News FocusInertial Confinement Fusion

Step by Step, NIF Researchers Trek Toward the Light

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Science  28 Oct 2011:
Vol. 334, Issue 6055, pp. 449-450
DOI: 10.1126/science.334.6055.449

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Back in 2009 when the National Ignition Facility was completed, it was predicted that ignition, the moment when a pulse of light from NIF's 192 laser beams heats a target containing a tiny capsule of fusion fuel and causes it to implode, heating the fuel enough for a large fraction of its nuclei to fuse and release a burst of energy larger than the energy of the light pulse that created it, would be achieved in 2010. That time is long gone, and ignition still doesn't look imminent. Last month, at the Inertial Fusion Sciences and Applications conference in Bordeaux, France, the U.S. Department of Energy's Under Secretary for Science, Steven Koonin, acknowledged that "ignition is proving more elusive than hoped." He added, "Some science discovery may be required" to make it a reality. The NIF team, however, maintains it is making steady progress toward the goal.