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Important Step Made for Direct-Drive Fusion

Category: Science & Technology
Posted: 12:18PM

Sustainable nuclear fusion has been a goal for a great many scientists around the world for decades, as the energy produced by a fusion-based power plant could potentially dwarf that from other sources. Obviously it is difficult to achieve, but strides are being made toward that bright future. Recently researchers at the University of Rochester have brought us closer to that future by creating the conditions needed to set a new record for laser-fusion.

There are a number of methods being investigated currently for triggering nuclear fusion, and the one the Rochester researchers were using is called direct-drive fusion. This method uses a number of lasers all aimed at a small fuel pellet, heating and compressing it to the point of implosion. If enough energy is pumped into the fuel by the lasers, the nuclei within the pellet will fuse together and ideally release more energy than the lasers spent. Using the OMEGA laser at the University of Rochester's Laboratory of Laser Energetics, the researchers were able to create the conditions needed to produce five times the current record for similar laser-fusion experiments. This brings it in line with the much larger National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, if the conditions are scaled up to match. The NIF actually uses a different method for causing fusion called indirect-drive fusion. Instead of having the lasers directly aimed at the fuel, instead the laser light is converted to X-rays using a special gold enclosure, and those X-rays are what pump energy into the fuel pellet.

While ignition, when more energy is produced than is used, has not yet been achieved, these researchers at those at Lawrence Livermore are making significant strides towards that goal. In this experiment that includes better aiming the 60 laser beams involved onto the millimeter sized fuel pellet, improving the target's shell, and capturing images of the pellet as it implodes, for the purpose of improving future experiments.

Source: University of Rochester

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