The real story here is that this facility allows the US to do nuclear weapons research without violating the nuclear test ban treaty. If the goal was to develop a commercially viable fusion reactor, the $3,500,000,000 spent so far could have been put into projects geared towards small scale fusion experiments investigating novel confinement schemes.
Like the one I was working on, http://meetings.aps.org/Meeting/DPP07/Event/71002 whose funding has since been cut and has been mothballed.
On a side note concerning the NIF funding, the US gov will spend huge sums of money studying Nuclear weapons (including their disposal) regardless of the NIF project. If it is at all possible to combine that research with other fields then really it's a perk. I'm not justifying the expenditure, simply attempting to frame the situation in a different light.
Finally, as a fellow scientist with funding woes, I feel your pain.
 An ICF power plant will be pulsed at 1-10 Hz. NIF is a flash-lamp pumped glass laser, which takes ~12 hours to cool between shots. A power plant would likely be diode-pumped sold state laser since these can meet the required repitition-rate.
 The indirect drive target that LLNL is pursuing on NIF is not very efficient. You spend a lot of energy heating the hohlraum. Directly driven targets (blast the capsule directly rather than heating a gold can to make x-rays) should be much more efficient. There are also several ideas for ways to ignite a target more efficiently (shock ignition, fast ignition), but these need additional laser hardware.
@sam Though I work in ICF, I was sad to see the innovative confinement concepts (magnetic confinement) cut a couple years ago. I think it is short sighted. Fusion need to work and get smaller and we should keep our options open. Hope you managed to get a thesis out before the walls fell.
I didn't manage to get a thesis out. I left the PhD program before the funding was cut, but the writing was on the wall.
Yes, it is short sighted to cut funding of small scale plasma confinement concepts. They are high risk / high reward projects which are not expensive ~$1M. And even if they don't pan out as viable confinement schemes, they make for great training platforms for graduate students.
Also I've read (sorry no citation) that the indirect drive was necessary to ensure even dispersal of the heat generated by the initiating laser blast.
Any clarification would be much appreciated, this isn't my field.
NIF uses an "indirect drive" design. Instead of directly illuminating the spherical target with a bunch of lasers, you blast the inner surface of a gold cylinder with the shell at the center of the cylinder. The cylinder gets hot, emits x-rays, which are absorbed by the capsule. The x-ray drive tends to be "smoother" than direct illumination.
The big problem with ICF is hydrodynamic stability. It is like trying to squeeze a water balloon with your fingers. If you don't squeeze it perfectly symmetrically, it will squirt through your fingers and pop rather than getting compressed by a factor of 20.
You do want to use the energy from one reaction to power the next, but not directly. No one's actually trying to create a star on the surface of the earth.
As with you, though, not my field so someone who knows better can feel free to correct me.
Not exactly. Off the top of my head I can't think of a reactor thats unstable in operation. Hands off (like that TV series life after humans where the people all disappear) almost all stabilize and eventually shutdown on their own. Maybe those crazy graphite reactors are not inherently stable.
There's two linked issues.
Fission reactors get about 10% of their heat from decay products (the "waste") decaying away. That means there is no instant off switch. The "off" position is still 10% out for hours/days/weeks (well it decays away eventually...). As the Japanese found out the hard way, 10% of a huge amount of power is enough residual heat to cause an awful disaster.
The other is surface area / volume ratio. Couple gigawatts thermal like the Japanese and there's not enough surface area to cool it without giant pumps when shutdown. Couple MW like a nuclear sub and the surface area ratio is better, theoretically you could probably walk away from one without anything awful happening. The people who know aren't talking. Fusion you're talking about something a millimeter across not multiple meters. Walk away or have a computer crash or whatever and it seems impossible for something that small to cause much damage.
There are some practical physics reasons why making a fusion reactor the size of the sun is really easy and the smaller you go the harder it gets, but there are practical engineering reasons why making one bigger than a millimeter would be a huge PITA. On the other hand if you could make a fission reactor the size of a millimeter that would certainly solve a lot of painful thermal engineering problems, but the physics just doesn't work (long story...)
In comparison, the fusion power produced was a paltry 8 kilojoules, which they compare to the "energy required to form the plasma".
For this technology to be actually effective, there needs to be a multiplier of several thousand. As other commenters have mentioned, this is mostly just nuclear weapons development.
In other words, the National Ignition Facility hasn't achieved ignition yet.
If you can actually achieve ignition, then nobody will care about the megajoules needed to get it ignited. Because once you've got ignition, you can get an arbitrary amount of energy out.
But if you can't get ignition, well, then, that pesky 0.3% heating efficiency will still leave you a couple of orders of magnitude away from engineering breakeven.
Not really. You have to build larger, or more, power plants. So you have to make enough extra energy to sell to pay for plants.
~~ They've since had ignition: http://www.independentnews.com/news/article_792110c0-2c5b-11... ~~
[I'm positive that the ICF's predecessors also achieved ~~ignition~~ fusion on smaller scales.]
The real trick is that  you need to get out more than you put in (exceed break-even)  you need to be able to harness the energy produced by the ignition and  be able to do it over and over again, producing reliable power.
No. Notice how it is worded.
> "More importantly, Moses said, the mechanism that generated the powerful energy burst appeared to be the self-sustaining thermonuclear fusion process that defines ignition."
In other words, they did not achieve ignition. They achieved something that is necessary to get ignition. Specifically, alpha heating.
This is another important step on the road to ignition. It is not, however, ignition itself.
Why do you think the title of the article says "Marks Progress Toward Ignition," rather than "Finally Achieves Ignition?"
> the amount of energy released through the fusion reaction exceeded the amount of energy being absorbed by the fuel
As soon as I saw that, I immediately understood that they're nowhere near breakeven -- much less power generation.
Incidentally when I went to see JET (it's up the road from me, not that far from Oxford) the scale of the thing was enormous. They mentioned that they'd had been able to sustain plasma for 600 seconds. I've got some pictures up on flickr.
 - http://www.i15.p.lodz.pl/strony/EIC/ne/future_2_1.html
 - http://www.flickr.com/photos/z3r0kl3w/sets/72157623979315835...
One of my favorite stories is the disruption. This happens when things don't go just right, and all the plasma with its energy squirts onto one spot. This typically puts the equipment in jeopardy. People try to prevent it, but as they push the boundaries of what's been done, it's going to happen.
Keep in mind that there's only about as much mass in the entire chamber as in a few cubic centimeters of air; it's basically a vacuum. But what little there is is so hot, and there's so much energy wound up in the fields. When JET had a disruption, the entire machine, the largest tokamak in the world, LIFTED ITSELF OFF THE GROUND AND JUMPED A FEW FEET OVER.
Any good refs for this disruption situation?
Completely true. Theoretically, the NIF target has enough fuel to produce 10-20x the amount of laser energy driving it. Once things work, it isn't a huge step to get to an energy gain (energy_out/energy_in) of ~50. That said, the real world is always more complicated and NIF has yet to ignite.
I'm sorry your project was defunded, but that in itself is not evidence that the facility is actually a sham.
E.g. 1MW basic plant that drives a 1.5MW plant that drives a 2.25MW -> 4 -> 6 -> 9 etc, however many stages you need.
You have to be enough over unity to pay for another plant plus surplus to actually use. In which case you can just build a bunch of plants - you don't need to chain them. There are plenty of other power sources you can use to bootstart the power plants.
Even regular power plants need power to start them see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_start
Somehow, I am sure, if people start a nuclear war, even the WWII's initial nuclear weaponry will be enough to destroy ourselves, knowing how many countries can now chime in with their own.
Sure, target a city and it's functionally indistinguishable, but what about against military formations or bunkers? It would be a big game changer if someone eliminated the fallout problem, since it changes how one could plan to use nukes in a defensive posture.
So you do the research to make sure you're always within a year or two of whatever the next state-of-the-art will be. Being the dominant hegemon has a lot of cost-of-living expenses.
Inflation adjusted cost of the entire B-52 program including all maintenance and crew personnel and their training? I donno, like a billion?
A missile field is cheaper to maintain (I think?) and not much more to develop, so its probably a bit under a billion.
A nuke launching sub might cost a billion but it holds alot of them so divided out is probably only hundreds of millions
Grats you've now got one so small and light a plain old fighter-bomber plane only 10 million or so can drop one.
Finally small and cheap enough to do some million dollar class cruise missiles.
I'm sure we'll eventually have cheap drones as delivery vehicles.
The point is minimizing spent money during peacetime. A bunker full of cruise missiles is infinitely cheaper than multiple operating wings of B-52.
The other (obvious?) idea is burying history. Say Canada wanted to nuke us for invading and regime changing them to steal their maple syrup. It could happen. IF we used 1940s techniques which only require a billion or so and a couple months or a whole year, anything their spies steal is very dangerous. On the other hand, "Go ahead, steal these 1980s kryton switch designs, it'll take you 50 years and a trillion bucks to figure out how to use them not to mention all the extra stuff that goes with those handy dandy trigger mechanisms". A good analogy is the time machine. So you can visit Bavaria in the 1300s if you sneak a 1500s level wooden clock escapement that would probably revolutionize Bavaria in the 1300s one way or the other. On the other hand sneak in a modern AMD64 CPU, just the bare chip, not even a heatsink or a PCB or anything, just the chip, and they're going to be all "WTF" all they have to do is get to the 2000s or so, and this will chip will leapfrog them into the 2010s, but its going to take a heck of a long time to get them from 1300s to 2000s without any help. So, yeah, go steal that modern US design, a mere couple trillion bucks and 70 years experience and you'll be stamping them out like license plates just like us. I guess by the 2080s we should be worried, but right now no problemo.
God help us all.
And we've maintained a limited number of low-yield warheads that would fall under that designation.  (as an example)
Enhance the nation’s defense;
Reduce the global threat from terrorism and weapons of mass destruction;
And respond with vision, quality, integrity and technical excellence to scientific issues of national importance."
Now wikipedia says that imploding bubbles create some high energies;
Maybe if you shoot up Deuterium bubbles in compressed water and push in some ultrasound waves ....
The NIH experiment recapitulates many of the design aspects of a thermonuclear weapon, but does so in a highly controlled lab environment.
I'm a biophysicist. I know a fair amount of engineering, although I'm not a weapons physicist. Nonetheless, after years of reading about the NIF and various fusion projects I've come to believe that there is little justification for their expenditure. In particular, we can do stockpile stewardship without this device, more cheaply, nor does NIF present an economically viable method to production of power at a large scale in even the most rosy predictions.
I still think the experimental design is cool, but I can't see this as a rational expenditure (HUGE opex and capex) compared to other investments we could be making.
Most likely scenario I see in 20 years is that china will be mass-manufacturing small, safe fission reactors and making a mint selling them to the rest of the world. That's got far less reqiurement for massive capex and opex. It's just that the western nations decided to go stupid about fission because OH GOD NUCLEAR MUTATIONS and stop investing in building more reliable, safer, and smaller plants.
Fission power is a separate matter. The single most important thing that most people still do not understand is that power grids have almost zero capacity for storing energy. That means most alternative energy sources, such as wind or solar, can never exceed a certain percentage of the grid's production capacity or it will become unstable. On-demand energy generation is still needed, and there's absolutely no reason to fear nuclear power while we're still using coal power, which is far more deadly in every sense! It's not just the West that has this fear either. Look at Japan's recent nuclear shut-down (from 30% of their grid to 0%, replaced with fossil fuels), and tell me that isn't going to influence China!
If your alternative fuel requires hundreds of billions of dollars of investment in the future, just to show viability of the basic research concept, before it can actually be useful, you will be at a massive competitive advantage relative to alternatives.
What I am saying, is that relative to other potential investments, fusion does not seem to be a worthwhile investment, as the risk/payoff ratio is worse.
As for the rest of your comments, I mostly agree I'm aware that alternatives like wind and solar have limits, but we can still use them to great effect (as augmenters, and ways to reduce reliance of less sustainable sources).
I disagree. There exists MILLIONS of years worth of fuel on earth, compared to a few decades of oil and gas, and a few hundred years worth old coal or fissionable uranium. That's quite a huge payoff for relatively little risk (compare fusion research funding with other energy subsidies).
When people start talking about cost, let's put those numbers in perspective.
The AIG bailout alone would've bought 6-7 ITERs.
I agree with your other points. But the AIG bailout not only saved filthy rich bankers, but saved the entire world economy.
Private pensions would have been wiped out, who own 95% of the stockmarket. The pensions were chasing gains and were quite happy while the returns were fat. The government cannot afford its own pension promises anyway and would have been wiped out.
Big science projects are paid in installments over many years. If the financial system collapses, for sure the big projects will be mothballed immediately.
But very little was actually required in the end ( their hope / educated guess at the time it was entered into ).
If the losses had been spectacular, the situation would have been desparate and the US would've had to take further evasive action.
This is a far cry from stumping up that amount of actual cash required for research.
The US does not. We're in a major debt crises and have issues funding our fundamental operations; beyond the immediate government funding, we have severe problems with spending (IE, we can't pay the interest on our spending with our tax revenues).
I strongly suggest you actually lookup the budget figures.
Seems pretty immediate to me.
"We're in a major debt crises and have issues funding our fundamental operations; beyond the immediate government funding, we have severe problems with spending "
And while you say that the current issue with the House isn't the cause or the effect of the debt crisis, the only US examples of so-called "debt crisis" linked from the Wikipedia article you lean on are the current and 2011 debt ceiling debates. So, its ironic that you ask "Anyway, do you disagree with Wikipedia?"
Anyhow, the defining characteristic of a debt crisis is default risk, not debt vs. tax revenue (debt service cost vs. GDP -- not total debt vs. GDP -- is probably the best "easy" numerical measure for fundamental default risk, but the real source of default risk in the US is political games like the ones you discount from the "House of Immature Children".)
No, I'm saying that debt crisis is equivalent to default risk, and that the only significant way in which we are in either (the two being the same) has nothing to do with economic or fiscal fundamentals -- the resources to service the debt are readily available -- and solely to do with the present political shenanigans.
Nobody's denying fusion is a great energy source.
But your claim that there is a payoff for low risk is unsupported by reality: we have only ever invested money in fusion (risk) and have never received any useful power for it (payoff). At this time, the risk/payoff ratio is infinite.
Now you're just being silly. You can say this about ANY research project. Better scrap the Manhattan Project before it finishes, we haven't seen any results. You're saying it's impossible to build a fusion power plant because we don't have one now?
Nevermind the fact that magnetic fusion research has been grossly underfunded for over 30 years.
I never said anything was impossible. But fusion is still solidly an unknown unknown: we have no credible path at this time to even plan a workable test reactor. I'm saying, for the amount invested, the results achieved, and the potential payoff, our money is best spent elsewhere are more boring and conventional things.
We are precisely at the position of "the math is all there" with regard to magnetic confinement. And so is the engineering and the funding (barely). It's going to happen, hopefully not before it's too late.
ITER is a research project. It is not designed to produce electricity. It was originally projected to cost over 5 billion pounds to build and has now tripled, but is years from completion. Even if it was successful beyond its wildest dreams, the best result would be that we'd have to spend another $50B to build a plant, and since that one would be the first and only, we wouldn't get much power from it.
These are the harsh economic realities of today.
If the payoff was immediate, it wouldn't be research.
A hundred billion dollars is a lot of money. The annual budget of NIH is ~$30B and it funds a high fraction of the most advanced biological research worldwide. The DOE also has a budget $30B and funds (along with this project) many other projects including alternative energies, advanced computing and the Human Genome Project. NSF is (only!) another $7B, leaving around $33B addition funds for a diverse research portfolio.
This kind of expenditure is required to maintain US at or near the highest level of technology research in the world (other countries can compete with us in many ways, such as lower labor costs). There are things that can only be physically done in a single location in the US and nowhere else in the world- and it will be that way until on of the postdocs goes back to Europe or Asia and replicates the result in their lab.
So yes, $100B is a lot of money- and that's the kind of investment that often ends up benefiting the US (and other) economy. The fusion research-- to the extent that what NIF is doing is translatable to other domains-- doesn't really meet this sniff test.
Now, don't you think it would have been better, instead, to spend that much money on hot fusion research?
No single corporation controls that much capital; even the largest are just half-way there. Very few organizations can organize and control that amount of money.
I agree that compared to the total circulation of virtual money, $1T is small compared to the total.
Although, to put things in perspective, the FBI budget it 8 billion per year.
We're still a few orders of magnitude away from energy, and we're probably quite a few reactor design innovations and material breakthroughs away, I'd say, as far as my layman knowledge goes.
Give it another 1000 years.
We will get fusion sooner or later - just to say we did it, if for nothing else.
If we are spending money fast because we think we're in a sprint to achieving viable fusion power, but it turns out we're actually in a marathon, then it's quite possible we're wasting vast amounts of money unnecessarily. That's not an argument to stop funding fusion research, but it is an argument to moderate it and possibly even broaden the types of research being done to more projects but at overall lower funding rates.
When has coal power ever created the sort of crisis that occurred in Fukushima?
Because of fission reactors, the safety of entire regions of the world is dependent on a consistent power supply and lack of human error, something that clearly we can not rely on. In the event of a cosmic emp or major meteor strike, these power plants are at risk.
A total of 240,000 years of life were said to be lost in Europe in 2010 with 480,000 work days a year and 22,600 "life years" lost in Britain, the fifth most coal-polluted country.
Of course, nuclear power plants are safe short term. Their threat is catastrophe, which given time, is inevitable.
Of course it is. 161 people are killed for each THw of coal energy. And 0.04 people for each THw of nuclear power and this INCLUDES Chernobyl!
> However the impact of nuclear catastrophe is far far more insidious and lasting
Clearly you've never seen https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kingston_Fossil_Plant_coal_fly... the radiation and heavy metals released from that can never be cleaned (just diluted).
> particularly when caused by a global calamity that causes meltdown in many plants.
A what?? And how do you manage that? If you have unreasonable fears then there is no point in talking to you. Reason will not remove an unreasonable fear.
We are on a blob of rock hurtling through an unknown cosmos. Calamities are very possible. It is deeply irresponible to create projects that will make large parts of the earth uninhabitable should the power grid fail for a long period or human stewardship go on hiatus. Meteor strikes, emps, plagues, terrorist attacks, economic collapse,and other disasters are well within the realm of possibility
They would back the position that wind turbines are safer than coal, so you're not wrong that they might be biased to imply coal is more dangerous than it is.
Coal directly impacts global climate change and is a crisis which dwarf Fukushima.
I don't get your point.
However whilst I am pro-nuclear, I would like to see a move away from the current fission reactors to molten salt or fusion reactors.
The Non-Proliferation Treaty bans the proliferation of any "nuclear" weapons. Again, doesn't matter if it's fission or fusion or both.
I have many highly intelligent friends who subscribe to your view. Unfortunately they forget that fission is only as safe as the weakest link, and the consequences of failure are severe, especially when near a water source.
I'm not talking about crumbling old soviet-era reactors or even older Japanese ones. Witness Australia's only nuclear facility: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/06/01/2914548.htm?si...
My fave quote from the article: "None of our instruments could measure it - it was way off scale. We cleaned up everything and we still couldn't get the dose down."
You called out the need for more reliable, safer, and smaller plants. I would argue that there needs to be a significant improvement before fission is publicly acceptable.
> I would argue that there needs to be a significant improvement before fission is publicly acceptable.
I would argue that fission is already held to a standard well above that of almost any human endeavor, even those with roughly similar risk profiles (compare almost any form of mining, or the shipping of hazardous cargo by rail)
That is irrelevant to my point, which is that the biggest risk to reactor safety with current fission tech is human error and negligence.
> compare almost any form of mining
The only form of mining comparable in terms of potential environmental damage is ocean oil drilling, which I also oppose.
The point is - human nature (re: greedy and negligent idiots) makes current reactor tech unsafe. The potential fallout (pun intended) is not worth the significant risk.
If all it takes is one earthquake or distracted technician to potentially vaporize a suburb, then your tech has not yet succeeded.
Safety regimes to minimize human error are great, but time and time again they are bypassed due to greed, negligence and idiocy. The Fukushima backup system you mention is exactly the kind of thing I'm talking about - but they need to be comprehensive, redundant, and responsibly audited (the part that scares me the most).
Fission disasters tend to emit nasty metals that are bioaccumulative, don't break down in a short timeframe and may be airborne or waterborne.
(Having said that, it looks like Bhopal was worse than Chernobyl for harm, and the chemical industry is still in business)
Was GE responsible for the siting of the backup diesel generators and switchgear behind a seawall that was overcome by the tsunami? That was the root cause of all the problems; it wasn't anything to do with the reactor design itself, other than the fact that it needed active cooling after shutdown (which PWR designs from the same time period also did).
(That said, I agree the BWR design is outdated and modern designs with passive safety features are much, much better.)
From what I've read there was a leadership vacuum for the initial crisis at tepco. I'm actually going to try to visit as close as I can get to the plant tomorrow or Saturday (in Sendai right now)
Thought experiment... begin the experiment with the assumption that the "system" can produce and sustain 2000 brains capable of safely operating a nuke plant. You can build 1000 slightly less safe but bigger plants, or 10000 smaller slightly safer small plants, but you've still only got 2000 usable nuke level brains to staff them. Either half the big brains are going to be unemployed, or 80% of the only very slightly safer plants are going to be run by morons. Don't amuse me with deus ex machina about automation; I'll counter by changing my thought experiment to only 2000 nuke-capable sysadmins are available or whatever.
Fusion research is worthwhile. Of course it's not the only path to sustainable energy, but it's one of the most promising.
I bet they're all cocky now!
They also told us that the lasers they use, if built with modern tech today, would actually only be the size of a 40' cargo container (as opposed to like 100K sq-ft building), and cost like 1000x less. Pretty epic...
If we invested in fusion power like we did water power less than a century ago, I can only imagine the possibilities...
Make fusion, not war.
If only we capture 1% of the social graph we can make freemium Fusion the next killer energy product!
Well that last is easy, groups who contribute politically, hence solar and wind. They receive far too much in ways of support whereas hard science projects like this with incredible payoffs are pushed off because they don't payback in political contributions.
There are a myriad of ways to finance such an ambitious project through clean energy taxes but unfortunately they suffer the changing whims and needs of politicians. Yeah certain industries would go by the way side with this type of power available but many of them have big money invested in energy creation and distribution many would simply shift some columns in their spreadsheets and still balance out.
Considering the deficits the US runs, just in a day or two of deficit spending is more than what this facility budgets for this research.
Basically, the funding is going toward practical technologies, in the sense that you can actually put them into practice today and reap rewards.
For a community that has such high praise for bootstrapping businesses, there's a surprising love of throwing money at unproven scientific research avenues. We're in this for the long haul, if we get fusion in twice the time for half the money, we'll still have fusion.
This only works if fusion can make petroleum cease to be a strategic resource.
This is even before we get into ecology - most modern energy sources are highly pollutant (oil/coal). How much better off will planetary ecology will be if fusion comes online 10 years earlier?
The problem is that these approaches can't work without enormous budgets, and while they produce lots and lots of very interesting science, they hoover up talent and funding resources that might be better spent exploring other avenues.
> Too bad shovel ready money wasn't spent on more long lasting impact projects like this.
Perhaps some kind of "Manhattan Project".... oh.
You don't want to wait months though, which is why "shovel-ready" matters and this sort of research loses out to other sorts of projects. That said, less guns and more fusion would be nice.
Does that hire you forty more world class fusion scientists? Are there forty more world class fusion scientists?
Are those scientists going to go "Fantastic! We'll just order up three more of these experimental fusion reactor rigs, here are the plans, we'll start hiring engineers and buying up electronic components from the local silicon fab down the road driving all that money into economic productivity for you!" - unlikely. They already have one experimental fusion reactor. Three more the same aren't going to get them anywhere any faster. They won't know what the next one should look like until they've finished getting results out of this one.
Maybe they just spend it all on repainting the lab, buying new office furniture, getting in catered lunches - you might see a marginal improvement in fusion research productivity, and certainly there's a local economic stimulus which was the idea there, but you're not getting the valuable long term capital value of, say, using the money to rebuild a few bridges.
Even if it turns out your ten fusion scientists have a ready proposal to build the next generation experimental fusion reactor, plans are drawn up and costed, and all they need is you to hand over that check for two billion, if they then go ahead and order the parts from China, subcontract a bunch of German engineering firms to build the cooling systems, and get the heavy steelwork welded together in Korea, your stimulus effect just disappeared overseas.
Of course, if that experimental fusion reactor turns out to be THE ONE that creates viable economic fusion power, maybe that's worth the 2 billion. But that's not stimulus spending, that's gambling on an investment.
So this could help everyone if these more qualified people could stay in research and not take a spot in a job that can be filled by a less skilled person.
Suddenly, there's now a company which can do that - and is eager to sell the service on since they now have the capability. Not only do subsequent magnets get cheaper, but things which weren't feasible due to their smaller scale but precise requirements suddenly become possible.
This is fun.
 This is tongue in cheek.
That was so disappointing to read. Don't we have enough nuclear weapons to blow up the planet 10x over already? Why would that still be the focus instead of inventing new sources of virtually unlimited energy??
So really, the answer is, it doesn't matter how many nukes we have right now, NIF was created (in part) to ensure that the capability to blow up the world could be maintained.
As depressing as it is, it's pretty much how it goes with nearly all defense technology spin offs. Why the hell did we spend all that time working on rockets that purposefully crashed back onto the Earth (on top of people!) instead of doing something like getting communications satellites up, or getting to the moon.
1) we never would have had nuclear power in the first place. (or it would have taken decades more)
2) It would even have taken a lot longer to develop oil energy and widespread cars (allied research on oil)
3) We wouldn't know about co2 separation (since the nazi state was cut-off -mostly- from oil, they researched liquefaction and nuclear power)
Nobody ever gives cruel losers credit, I guess. Heh. But the nazis certainly did a lot of useful research.
Plus, war made sure that they put getting working reactors first. Not interesting science. A critique in fusion research is that nice, flexible and very accurate/complex apparatus is given preference over quick-iteration and fast experimentation. War made sure that the researchers went straight for the goal (and there is the fact that the Germans and the Americans both knew that there was probably a way to tickle the uranium reactors to result in Hiroshima. This caused the Germans to be careful, although even their experiments would today be considered absurdly dangerous. But the early American experiments were bat-shit insane). So thought hard about every step, and constantly fucked up (someone left 2kg uranium in a bath of water + cadmium by mistake, then walked out for the night : the first meltdown. They didn't figure out what had happened until years later. Someone inserted a steel rod into a barely sub-critical reactor submerged in water. No-one left the building alive (due to the water exploding as steam violently enough to bring the roof down, not due to a nuclear explosion). None of this would not have happened in peace time.
Direct from the source http://1.usa.gov/1e4Na9Q.
8 kJ out from 1.7 MJ (1700 kJ) in. At the end of the month they were able to get 14 kJ. I believe they are referring to the energy released within the hohlraum.
Also, if you are interested there are privately funded companies doing this, General Fusion (http://www.generalfusion.com/) and TriAlpha Energy (secretive and funded by the Russian govt., but in California). The VC fund I work for has invested in GF and obviously we think there is promise :)
I remember this being announced a while back, but I didn't understand why it was significant if the energy in was less than the energy out. This article helps to clear it up.
The missing piece was that I didn't understand how this reactor works. I thought they just blasted a lot of lasers directly at the hydrogen isotopes. Instead, it seems like that use the lasers to shoot something else, which then creates a lot of x-rays which actually start the reaction.
The significant thing here is that the energy produced is greater than the amount of energy coming in from the X-rays, but not the lasers which power those X-rays.
Is that correct? (Not surprisingly, I'm not a physicist!)
You start with ~2,000 kJ of laser energy, but some of that gets "backscattered" and never makes it into the hohlraum. Other energy is spent heating the walls of the cylinder. Additionally, some of the x-rays leak out of the hohlraum and do not drive the capsule implosion. After all these losses are taken into account, only about 15 kJ is absorbed in the capsule.
Is there anything new this round? Perhaps some new results from post-experiment data analysis? The article isn't really clear on this point.
"Soon after, the $3.5bn facility shifted focus, cutting the amount of time spent on fusion versus nuclear weapons research - which was part of the lab's original mission."
Admittedly that is phrased in an odd way...
However, the latest experiments...
So, at least the fusion research is still funded and still moving.
On a related note. It's been really sad to see the US slowly lose its edge in plasma based fusion tech, specifically tokamaks, which seem to be the only credible long-term method of sustaining a fusion reaction for power-plant purposes.
NIF is much higher on the priority list than that. LLNL is already in the doghouse due to NIF failing to ignite on schedule. As goes the 5 giga-buck NIF, so goes LLNL (and the management knows it).
Technologically, I'd put inertial and magnetic fusion about the same place. Even if the physics works, neither has a chamber first wall material that can stand up to the huge neutron loads that a power plant will create. Economically, both are hosed. Fusion wants to be big. Most reactor designs are for >1,000 MW. Electric companies are mostly interested in plants in the 50-400 MW range.
The chamber first wall material keeps me up at night. I think money spent in that area would be really well spent and have many many uses, both in places where you need neutron shielding, and to a lesser extent, protection from heat. When I think of really big, fun, 1960s style energy projects, the only other 'credible' one seems to be laser pro-pulsed power-satellties. Now there is where we might take a lot of the laser tech from the NIF!
What do you think of this?
Coal isn't cheap, it just has the desirable property that more than half its costs can be easily externalized rather than being paid by the people who use the power.
Since we still depends on nuclear power for decades to come, it is much cost effective to invest safer and cleaner nuclear fission reactors. The kind of fast reactor that can burn down nuclear waste so we don't need to build nuclear waste storage system, which nobody knows how to build anyway. That would give us power supply for several centuries (along with renewable energy). Too many countries wasted too much money on fusion reactors for decades, while we are still running nuclear reactors designed/built more than 30 years ago. Just wrong priority order.
What would such a world look like? Does it promote world peace; through greater energy security for nations, would less reliance on fossil fuels for baseload electricity generation have a significant impact on price of air travel/sea cargo?
So what? What if the fueld didn't absorb anything? What do they mean by "absorb", anyway? This article is lacking in details, peer-reviewed literature, or even the names of scientists willing to stake their reputation on this claim.
The BBC should know better.
How does this stack up against the more conventionally theorised techniques?
Sadly I'm not joking. I think there's a 50-50 chance that any cool science that gets development by the U.S. government just becomes a classified DoD missile project.
Because just imagine how terrifying the world would become from a superpower that didn't have to fear the radiation aftermath.
Fusion research seems like just a complete cover up.
More reading here:
If there's one thing we've learned over the past few years, it's that "classified" knowledge, with no critical eyes to keep it honest, is often wrong. Science works, not because it's done in secret.
In a way, it reminds of Spiderman, too, but let's hope things don't go as badly as in the movie, once we start to make that "sun" big enough to provide a ton of energy.