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The National Ignition Facility and the Promise of Inertial Fusion Energy

E. I. Moses

Fusion Science and Technology / Volume 60 / Number 1 / July 2011 / Pages 11-16

Plenary / Proceedings of the Nineteenth Topical Meeting on the Technology of Fusion Energy (TOFE) (Part 1)

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, CA, is now operational. The NIF is the world's most energetic laser system capable of producing 1.8 MJ and 500 TW of ultraviolet light. By concentrating the energy from its 192 extremely energetic laser beams into a mm3-sized target, NIF can produce temperatures above 100 million K, densities of 1,000 g/cm3, and pressures 100 billion times atmospheric pressure - conditions that have never been created in a laboratory and emulate those in planetary interiors and stellar environments. On September 29, 2010, the first integrated ignition experiment was conducted, demonstrating the successful coordination of the laser, cryogenic target system, array of diagnostics and infrastructure required for ignition demonstration. In light of this strong progress, the U.S. and international communities are examining the implication of NIF ignition for inertial fusion energy (IFE). A laser-based IFE power plant will require a repetition rate of 10–20 Hz and a laser with 10% electrical-optical efficiency, as well as further development and advances in large-scale target fabrication, target injection, and other supporting technologies. These capabilities could lead to a prototype IFE demonstration plant in the 10- to 15-year time frame. LLNL, in partnership with other institutions, is developing a Laser Inertial Fusion Engine (LIFE) concept and examining in detail various technology choices. This paper will describe the unprecedented experimental capabilities of the NIF and the results achieved so far on the path toward ignition. The paper will conclude with a discussion about the need to build on the progress on NIF to develop an implementable and effective plan to achieve the promise of LIFE as a source of carbon-free energy.

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