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Page added on January 29, 2010

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Laser fusion test results raise energy hopes

A major hurdle to producing fusion energy using lasers has been swept aside, results in a new report show.

The controlled fusion of atoms – creating conditions like those in our Sun – has long been touted as a possible revolutionary energy source.

However, there have been doubts about the use of powerful lasers for fusion energy because the “plasma” they create could interrupt the fusion.
An article in Science showed the plasma is far less of a problem than expected.

The report is based on the first experiments from the National Ignition Facility (Nif) in the US that used all 192 of its laser beams.

Along the way, the experiments smashed the record for the highest energy from a laser – by a factor of 20.

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Crucially, the recent experiments provided proof that the plasma did not reduce the hohlraum’s ability to absorb the incident laser light; it absorbed about 95%.

But more than that, Dr Glenzer’s team discovered that the plasma can actually be carefully manipulated to increase the uniformity of the compression.

“For the first time ever in the 50-year journey of laser fusion, these laser-plasma interactions have been shown to be less of a problem than predicted, not more,” said Mike Dunne, director of the UK’s Central Laser Facility and leader of the European laser fusion effort known as HiPER.

“I can’t overstate how dramatic a step that is,” he told BBC News. “Many people a year ago were saying the project would be dead by now.”

Adding momentum to the ignition quest, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory announced on Wednesday that, since the Science results were first obtained, the pulse energy record had been smashed again.

They now report an energy of one megajoule on target – 50% higher than the amount reported in Science.

BBC



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