×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Laser Fusion Put On a Slow Burn By US Government

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the world-shark-shortage-has-cost-us dept.

Power 143

gbrumfiel writes "Those hoping to laser their way out of the energy crisis will have to wait a little longer. The U.S. government has unveiled its new plan for laser fusion, and it's not going to happen anytime soon. It all comes down to problems at the National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world's most powerful laser at Lawrence Livermore Lab in California. For the past six years researchers at NIF have been trying to use the laser to spark a fusion reaction in a tiny pellet of hydrogen fuel. Like all fusion, it's tougher than it looks, and their campaign came up short. That left Congress a little bit miffed, so they asked for a new plan. The new plan calls for a more methodical study of fusion, along with a broader approach to achieving it with the NIF. In three years or so, they should know whether the NIF will ever work."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

143 comments

Another lie about the NIF (1, Troll)

Eunuchswear (210685) | about a year ago | (#42254741)

It is not about fusion power.

It is about bombs.

Re:Another lie about the NIF (5, Insightful)

rubycodez (864176) | about a year ago | (#42254793)

what lie? the lab and government make no secret work done there in both fields, controlled fusion and thermonuclear bomb research.

Re:Another lie about the NIF (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255199)

Well, actually its mostly about having fun burning shit with huge lasers, no bombs involved

Re:Another lie about the NIF (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | about a year ago | (#42258175)

what lie? the lab and government make no secret work done there in both fields, controlled fusion and thermonuclear bomb research.

I didn't mean the government was lying, I meant that gbrumfiel (like many NIF fanboys) was lying. He said:

Those hoping to laser their way out of the energy crisis will have to wait a little longer.

Anyone waiting for the NIF to help us out the "energy crisis" will wait for hell to freeze over.

Re:Another lie about the NIF (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42254807)

Unfortunately, all power research directly correlates to war.

Solar, wind and electric cars led to more efficient batteries which led to UAVs.

Nuclear Bombs and nuclear power plants.

Fusion power and fusion bombs.

There's no getting around it, energy = destructive force. Instead, we should be focusing on retaking democracy and reigning in our leaders.

Re:Another lie about the NIF (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255061)

All thermonuclear weapons are fusion bombs. They have been built since the late 50s. The designs have been refined, but we don't need to research much there. The bombs we have are powerful enough for all intents and purposes.

Re:Another lie about the NIF (3, Informative)

kestasjk (933987) | about a year ago | (#42255541)

It's not about increasing the power of new bombs, it's about increasing their reliability / taking care of old bombs without needing to do nuclear tests.

Re:Another lie about the NIF (1)

Friggo (765910) | about a year ago | (#42258505)

The fusion bombs are not really fusion bombs at all. They use fusion, yes, but the majority of the explosive power still comes from fission. The fusion part is only there to increase the amount of neutrons available to increase the efficiency of the fission.

Re:Another lie about the NIF (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | about a year ago | (#42258227)

Solar, wind and electric cars led to more efficient batteries which led to UAVs.

Huh? Why does a UAV need more efficient batteries? The Predator has a 4 stroke Rotax ICE engine. The Reaper has a turboprop. Neither of 'em run on batteries.

Re:Another lie about the NIF (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42254845)

What lie. It's says so right in the article.

The NIF's main mission is to gather laboratory data on the process to help weapons scientists to care for the ageing US nuclear stockpile.

You're not in on a secret. We all know what the National Labs are for.

Re:Another lie about the NIF (4, Funny)

PPH (736903) | about a year ago | (#42255567)

What lie. It's says so right in the article.

You read the article? Security breach!

Re:Another lie about the NIF (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42254887)

He's discovered our secret! I demand the President immediately declare war on these terrorists that read the article!

Re:Another lie about the NIF (4, Informative)

mbkennel (97636) | about a year ago | (#42255101)

Please uprate previous comment. It is not a troll. The NIF project is funded primarily by the NNSA, the part of the Department of Energy which deals with the science & engineering of nuclear weapons. The DoE does not dispute this, it just likes to de-emphasize the reality of the primacy of the weapons effort.

The design of the experiment and system matches the thermonuclear secondaries for weapons. Contrary to some people's belief, the nuclear physics is not difficult---it is the fluid mechanics and radiation transfer in extreme conditions which is the scientifically difficult part. (Radiation-driven secondaries are much much more difficult than fission primaries).

The primary purpose of the NIF is to gain experimental data to calibrate the simulation codes for nuclear weapons engineering & reliability in the absence of nuclear weapons testing.

There is a small energy related research project, but it is very very very far from practicality. There is little attention to actual engineering issues, compared to say ITER (magnetic confinement fusion) project, which is pretty heavily focused on engineering practicalities. Lasers are horribly inefficient energy transfer if you care about power breakeven but much better for making clean data for weapons code calibration. Most of the funded experimental runs will be for weapons, not energy research.

In any case, neither inertial confinement nor magnetic confinement fusion will be used as a power source with customers for at least 60-100 years.

We already know how to make nuclear reactors---and if we are not funding and churning out high-quality modular fission reactors now, it's foolish to think about fusion.

As much as I hate cutting science budgets (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42254757)

Its never going to be useful for generating energy and we already have as powerful nuclear weapons as we likely need.

Re:As much as I hate cutting science budgets (1)

lister king of smeg (2481612) | about a year ago | (#42254857)

until we can blow up the sun at will military minds will keep wanting bigger bombs let them keep developing though lots of our current civilian tech is derived from military research. Besides if they don't pour it into research they will look for places to spend it, or rather places to blow up.

Re:As much as I hate cutting science budgets (1)

Beardo the Bearded (321478) | about a year ago | (#42254913)

until we can blow up the sun at will military minds will keep wanting bigger bombs let them keep developing though lots of our current civilian tech is derived from military research. Besides if they don't pour it into research they will look for places to spend it, or rather places to blow up.

every sun.

POLYWELL, FOCUS FUSION (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42254993)

I think you could probably pay for a year's worth of Polywell or Focus Fusion research with just the budget for coffeebreaks at the NIF

Re:POLYWELL, FOCUS FUSION (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255075)

I think you could probably pay for a year's worth of Polywell or Focus Fusion research with just the budget for coffeebreaks at the NIF

But you will get more scientific results out of the coffee breaks at NIF that you will out of Polywell. Polywell are very good reasons why the scientific community isn't wasting their time with it beyond using it as a cheap neutron source.

http://link.aip.org/link/doi/10.1063/1.860805
http://link.aip.org/link/doi/10.1063/1.871080

And before you complain about a paywall, they have these things called libraries where you can get copies of these articles for free.

Money better allocated to Thorium research (2)

gestalt_n_pepper (991155) | about a year ago | (#42254773)

Fusion is nifty, but Thorium has already been done (and is being done overseas). It's more likely to yield results in the short to medium term.

Re:Money better allocated to Thorium research (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42254853)

Fusion is nifty, but Thorium has already been done (and is being done overseas).

Then it doesn't need research.

Re:Money better allocated to Thorium research (1)

YesDinosaursDidExist (1268920) | about a year ago | (#42255213)

+1 for India and there working Thorium reactor!

Re:Money better allocated to Thorium research (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255339)

You realize there have been "working" thorium-based breeder reactors since like, the 60's right?

They're just not the wonder technology that everyone on the internet seems to think they are.

Re:Money better allocated to Thorium research (1)

hrvatska (790627) | about a year ago | (#42255661)

India has a working commercial thorium reactor?

Re:Money better allocated to Thorium research (1)

dbIII (701233) | about a year ago | (#42258125)

I suppose they are working on making commercial thorium reactors, which of course is not the same thing, but nuclear fanboys tend to mix up proposed concepts and physical reality and use it for a bait and switch.
The accelerated thorium stuff does appear that it will be vastly superior to an AP1000 (first one finishing construction soon I hear) or any existing reactor. When the first research reactor of this type is built we'll know a bit more (eg. plutonium fast breeders sounded like hot shit in 1968 when it looked like the world supply of Uranium was going to run out and when many of the problems with the concept were unknown - in later years they didn't sound so good and were eventually found to be an expensive dead end in a world with a huge supply of available Uranium).

Re:Money better allocated to Thorium research (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#42256317)

+1 for India and there working Thorium reactor!

+1 for India and there (sic) not yet working Thorium reactor!

That's more like it.

Thorium research not needed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255439)

And Uranium has been done too. Uranium is also easier to acquire, we already have stockpiles of it. It does not require fast neutron reactors to work, but it could use fast neutron reactors too - you know, most of the "waste" problem goes away using fast neutron reactors.

Anyway, thorium is only useful if you have lots of thorium and little uranium. Like India. That is the only reason to use thorium over uranium.

Thorium is no safer than uranium. You can use the same reactor design for uranium as you do for thorium. You can just as easily cause a meltdown in thorium reactor. You can just as easily temporarily pollute large areas of land with daughter nuclei with a thorium reactor as you do with uranium. Thorium is no safer than uranium. It is the same process!! Heck, some current uranium reactors can burn thorium too.

http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/ENF-Thorium_use_in_Candu_units_to_be_assessed-1507095.html [world-nuclear-news.org]

More research is needed for fast neutron reactors, but that is irrespective of using thorium as fuel.

Re:Thorium research not needed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255647)

And you can just as easily weaponize Thorium? Since that seems to be the primary fear of uranium reactors.

ITER (1)

grumpyman (849537) | about a year ago | (#42254797)

Re:ITER (1)

golodh (893453) | about a year ago | (#42254917)

Most of us here already knew about ITER, thanks. A little more development of your thoughts (if any) would assist at this point.

What might have escaped you is that ITER, while it does a good job of covering the Tokamak approach, still isn't *guaranteed* to succeed. Or to succeed *quicker* than inertial confinement fusion (shooting lasers at pellets).

That's why it makes sense to hedge our bets with the laser approach at the NIF.

good riddance to NIF and ITER (1, Interesting)

rubycodez (864176) | about a year ago | (#42254811)

only Sandia's z-pinch machine and the polywell are looking even remotely promising anyway. ITER is a toilet for flushing down money

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42254875)

Consider it a form of stimulus, providing much needed jobs for overeducated assholes who are too good to work in the service industry.

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42254905)

I'm sorry, you've received your PhD in plasma physics where exactly?

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255255)

Appeal to authority. One does not require a PhD in plasma physics to draw an informed conclusion on the credibility of a working group's promise to deliver results. When multiple working groups fail to succeed using a specific approach, sufficient data exists to form an opinion about the feasibility of that approach, regardless of variations & twists on the concept.

This appears to be the case for several approaches to nuclear.

A PhD may provide credibility to speculate on the possibility of an approach, but a cursory introduction to the history of successes and failures is more than adequate information to allocate resources based upon. It doesn't have to be impossible to provide a poor ROI.

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255281)

One does not require a PhD in plasma physics to draw an informed conclusion on the credibility of a working group's promise to deliver results.

Yes it does.

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255411)

Yet, not only did you dismiss (so far) failed approaches, you have decided z-pinch and polywell are promising -- things that are completely new. So if you don't have a PhD, then you shouldn't be labeling things as 'promising' because you don't know WTF you are talking about.

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about a year ago | (#42255675)

Appealing to authority is only fallacious if you ask questions outside their field of authority.

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about a year ago | (#42255755)

One does not require a PhD in plasma physics to draw an informed conclusion on the credibility of a working group's promise to deliver results. When multiple working groups fail to succeed using a specific approach, sufficient data exists to form an opinion about the feasibility of that approach, regardless of variations & twists on the concept.

Does your "sufficient data" includes repeated funding cuts that said groups have suffered during the period, and which have (obviously) not being accounted for in the original plan for deliverables?

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42256167)

A PhD may provide credibility to speculate on the possibility of an approach, but a cursory introduction to the history of successes and failures is more than adequate information to allocate resources based upon.

Technically, no, you don't need a PhD to do those things... but it seems like the people without a PhD haven't spent that much time actually looking at the history and details (you do need something more than cursory). Maybe the original poster then would have seen how similar polywell development work has been to other designs that are considered failed... although honesty, they don't publish enough information about it to judge how well it would work (although there is plenty of unaddressed criticism of the design...). Or maybe they would see that while various z-pinch designs still have a long ways to go, even if they look pretty good now. Or see that while progress has been slow with tokamaks, it has been pretty steady with not many issues that wouldn't also apply to many other designs too. Or maybe they would respond to laser based fusion by looking at more than just NIF, including previous and upcoming future experiments, as it wasn't just a side project of a weapons program.

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255183)

Good riddance to ITER? ITER was funded without the US initially and it will continue to be funded without the US. Enjoy buying your Fusion reactors from the EU and Japan in 30 years.

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (1)

Fyzzler (1058716) | about a year ago | (#42256759)

Good riddance to ITER? ITER was funded without the US initially and it will continue to be funded without the US. Enjoy buying your Fusion reactors from the EU and Japan in 50 years.

FTFY

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255283)

oh yah, here come the Bussard polywell loonies!

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255315)

I was under the impression that NIF already had fused something, 15years ago it sounded like it was a trivial thing. Altough ITER may be very expensive it seems like a viable path to take as JET has already shown proof of the concept.

I dont know about the examples you give, but i cant find much about actual achievements.You have some info?

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (1)

Khashishi (775369) | about a year ago | (#42255773)

Fusion is relatively easy. Ignition, on the other hand, is hard. Ignition is a controlled burn, where the heat released from fusion is used to trigger fusion in more fuel. In the case of ICF, this might mean triggering fusion in a hot spot and having a burn wave encompass the entire fuel pellet, so the entire fuel pellet is consumed with a much lower amount of input energy. This is important to actually producing fusion energy.

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (1)

Areyoukiddingme (1289470) | about a year ago | (#42255901)

I dont know about the examples you give, but i cant find much about actual achievements.You have some info?

Dunno about the z-pinch, but the Bussard polywell prototypes allegedly generated some neutrons. The physics seems to be valid. The problem, as usual, is the engineering. Specifically, scaling it up. The US Navy was funding polywell research as a sort of "what if it works" deal, since it looked like it could replace nuclear fission ship propulsion, saving them a LOT of trouble and expense, but Dr. Bussard (unfortunately) has died. His research group is still around, but the Navy was pulling funding, last I heard, so the engineering development work is unlikely to happen for the foreseeable future.

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (1)

drgould (24404) | about a year ago | (#42255969)

His research group is still around, but the Navy was pulling funding, last I heard,

According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

As of August 15, 2012, the Navy had agreed to fund EMC2 with an additional $5.3 million over 2 years to work on the problem of pumping electrons into the whiffleball. They plan to integrate a pulsed power supply to support the electron guns (100+A, 10kV). WB-8 has been operating at 0.8 Tesla. The review of the work produced the recommendations to continue and expand the effort, stating: "The experimental results to date were consistent with the underlying theoretical framework of the Polywell fusion concept and, in the opinion of the committee, merited continuation and expansion."

Which I think is encouraging.

An issue with Navy funding. (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | about a year ago | (#42256077)

One issue with Navy funding is that they embargo the results until after the review of the final report of each stage of the work. That means the workers can't talk about how things are doing and you get a short burst of news every year or two. B-b

Last I heard of the plan the next step after WB-8 (and maybe another small model with a different symmetry), if the scaling rules worked out in practice, was to be a beyond-breakeven proof-of-concept machine with 100 MW output, for about $200M - which, if it could run continuously for little ongoing cost, would be cheaper than a solar panel farm (which only gets about 5 hour-equivalents of the panel rating per day). I was hoping that the end-of-2012 news would be that WB-8 had worked as expected and they were going ahead with the real thing. So I was both elated and disappointed at the news that things seemed to be working as expected but that they were going to spend a couple more years doing engineering and science with WB-8.

Re:An issue with Navy funding. (1)

drgould (24404) | about a year ago | (#42256973)

So I was both elated and disappointed at the news that things seemed to be working as expected but that they were going to spend a couple more years doing engineering and science with WB-8.

On the bright side, in today's economy, maybe it's better for the Navy to scape together $5M and limp along than fund the full $200M and risk being cut out of the budget altogether.

Moreover, the basic principles of the Polywell are established. Maybe we'll hear about the first working full-scale prototype out of China or India or even Iran [wikipedia.org]!

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42256071)

he Bussard polywell prototypes allegedly generated some neutrons. ... Specifically, scaling it up.

Fusor designs more primitive than the polywell have been able to generate neutrons for fifty years. What you just described sums up pretty much every fusion idea: it is easy to build a tabletop version, really easy to get some neutrons, but then there are big issues with scaling it up. It all comes down to whether new instabilities and limits appear as you increase the size and power, and working out the scaling. Pretty much every generation of things like tokamaks and other designs are testing this, finding new limits and new ways around them. (The designs that say they can scale from tabletop to reactor in a couple years seem to either be excessively optimistic or simply not familiar with the history of the field...).

Re:good riddance to NIF and ITER (1)

ultranova (717540) | about a year ago | (#42258517)

ITER is a toilet for flushing down money

All fusion research is a toilet for flushing down money. Even if they produced a working and cheap reactor tomorrow, it still couldn't be used because it's still nuclear. Greenpeace [greenpeace.org], for example, has outright stated that they'll oppose fusion because it's nuclear. The opposition to nuclear power is ideological, thus fusion will not help.

stop using the word miffed (3, Insightful)

Twillerror (536681) | about a year ago | (#42254877)

Besides being an ugly word it is imposing a sort of emotional response to something that is more practical and dare scientific.

At the end of the day we have created fusion. Most of it came through bombs, but from a scientific standpoint we know about fusion.

This is about creating a clean, reliable, cost effective energy solution.

There should not be hard feelings or even a feeling of failure. The idea was sound enough to look into. Maybe it's just not practical. No use throwing good money after bad or crying over spilled milk.

Re:stop using the word miffed (4, Insightful)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about a year ago | (#42255025)

If we're suggesting words to stop using, I would like to nominate "boffin". A "boffin" is the term that a British journalist, apparently unable to distinguish an astronomer from a geologist, uses to describe someone who uses their brain in their job (as opposed to a British journalist).

Re:stop using the word miffed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255203)

Seconded!

Worse than that, when I hear people talking about Boffins, I always have this distant image of Tolkien's dwarfs in my mind, Bifur, Boffin, Bofur, Balin, ... it makes me think of someone who's about to sit down and start singing about gold.

Re:stop using the word miffed (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about a year ago | (#42257723)

If we're suggesting words to stop using, I would like to nominate "boffin". A "boffin" is the term that a British journalist, apparently unable to distinguish an astronomer from a geologist, uses to describe someone who uses their brain in their job (as opposed to a British journalist).

He says, on a site billed as "News for Nerds." Like it or not, astronomers and geologists (and scientists of all kinds) have a lot more in common professionally with each other than they do with journalists, or politicians, or anyone outside the field; having a word that covers that particular group of people seems reasonable enough.

Re:stop using the word miffed (3, Interesting)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about a year ago | (#42255167)

"This is about creating a clean, reliable, cost effective energy solution."

We already have those, and they actually work and generate profits.

This doesn't work, possibly won't ever work, and can't possibly be profitable.

John Nuckolls, the guy that pretty much single-handedly drove ICF research through LLNL, was presented with this problem when the concept was first seriously presented in the early 1960s. At the time he thought the fuel loads could be sprayed from an atomizer and costs fractions of a cent. The next 50 years of experimentation conclusively demonstrated this is *simply not possible*. Not "it's an engineering problem", but "not possible". Curing the Rayleigh instabilities requires target perfection that costs thousands of dollars a shot. And those shots can only ever return pennies worth of power.

Do the math yourself. And when you do, compare it to current wind prices at 5 to 6 cents/kWh, solar around 10 to 15, or hydro at 1 to 2. There's more than enough of those three to produce every erg used on the planet, and they actually work, right now.

Re:stop using the word miffed (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255429)

Hydro isn't available in most places. How do you want to maintain power on those weeks that are overcast and windless? I don't know how to avoid the need to have capacity from nuclear and fossil fuels to meet 100% of demand for those weeks.

Re:stop using the word miffed (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42258129)

So what you're saying is that we already know everything, and there is nothing left to discover or improve?

"Not possible" has been proved wrong again and again over the centuries, by scientists and engineers, in any number of fields.

Re:stop using the word miffed (1)

Guppy06 (410832) | about a year ago | (#42257421)

Besides being an ugly word it is imposing a sort of emotional response to something that is more practical and dare scientific.

And as we all know Congress, the miffed party in question, is all about the science [slashdot.org].

Re:stop using the word miffed (0)

stenvar (2789879) | about a year ago | (#42257683)

This is about creating a clean, reliable, cost effective energy solution.

Fusion is no cleaner than fission.

Re:stop using the word miffed (1)

Daniel Dvorkin (106857) | about a year ago | (#42257697)

You do realize that the word "miffed" in TFS refers to politicians, right? And they're not particularly known for being "practical and dare [sic] scientific."

In three years (1)

relikx (1266746) | about a year ago | (#42254879)

they'll be able to report that fusion technology is in fact merely 20 years away. I think I'll wait to make that reservation in 2036, however.

They are doing it all wrong. (1)

adius (613006) | about a year ago | (#42254899)

You need to contain the H fusion reaction in a metallic lattice. This is how the Sun really works,...the accretion model.

Dammit! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42254903)

I just got cold fusion working outback in the garage and now they leapfrog my achievement with this?

Oh well. I guess I'll have too throw it out.

Back to the drawing board.

Dont worry some other country will. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42254951)

Figure it out and get the patents and then we can buy our electricity from them like we do oil now.

Again? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255009)

Another one of those things that is always 20 years in the future.

Fusion future (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255033)

If you want to get an understanding of the state of fusion research, you need to look at this graph [imgur.com]. Fusion power is not unreasonable, nor even very far out of reach. This interview is good reading as well [slashdot.org].

If we want to get serious about global warming, we could do worse than funding more fusion research.

Re:Fusion future (3, Insightful)

mbkennel (97636) | about a year ago | (#42255149)

If we want to get serious about global warming, we have to make mining and burning coal a capital offense, and shut down every mine and plant with the urgency of eliminating the slave trade.

Instead, even eco-minded Germany is ramping up coal production and consumption because they started shutting down their reactors. There is a *new* 2200 MW coal burning plant in Germany. They foolishly believe that the competition is between nuclear and wind, and prefer wind (I do, but it's not remotely enough), and find that when actual joules have to be counted to keep the lights going, the coal gets burned.

Re:Fusion future (4, Insightful)

Eskarel (565631) | about a year ago | (#42256331)

That's a great plan if you want to kill just about as many people as global warming will(possibly more).

Fundamentally the survival of modern humanity is dependent on our access to energy. With access to sufficient energy we an survive most anything(including a 5 degree temperature rise, heck we even know how to destroy nuclear waste if we have enough energy to do it), without it, we're pretty well boned. Now I'd love to see coal phased out as soon as is humanly possible, but in a world where nuclear is off the table in most places and base load renewable energy is still unproven as far as I'm aware, we don't have that luxury. What we need is something which can replace coal without forcing us to drastically reduce either the reliability or supply of electricity. All indications are that fusion might be the energy holy grail, and we're going to need one.

Re:Fusion future (1)

funwithBSD (245349) | about a year ago | (#42257985)

Hey, it would be a two-fer, reduced output from coal, and reduced output from less humans.

We need to cull 3 to 6 billion anyway, so how effective will his oversimplified solution be, and can we sequester their carbon in a coal mine? /sarcasm

I really don't see how that graph is credible (1)

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) | about a year ago | (#42257249)

I looked at your graph, and the only message it conveys is that someone pulled the idea out of their rear that if we spent more money on fusion research we'd get somewhere, and invented numbers for the investment required and when results would be achieved.

I mean, those curves? They look like a kid scribbling with crayon. There's no iron-clad guarantee that *any* level of investment will lead to a practical fusion reactor. The only serious notion to be derived from that plot is that current US investment levels are insufficient to get anywhere.

And even if we DO achieve a fusion reactor that produces net energy, it may cost more in capital to build the plant than you can pay for by selling the power produced. I.e., it'd be cheaper to build solar plants + energy storage than the fusion plant.

--PM

Re:I really don't see how that graph is credible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42258367)

The cited paper details where the numbers are from and what assumptions were made. A PDF of the report can be found online: Fusion power by magnetic confinement: Program plan [slashdot.org]. I do not have the knowledge to determine if the assumptions in that report have been found to be valid, invalid, or still untested. As you say, the main take-away from the graph is that the US isn't seriously trying to develop fusion power. There's no way to know for sure that the research would have been successful even if it were fully funded, as is the nature of research.

Wait, what? (1)

amicusNYCL (1538833) | about a year ago | (#42255035)

For the past six years researchers at NIF have been trying to use the laser to spark a fusion reaction in a tiny pellet of hydrogen fuel.

When you say "tiny", what exactly are you comparing that to? Is the fusion reaction also "tiny"?

Re:Wait, what? (3, Interesting)

Dr. Eggman (932300) | about a year ago | (#42255393)

Tiny compared to most things on day-to-day human scales. Here's an image [wikipedia.org] of the pellet.

As for the reaction itself (and I probably have this wrong, so please correct me if you discover so) it would, best-case, generate 100-150 MJ, but I read the target chamber's design only allows for 45 MJ (realistic expectations, I suppose?) That amounts to 11 kg of TNT (yes this is all paraphrased from Wikipedia.) Certainly tiny by the standards of fusion/fission, but quite huge considering the pellet above.

This might not seem like much, but it is a demonstrative design. Going for designs that would produce a practical commercial system at appreciable outputs would have been astronomically more expensive. Better to prove the concept first. Still more, this is a dual purpose facility; it's primary objective is stockpile stewardship. The potential for fusion research for commercial purposes is just added value.

Pointless anyway (1, Interesting)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about a year ago | (#42255107)

Fusion is not going to happen. Ever.

http://matter2energy.wordpress.com/2012/10/26/why-fusion-will-never-happen/

In this case I can get more specific:

The NIF is physically limited to shots up to about 50 MJ. To put that in more familiar terms, that's about 14 kWh.

At current baseload prices here in Ontario, about 3.5 cents/kWh, that shot is worth about 50 cents. That's assuming that we convert it entire to electricity, which is of course impossible. A more realistic conversion with 25% thermal efficiency gets us 15 cents of power.

The fuel target costs tens of thousands of dollars.

$10,000 >> 15 cents

Anyone see a problem here? And don't wave this away, we literally have absolutely no idea how to make the fuel cost less than the power is worth. None whatsoever.

And that's not the only one, of course. The beamlines feed about 1.8 MJ of UV laser light into the chamber. That is generated from 4 MJ of IR in the main beamlines. That's fed from 350 MJ of electrical power. To get 50 MJ out.

350 MJ >> 50 MJ >> 15 MJ of electricity after conversion

So there's that too. At current efficiencies, you're better off burning money.

We have some febrile ideas about how to get this improved by a factor of 10, or maybe even 100. But that's still *below* energy break even. And we don't need break even for this to be practical, we need 10 to 100x.

This is never going to happen. It's a weapons program, always was. Testing we don't need for a weapon we don't want.

Re:Pointless anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255361)

Except the beam only needs to be fired to start the reaction.

not true. (1)

mbkennel (97636) | about a year ago | (#42255585)

No, the compression beams need to be fired for every shot, which produces a finite and fairly small amount of energy.

Fission will always be easier than fusion, because neutrons are uncharged and aren't repelled by a nucleus.

temporary earmark program (2)

slew (2918) | about a year ago | (#42255417)

Although the funding and research at the NIF is no doubt aimed towards weapons research, its recent detour to support the National Ignition Campaign was basically a pork barrel project designed to channel federal stimulus money into california. For example, this earmark [washingtonwatch.com] among others. The funding was sold to other congressfolk as them voting for an alternative energy research program, and now that the results of the campaign have been spotlighted as a failure, they of course are wondering what they voted for.

I'm sure that makes another round of earmarks unlikely and now that the stimulus spending spree is over, the NIF will of course return back to be to its previous pork-barrel life as a weapons research money pit.

Re:Pointless anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255507)

At current baseload prices here in Ontario, about 3.5 cents/kWh, that shot is worth about 50 cents. That's assuming that we convert it entire to electricity, which is of course impossible. A more realistic conversion with 25% thermal efficiency gets us 15 cents of power.

The fuel target costs tens of thousands of dollars.

$10,000 >> 15 cents

Anyone see a problem here? And don't wave this away, we literally have absolutely no idea how to make the fuel cost less than the power is worth. None whatsoever.

Eh? The laser is used to initiate the reaction not as a source of energy for conversion to electricity.

Re:Pointless anyway (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255855)

>We have some febrile ideas about how to get this improved by a factor of 10, or maybe even 100. But that's still *below* energy break even. And we don't need break even for this to be practical, we need 10 to 100x. ... problem solved?

Re:Pointless anyway (2)

EdZ (755139) | about a year ago | (#42256241)

What, did you think NIF was actually going to be producing power? I assume you also class JET [wikipedia.org] as a total failure for not producing cost-effective energy, then.

And that 'fusion will never happen' article cold be summed up as "D-T fusion is the easiest so is used in research reactors, and so must also be used in commercial reactors, and it has a bunch of problems in tokamaks, so fusion will never happen", happily ignoring a-neutronic fusion entirely, as well as other forms of confinement than purely magnetic.

Practical aneutronic fusion is likely impossible (3, Insightful)

PeterM from Berkeley (15510) | about a year ago | (#42257133)

Hello, I'm sorry to say this, but aneutronic fusion is probably never going to be a practical energy source.

There's a reason D-T fusion is the focus. One problem is that all the aneutronic fusion reactions involve higher-Z (higher atomic number) nuclei. Higher Z nuclei have worse energy loss via Bremsstrahlung radiation than the D-T or D-D reactions. In a plasma hot enough to sustain fusion reactions, the electrons and ions are banging against each other, and every hit potentially makes X-rays or gamma rays, converting thermal energy into light. In a reasonable-sized thermal plasma, these photons pretty much just leave without interacting again, thus cooling the plasma.

People have calculated that the energy loss rate from Bremsstrahlung in a thermal plasma composed of atoms capable of doing aneutronic fusion would exceed the rate that the fusion reactions would heat it. Thus, the plasma would cool right off, the flame would in effect "go out" because it would lose heat faster than it created heat via fusion.

In a star, this works out, because a star is so very, very big that the photons from Bremsstrahlung are re-captured within the star: i.e., the heat can't escape because of sheer mass in the way. We're never going to pull that size and density off in a lab or an engineering installation.

Now, if you can somehow arrange for the plasma to NOT be thermal, you may be able to beat this issue. However, keeping a plasma from thermalizing requires a large energy input, and is very hard to arrange for and preserve long enough to get energy from fusions. Inertial confinement might work (laser or Z-pinch or the like), there you potentially have very high densities for maybe "long enough" for Bremsstrahlung not to eat your lunch: I don't know. However, both laser and Z-type installations seem very hard engineering problems.

The wikipedia on "aneutronic fusion" discusses these issues some as well.

Anyway, that's one reason most are happily ignoring aneutronic fusion entirely. Another is that much higher temperatures are required for the aneutronic fusion reactions, and we haven't even got D-T going yet and that is the lowest temperature fusion reaction. D-T is where I would put my money, too, given the results of the physics calculations.

--PM

Re:Pointless anyway (2)

Eskarel (565631) | about a year ago | (#42256357)

Fusion is fundamentally possible. We know this because solar, wind, wave, and for that matter pretty damned near every other energy source we have was originally generated by the gigantic fusion reactor we call the Sun. There's still some question as to whether we can manage sustainable fusion, and some even bigger questions about this particular methodology, but the payoff if we succeed is pretty damned massive.

If after 100000 tries... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255147)

If, after 40 years and 100,000 tries you still aren't making substantial progress, then you are doing something wrong. You need to step back and re-think. Its not like 'we came so close, then they shut us down: after tunnelling for 40 years we made steady measurable progress, solving problem after problem, and 3 feet short of the gold mine, they shut us down'. Nope, its not that at all. They have been battering away at the problem for 40 years, trying thing after thing. 40 years of swings and misses. 40 years of 'very substantial' funding. 40 years of unfulfilled promises. You could fund *A LOT* of other alternative energy sources with 40 years of funding. You could *buy* a lot of alternative energy sources with 40 years of funding. It seems that their approach has been less of 'surgical strike' and more 'hope for the best'. Don't get me wrong. 40 years worth of learning what not to do is important, but its like searching in the Antarctic for where the Titanic went down (if you didn't know where it was). Sure its 'searching the seas', but having a good rough idea of where to start looking is better than 'somewhere in the ocean' and searching for decades.

the only long term solution is solar (1, Insightful)

alienzed (732782) | about a year ago | (#42255181)

It's where 99.9% of the energy on this planet has come from and where 99.9% will ever come from. Sooner or later it's going to have to be our primary source.

Re:the only long term solution is solar (4, Funny)

twistofsin (718250) | about a year ago | (#42255341)

It's where 99.9% of the energy on this planet has come from and where 99.9% will ever come from. Sooner or later it's going to have to be our primary source.

So what your saying is the future lies in fusion?

Re:the only long term solution is solar (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#42255467)

I intended to write a long and insightful response, but a cloud is just about to cover the sun so I need to end this before I lose pow

Re:the only long term solution is solar (1)

shutdown -p now (807394) | about a year ago | (#42255771)

and where 99.9% will ever come from.

And you know that how exactly?

You do realize that Sun is a humongous fusion reactor, by the way?

Re:the only long term solution is solar (1)

ultranova (717540) | about a year ago | (#42258631)

Sooner or later it's going to have to be our primary source.

Solar power can't be our primary energy source because it requires covering huge areas with collectors, and no matter where you'll put them they're always in someone's back yard, or spoil someone's view, or destroy some sand bug's habitat.

Slow Burn? (2)

ChefJeff789 (2020526) | about a year ago | (#42255517)

When has anything funded by the Federal Government not been on a 'slow burn?' The only things that have ever been fast-tracked are things that are seen as expedient by the masses, like going to the moon. But, did we go to the moon for scientific purposes? Nope. We went to beat the Red Menace, and for no other reason. NASA just happened to, you know, get science stuff done while they were there. Wake me up when clean energy becomes a politically expedient necessity for EVERY PARTY. Then things will happen.

Three years away (0)

sphealey (2855) | about a year ago | (#42255731)

= = = In three years or so, they should know whether the NIF will ever work." = = =

Laser fusion has been three years away for, oh, 30 years now. Any day we're going to be the big breakthrough though. Just need a few more billion dollars...

sPh

I remember hearing 30 years ago that (1)

Ranger (1783) | about a year ago | (#42257669)

we'd have fusion power in 30 years. And it's still 30 years away.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...