In The Field

ACS Washington 2009: Energy of the nearer future?

NIF small.jpgThis year ACS hosted a two-day symposium on the National Ignition Facility and a couple of the other big nuclear fusion efforts. Given the audience, most of the talks focused on the role chemists could play in diagnostics, i.e. detecting whether fusion actually occurs, and on the different sorts of experiments chemists might be interested in, like nucleosynthesis and stellar burning processes.

NIF has had its share of delays, dilemmas and scandals, but finished construction in late March and looks to make its first attempts at ignition next year. At the conference, NIF science director Richard Boyd said they’re currently running experimental implosions — up to two a day — to optimize all the parameters, and using “a bunch of tricks to make the process as efficient as possible”. For example, right now none of the experimental implosions are using deuterium-tritium targets, but Boyd notes that “with just a tiny bit of deuterium, we can actually go through most of the optimization procedures without producing neutrons, which are problematic because they activate things”.


Representatives from ITER and LMJ also spoke to give updates on their facilities. ITER, as Nature reported last month, will begin a “phased approach” in 2018 and not begin experiments with deuterium-tritium plasmas until 2025 or 2026, at least five years later than originally planned. Ned Sauthoff, director of the US ITER project office, said the next step is to get industrial input into the design of the facility, focusing on early-delivery and high-risk projects like the superconducting magnets and diagnostic instrumentation.

The Laser Mégajoule facility in France is much further along than ITER, and only slightly behind NIF. They’ve finished the buildings and have completed one out of four laser halls, and are hoping to have first light in 2014. Jean-Luc Bourgad of France’s Atomic Energy Commission also noted that they’re developing a numerical simulation facility in parallel, and are hoping to break a petaflop in 2010.

Image: LLNS/LLNL/US DEPT OF ENERGY

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