re:Fusion is 20 years away... (1)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#37354216)

Yeah, The wit of the intellectually poor. If you cared to actually follow the developments, especially regarding the EROEI of fusion experiments, you'd see a constantly rising curve. We are at the point of breakeven, we could even surpass it, the remaining problems are largely material science optimizations. Plasma heating and containment is basically solved. But hey, rather spout a tired old meme - that'll get some herp derp from the retards that populate the internet today.

Re:erm 50 years away. (1)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352866)

If someone asked that question 50 years ago, shouldn't we have it by now?

Not always.
For instance, in the early 80's the nuclear energy/plant specialists agreed at the time that they don't fully control the nuclear power, but they were absolutely convinced that it was only a matter of 20-30 years.
They were wrong.

Re:erm 50 years away. (1)

Doug Neal (195160) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353122)

I suspect if there had been (and continued to be) cold war-era levels of political will and funding into nuclear R&D, then we would have had it in 20-30 years.

Fusion, the stellar way (1)

Lexx Greatrex (1160847) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352660)

While "frickin" laser beams are awesome, especially ones that size, it is so much easier for a star with plenty of gravity that does all that particle squishing for free.

Re:Fusion, the stellar way (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352814)

Fusion will probably be cake once we do figure out artificial gravity.

Re:Fusion, the stellar way (2)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352934)

Yes. Figuring out artificial gravity would also be cake, if the cake wasn't a lie.

Re:Fusion, the stellar way (1)

Lexx Greatrex (1160847) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353076)

Yes. Figuring out artificial gravity would also be cake, if the cake wasn't a lie.

If we can no longer trust cake, then what food? WHAT FOOD?

Re:Fusion, the stellar way (2)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353186)

Pumpkin pie. It is the most sincere food. Though only if the pumpkins are harvested from a sincere pumpkin patch that is approved by the Great Pumpkin.

Re:Fusion, the stellar way (1)

_0xd0ad (1974778) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353216)

Death, obviously.

Re:Fusion, the stellar way (1)

Talderas (1212466) | more than 2 years ago | (#37354266)

In pie we trust.

Re:Fusion, the stellar way (1)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353266)

Not really.
You will need to assume the Energy to product artificial gravity would be greater then the energy to make real gravity. So it will still probably take more energy then what is produced. Especially on the small scale energy production we need (Compared to a star).

Re:Fusion, the stellar way (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37354410)

You will need to assume the Energy to product artificial gravity would be greater then the energy to make real gravity

While discussing mythical technologies that probably will never exist we don't have to assume nothing.

But your comment doesn't really make sense because we can't make real gravity. Real gravity does exist and it costs us nothing so yea therefor obviously artificial gravity would cost us more than real gravity.

Now if you had said "You will need to assume the Energy to produce artificial gravity would be greater then the energy to make fusion." then what you said would make more sense. But I still don't see why I would have to assume that.

Re:Fusion, the stellar way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353544)

Fusion will probably be cake once we do figure out artificial gravity.

Well, artificial gravity will be easy once we get fusion sorted out!

Laser Nuclear Fusion Powered... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37352676)

Sharks? Just saying...

Progress (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352698)

Fusion is now no longer 50 years away. It is only 49 years away. We expect this distance to be reduced by another year in another 50 years.

Re:Progress (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353444)

That's just like a the progress bar's progression when installing M$ updates. Here comes the lawsuit...

Re:Progress (4, Interesting)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353456)

I hate this attitude, which says that, "Because we don't have the holy grail yet, we haven't accomplished anything." The Q-factors on fusion reactions are many orders of magnitude better than we were getting even just a few decades ago. The amount of "unknown", while not eliminated, has been dramatically reduced, and on some paths, there's a pretty clear route to commercial viability. Inertial confinement, like NIF, in particular. Well, not exactly like NIF. The leading path for commercial viability of an inertial confinement system is HiPER [wikipedia.org] , which uses a much smaller (and thus much lower capital/operating cost) compression pulse, and compensates by adding a heating pulse as well. It's calculated to get a Q-factor of about 100, which is well more than is needed for viable commercial power production. There's so much confidence that this could lead to viable commercial fusion power production that they're already starting to deal with some of the "commercialization" aspects, not just the raw physics aspects -- for example, a high repetition-rate laser system.

Re:Progress (2)

Mindcontrolled (1388007) | more than 2 years ago | (#37354270)

I had a chance to visit the ASDEX Upgrade experiment in Germany a couple of years ago. They showed a nice diagram of all the experiments done so far, plotting energy output to input versus time - constantly rising. The guy who led me around there was of the opinion that the remaining problems were mostly on the material side (of course that was his area of research). Plasma heating and confinement are pretty much ready - the problems lie in setting up the system for long term operation, and partly in heat transfer.

so true.. (1)

pablo_max (626328) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352700)

He says "'It can't any longer be dismissed as something on the far distant horizon.'"..
I agree, it is more like 20 years away ;)

Re:so true.. (0)

xclr8r (658786) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352888)

20 years away for technological feasibility + another 30 years to get it past the energy lobby who will no doubt prey on the fears of laymen to extend their current practices and business model.

Re:so true.. (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353214)

I would imagine that the energy companies would jump on a workable fusion reactor like a crackhead on crack.

Their fuel costs would drop like a rock. They could close down all those coal mines and oil wells. No radiation or pollution for the greens to bitch about so regulations would be rather loose.

I'm having a problem trying to figure out a way that the energy companies would not make out like a bandit in regards to workable fusion energy.

Re:so true.. (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353296)

Why do you think there would be no radiation or pollution?
Do you think it is powered by magic? The containment vessel would become radioactive waste.

Re:so true.. (1)

Jeng (926980) | more than 2 years ago | (#37354060)

Do you think it is powered by magic? The containment vessel would become radioactive waste.

Helium ain't exactly pollution. We could use more of it, and if we do ever get enough we can just let it out and it will escape into space.

But yea, I am fairly sure the mythical 100% hydrogen method of fusion might not see the light of day, but that is what they are aiming at. A hybrid of fusion and fission is probably our best bet though. Hell it works well enough for the hydrogen bomb and the sun.

Re:so true.. (1)

imric (6240) | more than 2 years ago | (#37354322)

Maybe. Will it need a containment vessel? If so, is it massive? Can it be foil? What's the half-life of the isotopes produced, if any? What do they degenerate to? Do you know? Are you a researcher? Are you current with the state of laser fusion technology?

Re:so true.. (1)

Lexx Greatrex (1160847) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353110)

He says "'It can't any longer be dismissed as something on the far distant horizon.'"..
I agree, it is more like 20 years away ;)

I know another form of fusion on the far distant horizon .... the sun (groan)

Should read: (1)

XiaoMing (1574363) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352752)

"The UK company AWE and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory have now joined with [the DOD funded National Ignition Facility in the U.S.] to help make laser fusion part of their nuclear weapons testing program as well.

Fixed!

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

Re:Should read: (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352904)

Seeing as the UK buys all its nuclear bombs from the US anyway, and currently only stocks missiles of a single type (Trident), and has little stomach for replacing them with anything substantially different (there's a big enough ruckus about building new submarines to carry the missiles we've already got), I can't see that being a huge motivator for the UK. What use we'd have for laser-triggered fusion bombs I don't know.

The promise of clean, cheap, not-foreign-dependant energy is probably enough to pull in the interest on its own.

Re:Should read: (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353154)

No one is interested in laser triggered fusion bombs. Studying fusion created by lasers is one way to study fusion that does not violate test ban treaties.

Re:Should read: (1)

Patch86 (1465427) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353396)

The point still stands that the UK doesn't do nuclear testing these days. We buy off-the-shelf, so to speak.

Re:Should read: (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353540)

Yes, but if you want the results of this testing so you know when to replace those tridents you buy into this testing program. Think of it as an extent ended support program.

Re:Should read: (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37352964)

The NIF is funded by Department of Energy, not Department of Defense, but yes it is a nuclear weapons R&D facility.

Re:Should read: (1)

RobinEggs (1453925) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353032)

By your own link the National Ignition Facility does nuclear weapons maintenance, not nuclear weapons testing.

Weapons maintenance has to do with ensuring that existing nuclear weapons don't leak, explode or otherwise freak out as the components age, and with more deeply understanding just how radioactive material behaves in situations like that of building and storing a bomb; it has little or nothing to do with making new weapons, at least not inherently.

Not only is their research critically important to responsibly storing or (hopefully) disposing of our existing bombs, there are also scientifically useful radioisotopes that can be extracted from the warhead cores as the uranium or plutonium decays (though for the life of me I can't recall which ones; I just remember reading it in other slashdot comments).

I do understand that part of the program goal involves keeping current on the technology and the staffing that could be used to make weapons, but I don't see any evidence that they are involved in weapons research at the moment.

Re:Should read: (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353268)

Maintenance requires testing. You need to know that these bombs will work after all these years in testing. Since you can't set off one to test that you must simulate the conditions as best as can be done.

Re:Should read: (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353528)

The whole purpose of the NIF facility is to explore the physics of what happens at extreme pressures and temperatures.

That has little to do with maintenance and everything to do with design. Calling it "maintenance" is pure PR. Sure, you could say, "we want to see what will happen to these bombs if we were to detonate them after their tritium has broken down to X degree", or whatnot, but that's about as close as you can get. In reality, it's about maintaining and expanding our knowledge for designing reliable nuclear weapons in an era where actually testing them is prohibited.

Re:Should read: (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353144)

Hmph! I had to go half-way down the page for this, the first worthwhile comment!

You've hit the nail on the head: NIF was never a serious effort to develop fusion power. Not unless you mean the military type of power.

I have a hard time believing that a practical fusion power station could be made based around a device that destroys a large amount of itself so often. Firing off lasers with ps precision is cool and all that, but I'm putting my money on something that runs steady-state. Like ITER, this seems like another example of politicians spending money on projects that they heard about on TV.

Re:Should read: (1)

Rei (128717) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353598)

NIF itself isn't commercializeable, but a variant called HiPER definitely is. The only thing you *have* to destroy in either is the hohlraum (your "fuel bottle"). Commercialization requires low capital/operating costs and a high power production rate, which means a high repetition rate. NIF fails on both counts. HiPER inherently is an order of magnitude better on the former, and they're working on a high repetition-rate laser system for it even before the facility has started construction.

What NIF offers over HiPER, by virtue of its 3x higher compression ratio, is more "basic physics" capability and the ability to create conditions that are useful in nuclear weapons design. HiPER is solely about power generation.

The investment sense is not, the science is sound. (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37352768)

The reason its only ever 50 years away is because funding required to make it 0 years away is never accepted and projects are habitually underfunded and cut short before they reach their goals. Several scientific groups and individual scientists have said they'll bring it to us now if they get their X billion for funding. So far no government or company has had the good faith to grant the amount needed. There are prototypes from the 1950's which might have worked, but at the time cost'd some enormous amount. The deal is the science behind it is sound, but the investment sense is not for anyone with the ability to start it up. Its a little like building solar arrays in space, it will pay off, but in like 200 years.

Re:The investment sense is not, the science is sou (2)

Unequivocal (155957) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353586)

The science is sound but the engineering isn't. The kind of problems that just the materials engineers have to cope with are stupendous for tokamak style high temp large scale reactors. The neutron bombardment of the structure holding the magnets makes it hard to figure out what material could stand up to the task. There are no known materials, last I checked in on this, that can do the job. So even if they get an energy sustaining reaction, they still have a bunch of engineering issues to solve which are very hard, if they want to build a commercial reactor that doesn't dissolve into dust after 5 years of operation. Much harder than the problems we solved for fission reactors..

Re:The investment sense is not, the science is sou (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37354244)

TFA is about laser fusion, not high-temperature plasma fusion as in a tokamak design. At least read the friendly summary, or if that's too much the friendly headline before commenting, if TFA is too much to ask.

Re:The investment sense is not, the science is sou (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353782)

While more money might help, there is no amount that could bring certain success in a short few years. I've seen several otherwise great scientists say their project would make a commercial fusion reactor in 5-10 years if they just had enough money to build one some several times larger. This is a result of excess enthusiasm from seeing evidence that scaling up the design would make it run better, but often it turns out a larger machine will show some other effects kicking in that cause new problems not seen with the smaller design. I've seen talks about some of the designs that look really promising and as if money is the only hurdle left. But then someone will ask, "Several other designs encountered problem X when they got bigger, how do you plan to deal with X or do you have any reason to think it is not applicable to your design?" The answer is too often, "I haven't even thought about that, but don't expect it to be a problem" ...

I've worked on some of those fusion projects that try to look for a way other than tokamaks or inertial confinement for fusion, and while they have potential, they have a long ways to go. Quite a few show that scaling evidence, that they could get better if built bigger, but what they need is incremental increases to show that trend continues before dumping billions into a commercial plant sized version. Right now, with US funding at least, there is the question of putting money into alternative designs versus trying harder with a small number of designs, and it can be difficult to figure out which alternative designs should get limited funding. But some projects are being funded, even by private companies like Tri-Alpha and General Fusion.

Re:The investment sense is not, the science is sou (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353814)

If you're talking about the Fusor, there are papers that indicate it can't get net positive energy. The prototypes DO work; the fusor is used commercially for neutron production. They just don't get net energy, and there's reason to believe they can't.

Equally, just because some group says they can do it in 0 years (er, can we make it 5?) with X billion, doesn't mean they in fact can.

You're a hair's width from saying the technology works and is being suppressed :)

Technological threshold (4, Insightful)

Baloroth (2370816) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352776)

Unlike many technologies, fusion power requires a certain technological threshold to achieve, where various different technologies (possibly in the order of hundreds) finally reach the point where they are advanced enough to achieve breakeven or beyond. We need an electromagnetic containment system, a fuel-production system, monitoring and control, ignition (probably laser), even the materials the reactor is made of need to be of a certain kind. Many of these technologies we do not have, making fusion power more than simply requiring one specific breakthrough like many other technologies do.

It's a bit like how smartphones were developed. We needed not only better touchscreens, but better batteries, smaller computers, faster wireless systems, and more compact storage. Once a certain threshold was achieved, it became possible to build the modern smartphone. Before, things like them were possible, but a certain level of many technologies was required before it could really become practical.

The additional problem with fusion is not only to achieve breakeven, but to do so competitively versus other sources of power (specifically, coal). Coal is pretty cheap in terms of raw cost (the long-term consequences are much more expensive, but the investors can safely ignore most of those.) This is why fusion has been perpetually 50 years in the future: because so many things need to come together to make it practical that one single breakthrough, even if it is massive, simply won't be enough to make it practical. It is a technology we should pursue with tremendous effort, and which should one day pay off in one form or another, but it isn't a magic bullet and won't be for some time.

Re:Technological threshold (1)

medv4380 (1604309) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352840)

All of those things are also pointless until you get more energy out then you put into the laser in the first place. We have working Fusion reactors but none of them actually put out more energy then they take in. Unless you count an H-Bomb then it works just fine.

Re:Technological threshold (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352972)

He meant that all those thing were necessary for getting out more energy than you put in (ie "breakeven or beyond).

Re:Technological threshold (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353328)

He meant that all those thing were necessary for getting out more energy than you put in (ie "breakeven or beyond).

Yes, he meant that. He also very plainly said that.

Some people are just careless, stupid, or refuse to work on their reading comprehension. So you can plainly state something and they still don't get it even though it's really simple. These people are idiots and deserve to be ridiculed and given a hard time as often as possible.

I know you mean well by correcting him like you did but you are only making it more comfortable and convenient for him to be so clueless.

Re:Technological threshold (1)

BenihanaX (1405543) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352908)

Unlike many technologies, fusion power requires a certain technological threshold to achieve,

Which technologies are you referring to, that do not require a certain technological threshold? Is it not glaringly obvious that a technology would depend on all its component subsystems to function efficiently?

Re:Technological threshold (1)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352946)

Balaroth's point is that fusion takes a lot of different technologies working together in order to work well. This is true for a lot of technologies but fusion is an example where the total number of technologies is much higher than it is for lots of other technologies.

Re:Technological threshold (1)

ThorGod (456163) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352986)

Store it in the form of steam! STEAM, BABY, STEAM!!!

To your point, how ever, you're ticking off all the steps of the process. You can't prove either fundamental theorems of calculus until you've got the real numbers 'constructed'. You can, how ever, walk up to calculus by tackling the intermediary steps one at a time. Part of your statement seems to be that it's an all or nothing proposition. Either we've got the energy generation, storage, and use all figured out at once and all together - or nothing counts. That's the fool's way to solving a problem.

(Of course, a mathematician would simply assume the existence of a viable fusion reactor, and thereby derive all the necessary technological bits.)

Re:Technological threshold (1)

rmstar (114746) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353042)

It is a technology we should pursue with tremendous effort, and which should one day pay off in one form or another,

I disagree. Not everything is possible, and one can waste huge amounts of resources in things that will never happen. As it stands, there is no reason to believe fusion will ever happen in a halfway reasonable fashion within the next 500 years. Just like space elevators, warp drive, and so on.

There's a nice summary of the difficulties in this fine article, but unfortunately it is not for free:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fusions-false-dawn [scientificamerican.com]

Re:Technological threshold (1)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353130)

It is a technology we should pursue with tremendous effort, and which should one day pay off in one form or another,

I disagree. Not everything is possible, and one can waste huge amounts of resources in things that will never happen. As it stands, there is no reason to believe fusion will ever happen in a halfway reasonable fashion within the next 500 years. Just like space elevators, warp drive, and so on.

Space elevators, OK. But warp drives are in a completely different league. Unlike fusion and space elevators, which we already know to be possible in principle (i.e there's no fundamental law of physics which they would break; indeed, fusion happens right now inside the sun), a warp drive would clearly need to go beyond the known laws of physics.

Re:Technological threshold (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353260)

Too bad you need to, you know, BUILD the damn thing. It's one thing to write a number on a screen, it's quite another to have it mean something physical. Space elevators are the opiate of the retards who think sci-fi is *real*. It's real, like wrestling.

Re:Technological threshold (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 2 years ago | (#37354092)

sci-fi is *real*. It's real, like wrestling

You've just solidified the Syfy-WWE link. Darn you to heck.

Re:Technological threshold (1)

imric (6240) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353254)

Don't try! Never try! You can't win! It will never work!

Re:Technological threshold (2)

bill_mcgonigle (4333) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353282)

even the materials the reactor is made of need to be of a certain kind

I've heard this from several fusion researchers. It's not intuitive that if you want to contribute your life's work to fusion science, you might want to go into materials engineering.

It's also not clear that enough people with a passion for materials engineering are also passionate about fusion research and would like to focus their energies there.

This is at least part of what makes it such a hard nut to crack.

Re:Technological threshold (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353364)

This statement ignores a major detail, their already doing it - just not at full scale. The pieces are there, its just research to ensure its safe and sustainable.

It's ok to be excited now.

50 or 20? (1)

hendrikboom (1001110) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352824)

I remember reading the predictions decade after decade since the 1950's. The ones I've read always said 20 years in the future. I guess maybe you have to be a detractor to say 50.

.

FTA: what they're actually doing (2)

ThorGod (456163) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352848)

"The laser fusion idea uses pellets of fuel made of isotopes of hydrogen called deuterium and tritium. A number of lasers are fired at the pellets in order to compress the fuel to just hundredths of its starting size.

In the process, the hydrogen nuclei fuse to create helium and fast-moving subatomic particles called neutrons whose energy, in the form of heat, can be captured and used for the comparatively old-fashioned idea of driving a steam turbine."

That last line reads like the punchline of a (bad) joke. (It's also a testament to how useful water is.)

Anyway, there's huge potential revenues for solving this problem. I just hope a US company gets a share of the eventual windfall.

What makes this news worthy?

"We've done fusion at fairly high levels already. Even on Sunday night, we did the highest fusion yield that has ever been done."

"Dr Moses said that a single shot from the Nif's laser - the largest in the world - released a million billion neutrons and produced for a tiny fraction of a second more power than the world was consuming."

Re:FTA: what they're actually doing (1)

BenihanaX (1405543) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352940)

That last line reads like the punchline of a (bad) joke. (It's also a testament to how useful water is.)

Are you also surprised that we still use circular wheels on almost all moving land vehicles?

Re:FTA: what they're actually doing (2)

somersault (912633) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353064)

And the next sentence.. "But for ignition, that number would need to rise by about a factor of 1,000.". So not that news worthy..

Re:FTA: what they're actually doing (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353136)

"Dr Moses said that a single shot from the Nif's laser - the largest in the world - released a million billion neutrons and produced for a tiny fraction of a second more power than the world was consuming."

The power is completely irrelevant. What matters is the time integral of the power, that is, the energy. Also, a million billion neutrons is only 10^15, at most a kilojoule of total energy (probably a lot less than that). To put that in perspective, the energy that a 1 kilogram hammer releases (at high power) if you drop it 100 meters to inelastically collide with a bucket of sand. The important questions are: a) Did it cost more energy to produce that shot than was released? If so, we still haven't reached break even, and without break even no, it isn't a viable energy source. b) Did it produce at least four or five times (ideally ten or more times) as much energy as was required to make the shot? If not, we haven't reached break even on conversion efficiency and transmission efficiency from those neutrons to the factory or household. c) Does it take one whole second of e.g. charging up capacitor banks and so on to create the nanosecond or ten flash of energy at such high power, so that one can never achieve an integrated power release higher than a few tens or hundreds of watts (per enormous laser)? If we assume a whole kilojoule per event, one has to be able to fuse 1000 events per second to make a humble megawatt, one million events per second to make a gigawatt (the size of a respectable power plant) and one really needs to make at least 5 gigawatts of sustained power to be sure of delivering 1-2 GW to the consumer. Popping 5 million little fuel capsules per second, even with a bank of lasers and delivery systems, presents some truly awesome engineering challenges, especially if all of those fuel capsules require careful engineering in and of themselves.

I've never been terribly optimistic about laser driven fusion. Well, since I was around 10 years old (back in the 60's). I was all over it then, and designed endless fusion driven engines using lasers to achieve ignition. But then I studied actual physics...

rgb

Re:FTA: what they're actually doing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353492)

Thank you! Reasonable position.

The problem is, everyone is completely misrepresenting the realities of fusion power. At best, with the likely help of a miracle, we MIGHT have fusion power inside of 200 years. Maybe. Just possibly, if LOTS of things go just right.

The thing is, what no one tells you about fusion power, to make it all happen actually requires something around 20 innovations of equal magnitude of simply reaching a breakeven point. All of these include basic things like actually being able to collect the generated power. And that comes after even being able to sustain the process. Hell, the reactors now, frequently require hours to WEEKS between experiments, with massive and expensive logistics. And to make something which can be sustained requires doing this tens to millions of times per second, depending on the technology. And that's still yet ignoring the massive advances in material sciences which are required. Right now, the materials required simply don't exist. Period.

Long story short, anyone who says we are less, at best, than hundred to hundred years away from fusion, are either completely ignorant of what's actually involved or completely lying.

Re:FTA: what they're actually doing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37354032)

Hey.... You're not allowed to bring facts and reason into an Energy Nutter story. You're only allowed to extrapolate wildly and talk about space elevators. There is no energy problem. Cars and suburbs (and "private space flights") are the birthright of every white North American man and will continue indefinitely. There is no problem. Oil is just this inconvenient stopgap. I don't even know why we still use it. We have computers now!

Re:FTA: what they're actually doing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353534)

..and produced for a tiny fraction of a second more power than the world was consuming."

Before or after the blackout?

Typo (1)

h4x0t (1245872) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352860)

Part of the problem has been that the technical ability to reach 'breakeven' — the point at which the same amount of energy is produced as is consumed

There. I fixed that for you.

Fusion research is good (4, Interesting)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352870)

There are now multiple different approaches to fusion research. Laser fusion looks promising although we don't have a really good understanding of how to efficiently extract energy from laser fusion. Magnetic containment fusion in the form of tokamaks is also still ongoing. There is an international group working now to build ITER which will be a very large tokamak which will be in France. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ITER [wikipedia.org] . There are other ideas out there but unfortunately many of the more interesting ones are not receiving much funding. Laser fusion confines the plasma and crushes it with brief intense laser pulses while tokamaks confine the plasma using a torus of electromagnets. However, stellarators use a different form of magnetic confinement and might end up working but they are getting almost no funding.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stellarator [wikipedia.org]

The idea that we are always 50 years from fusion seems to be unfair. We've gotten much better at handling the basics. We can now consistently get fusion to occur with a variety of methods. The primary problems are doing so efficiently enough to get more energy out than we are putting in. We've made slow but steady progress at improving efficiency through a variety of methods. The development of so-called high temperature superconductors (that is able to superconduct a bit over the temperature at which nitrogen boils) in the 1970s has helped a lot. And the engineering issues really are immense. We've also sort of been spoiled by the previous success with fission power. The United States pored a massive amount of funding and resources into fission research from the beginning of the Manhattan project until a bit after World War 2. If fusion power was treated the same way we might be able to develop it quickly also.

There's another aspect about this sort of thing that is good news. The United States is steadily eroding its scientific and exploratory capability. We've retired the shuttle with no replacement. In the 1990s we canceled the Superconducting Super Collider. As a result when the LHC came online the US lost a lot of particle physicists who went over to Europe. The US particle physics has been in a state of decline since then. Most recently, the US is closing down the Tevatron, http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/68988/title/Tevatron_to_shut_down_in_September [sciencenews.org] which is the star US particle accelerator. While the energy levels of the Tevatron are less than the LHC the types and variety of collisions it does are sufficiently different such that having both of them is very much not redundant. And, the James Webb Telescope might be getting canceled, so it looks like cutting edge astronomy is another area the US is giving up on. If I had just been told that there was a Slashdot headline about laser fusion in the US I would have guessed that it would have been funding cuts for the NIR. The fact that organizations from elsewhere are actually joining suggests that the decline in US science might not be as bad as a pessimist might think. It might be reversible.

Re:Fusion research is good (2)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353060)

Different approaches are good in the long run and no approach should be abandoned (it's all good data) but to make something viable in the short term, you've got to reduce the number of efforts so that the money and the people can be put into one or two of the methods. Get it working with either, commercially, then do the same on two other methods, and so on.

High pressure short-term spectaculars aren't great for the science but they ARE great for the PR and therefore the public interest (and money). Give a whole burst of spectaculars (as happened with Hubble) and the public will crave more (as happed with Hubble), ensuring funding will continue (as happened with Hubble).

Re:Fusion research is good (2)

PolygamousRanchKid (1290638) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353066)

The US particle physics has been in a state of decline since then.

The US particle physics has been in a state of decay since then.

There, fixed that for you. What other state should particle physics be in, instead of decay . . . ?

Re:Fusion research is good (1)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353158)

That's not entirely fair. Fission is pretty easy create energy from. Most of fission research seems to be in efficiency and safety.

Refining materials is a well understood engineering task. Refine some fissile material and put it in a brick oven and you're going to get heat!

The big reason for the delays (1)

jd (1658) | more than 2 years ago | (#37352980)

They keep adding new methods to the ones they want to try out. That's great, but when you have X amount of money divided by Y projects, you really want Y to be smaller rather than bigger.

Re:The big reason for the delays (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353334)

Really? I mean, typically having more approaches to solving a problem leads to a more rapid solution cycle. A combination of private and public research ensures that sufficient funding is applied. The payout of success is sufficient to garner a lot of IR&D dollars. Oh, and you're a simpleton.

Laser fusion = weapons research (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353036)

It's remotely plausible that this could eventually lead to commercial power generation, but still far less likely than even magnetic confinement fusion, which will be difficult enough to achieve as it is. Laser fusion projects get tons of funding for the simple reason that it allows us to recreate the conditions of a hydrogen bomb in the laboratory for the first time. Hence why anyone who works on NIF needs a Q clearance. I work in magnetic confinement fusion, and even when people from NIF give scientific talks on it, it's quite clear that the goal isn't commercial power generation. But, it is remotely possible, and hence the government can claim they're spending money on "energy research" when it's effectively just defense spending.

Thorium Reactors are What Fusion Wants To Be Now (4, Interesting)

RudyHartmann (1032120) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353276)

Fusion is probably going to take huge expensive and sophisticated facilities to produce an economically viable power reactor. To some point (not completely though) I think much of this has been just government works projects. On the other hand thorium nuclear reactors could be exploited for far less money and much quicker. Thorium is a fairly abundant element that does not have many of the negative properties which a plutonium or uranium based react would have. We have to do something to beef up the electrical grid. I read an article that said if 10% of the cars in the USA switched to electric, it would collapse the capacity of the grid. Besides, most electricity here is now generated by coal. Please look into the more promising technology of the liquid fluoride thorium reactor (LFTR). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LFTR [wikipedia.org] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AZR0UKxNPh8 [youtube.com] I'm not saying we should stop research on fusion, but we have to have a quickly viable alternative.

Re:Thorium Reactors are What Fusion Wants To Be No (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353912)

Absolutely right. We should be concentrating on LFTRs for a short to medium term solution.
Why? Well how about replacing those dirty coal fired power stations and also providing a MUCH safer nuclear reactor to those which should be decommissioned soon. It fixes your pesky CO2 problem (be you for or against AGW), has a greater abundance of fuel compared to Uranium (and Plutonium) fueled reactors. It's harder to make weapons grade nuclear material from than current designs (that's where they came from), and is far more efficient in its use of the fuel. Imagine being able to solve the Iranian nuclear problem by giving them LFTR, rather than a 30 year old Russian Uranium reactor design.

Million Pellets a day (2)

im_thatoneguy (819432) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353306)

Both Hiper and Life, a similar effort at Nif, estimate that a functioning laser power plant would need to cycle through more than 10 fuel pellets each second - a million each day.

Out of curiosity do we have any plans on how to precisely feed and align a pellet into an, I assume submerged, reaction chamber to heat water/steam?

That seems like an engineering challenge on the same order of difficult as the laser etc.

Would it be like belt fed? I assume it would need to position and clear the firing target in about 10ms.

That also seems like a recipe for a maintenance nightmare. Are there any similar machines in other industries?

You have hit the crux of it (1)

Kupfernigk (1190345) | more than 2 years ago | (#37354252)

Scientific American examined the argument a year or so ago. It is an engineering challenge even worse than magnetic containment in a Tokamak-style approach.

It isn't just about laser fusion! (1)

MarkvW (1037596) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353362)

Put a whole bunch of smart and dedicated people together on the same project and they will work their ass off to solve that project. Along the way, they will develop (or spin off for development) a slew of other fantastic ideas.

Support the creative stew!

Good News, Everyone! (0)

ThatsNotPudding (1045640) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353406)

Nuclear Fusion is now only twenty years away!!

Don't kid yourself, NIF is a weapons project (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353472)

The US doesn't do atmospheric or underground nuclear weapons tests anymore, but there is a lot of research that needs to be done in the realm of "stockpile stewardship" that can be done with a system like NIF. LIFE is a nice PR fluff-piece so that we can all talk about fusion energy... but make no mistake: NIF was conceived as a project for the US weapons community, by the US weapons community, and employs a large segment of the US weapons community. The British AWE (Atomic Weapons Establishment) has some very smart people with similar interests to the folks at LLNL... but they put their interests right in their organization's name.

Re:Don't kid yourself, NIF is a weapons project (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37353556)

THANK YOU. It's rare to see someone with actual facts on Slashdot, even rarer in an Energy Nutter story. If they were serious, they'd work with ITER.

"joins" ... "Fusion" (1)

Anomalyst (742352) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353564)

I see what you did there

Why always hydrogen? (1)

lazn (202878) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353696)

I am sure there is a good reason, but why are we always fusing hydrogen? Why not heavier, easier to grab - move - focus elements? Like fusing Iron or something, it'll turn into something higher up the elements ladder. Because we can shuffle iron about with magnets quite easily, compared to hydrogen that isn't magnetic. Just some very fine iron dust into the big magnet thingy and hit it with all that pressure. Or if not Iron, something else.. Why always hydrogen?

Re:Why always hydrogen? (1)

JoshuaZ (1134087) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353850)

You can fuse iron but you will have to put in more energy than you get out. Elements around iron and nickel are the most efficient way of storing protons and neutrons. So if you have larger elements like uranium you can get energy out by breaking them down. If you have really small elements you can get energy out by forming them into elements closer in size to iron. Moreover, fusing gets more difficult when you have larger elements because there are more protons in the nucleus so the strength of the positive charge repelling the nuclei from each other gets stronger. This is also why stars eventually die out. At first they fuse hydrogen (which is easy to fuse and gets a lot of energy out). Then when that no longer works they start fusing helium and so on. This whole process can keep going until you get to heavy elements (although small stars stop before iron because they can't enough pressure to fuse much beyond helium). When they get to iron and nickel they are stuck. Then, if the star is big enough, this lack of fusion causes the star to go supernova which results in its own very brief set of fusion of really heavy elements (which is where elements like uranium come from). This process consumes energy but there's so much energy in a supernova that the energy consumed in this process is tiny compared to the output of the supernova itself.

Re:Why always hydrogen? (1)

robinsonne (952701) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353972)

Because the heavier the element being fused, the more energy it takes to actually fuse them together.

Re:Why always hydrogen? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37354192)

Because hydrogen is the easiest to work with. Heavier elements require higher temperatures to fuse. A dying star is getting hotter because it has run out of hydrogen and is burning heavier elements. Heavier elements than iron will only occur if the star goes supernova. Those temperatures is not what we want to start off with.

A/C

AWE - as in shock and... (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | more than 2 years ago | (#37353764)

AWE is the Atomic Weopons Establishment. They're interested in fusion all right.

But maybe not the kind you want in your neighborhood.

Hey, NIF fanboys - it's a military project. They want make BIG BOOM not nice electricity.

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