National Ignition Facility

"National Ignition Facility" is almost as cool a name as "International Earth Rotation Service".

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.

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22 Responses:

  1. carnivillain says:

    Have you been there? I was on a tour there about 9 years ago. I forget if we got to go *in* the central target chamber, but the view was up-close and personal one way or another.

  2. strspn says:

    Fusion produces so many fast neutrons that if they ever used it to produce power, it would make vastly more high level nuclear waste out of the ignition chamber shielding per kilowatt hour than a fission reactor. The best nuclear energy is the molten salt reactor, and renewablews are already a fraction of the cost. But giant lasers are great in their own right.

    • ciphergoth says:

      That's interesting - [citation needed]?

      • strspn says:

        Per http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power#D-T_fuel_cycle 80% of the power output is in the form of fast neutrons, which can't be converted to energy and serve only to make whatever they come into contact with radioactive. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_power#Waste_management is contradictory in that it says that the radioactive inventory is "comparable" to a fission reactor at shutdown, but the waste would be more powerfully radioactive, but for only several decades instead of several thousand years. That sounds like a bigger issue for you and me, even if it makes it easier on our grandkids. Still, if 80% of the power is converted to radioactivity over several decades....

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molten-Salt_Reactor_Experiment#Results has info about the MSRE. The decommissioning sounds bad, but not as bad on an amortized basis as traditional fission reactor waste disposal requirements.

        http://climateprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/nuclear-costs-2009.pdf indicates the cost of nuclear power in the U.S. has been about 25-30 cents per kilowatt hour, which is 3-6 times the cost of wind and hydroelectric, even with e.g. pumped or other forms of storage, or long range grid transmission losses.

        • seminiferous says:

          The waste from a reactor shutdown (all the activated structural components) is trivial compared to the spent fuel produced in its lifetime.

          • strspn says:

            Agreed; that is even more true for fusion reactors.

            • seminiferous says:

              No, it's the opposite. A fusion reactor would produce zero radioactive waste in the form of spent fuel. The point is that both fission and fusion reactors, at shutdown, would create a relatively small amount of short-lived (tens of years) radioactive waste at shutdown or as components need to be replaced. A fission reactor additionally and continually produces an enormous amount of spent fuel, which contains nasty long lived heavy isotopes. A fusion reactor doesn't produce any of that.

        • volkris says:

          There's a reason I don't let my students cite Wikipedia as an authoritative source. Between external threats such as vandalism and internal threats such as turfwars between editors, Wikipedia is rife with falsehoods.

          It seems democratic processes tend to vote out experts.

          • strspn says:

            Are you referring to a particular falsehood?

            • volkris says:

              Nope, just something I've seen many times over the years.

              My coworkers (we're physicists) have seen similar things on Wikipedia. One even knew a student who "owned" a handful of articles... the guy admitted that he would quickly review every edit and decide whether to allow them based not on quality or factuality, but on whether they would allow him to retain his appearance (in his own mind, maybe) as owner.

              Recently I even saw a case where a guy was banned from future activity on an article for just broaching the possibility of making an improvement. Consensus found that he did something he factually did not do, so the ban was levied.

              So yeah, as far as I'm concerned Wikipedia is a hotbed of axgrinding and childishness, not the cooperative pursuit of knowledge that it's supposed to be.

    • seminiferous says:

      This is basically a bunch of crap. Yes, fusion makes neutrons and will activate the vessel components and produce some radioactive material, but not in the quantities that fission does (per kWh or otherwise). Furthermore, the half-lives of that material is in the range of a few years, not the 10000+ years of spent nuclear fuel.

      • seminiferous says:

        OK, that was harsh as no one exactly knows what a working fusion reactor design looks like. But, the current ideas for the first wall are very light atoms like beryllium and lithium. The latter would recycle the neutrons into tritium). Beyond the first wall would be typical reactor components like stainless steel. Some research, probably not enough, looks at the effects of neutron radiation on these materials, but the primary concern is structural damage from long term neutron flux. There's nothing to suggest that massive quantities of high level waste are going to be produced. That would require the presence of heavy isotopes, and there's no plan for that in current designs.

        • strspn says:

          Has there been a cost analysis of the cradle-to-grave construction and operation costs, including waste disposal, of a laser fusion power system?

          • seminiferous says:

            Laser? Probably not. See my other comment in the main thread for why laser ( aka inertial) fusion power is totally pie in the sky, even by fusion standards. It is being worked on, in a token sort of way, but there are some huge unsolved engineering problems so that kind of analysis would be pretty speculative. Magnetic fusion probably has more realistic numbers, relatively speaking, but I don't have any links. Iter.org might have something.

  3. rane500 says:

    The sheer complexity of this project is absolutely staggering.

  4. hairyears says:

    I look forward to sketching the unofficial Office Portrait of the International Earth Rotation Service: a gaggle of earnest and geeky scientists in labcoats; and one HUGE bloke in overalls, oilstained and sweaty, grinning cheerfully and brandishing The Handle.

  5. seminiferous says:

    Some good science will come out of NIF, but sadly a major part of its mission is to do an end-run around test ban treaties. An ignition shot would essentially make a very very small H-bomb from which they can infer things about how a real H-bomb would go off. They are especially interested in bombs that have been sitting on the shelf for twenty years, also known as stockpile stewardship.

    While they will probably get ignition (self sustained fusion) in a single shot, the usual estimate is that, in order for a power plant to work using this scheme, you'd have to fire 6-10 shots every second. The fact that current downtime between shots is on the order of hours or days makes the engineering challenges involved in magnetic fusion (tokamaks, etc) look like cake.

  6. nelc says:

    Oh, hey, they got Arnie in this movie! Is he starring, or is this just a walk-on part?

  7. wikkit42 says:

    "If you need me, I'll be in Laser Bay 2." -- Fucking awesome phrase I wish I could say, and I already have an awesome science job.