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23 Comments

  1. Are you sure that fusion energy won’t be here in your children’s lifetime?

    I heard it was only 25 years away.

    Of course, that was about 25 years ago.

    1. I’m positive that the technology used at the NIF will not point the way to useful energy production within my children’s lifetime.

      Of course, I have to admit that my “baby” is already 29 years old.

    2. I have been aware of work trying to make fusion energy since I was in the upper levels of grade school. That was a half century ago.

      Kirk Sorensen made a comment comparing the physics of fusion and fission energy. In fusion energy (at least using magnetic containment), you have a fuel with a density that is nearly a vacuum. You need to slam together charged particles (that repel each other) at high energy to get a reaction, while trying to contain the whole mess. With fission, the fuel is a fully dense solid (or liquid), and you need only low energy neutral particles (neutrons) to run into neutral atoms. Containment consists of keeping neutral solids (or liquids) in their place.

      Fission is something that “wants to happen”, and does so easily enough. Fusion really doesn’t “want to happen”.

  2. It’s exciting physics research, but it’s not power generation, and never will be. Like it or loathe it, the NIF is about nuclear weapons research, and this is an experimental facility to confirm their models of H-bomb physics.

    There are other approaches to fusion that are more viable choices for power generation but they are also sitting at a physics research phase, although with perhaps better chances of moving to an actual power generation development phase.

    1. @Joffan

      You wrote:

      There are other approaches to fusion that are more viable choices for power generation but they are also sitting at a physics research phase, although with perhaps better chances of moving to an actual power generation development phase.

      One of the hard lessons I learned as a government “requirements officer” is that there is not an infinite amount of money. The resources that are being consumed by the NIF with its false advertising and heavy promotion with the tantalizing promise of abundant energy are coming out of the pot that could be funding the more promising efforts.

      Not that I am involved in the business anymore, but $3++ billion would have gone a long way to build SMRs instead of the paltry $452 million spread over 6 years and two projects that was appropriated for that technology.

      1. So the “dual use” technologies get funded, while the technologies with purely civilian applications languish.
        Then, when people realize that the dual use technology also has a proliferation risk, it is prevented from acheiving it’s civilian mission as well.
        Smells like a smokescreen…

      2. It’s hard to believe that we are still spending that much money on nuclear weapons research. The nuclear arsenal is static. It is supposed to be declining. The only way that this much money gets allocated for such a weak cause is to bring money in to a powerful senator’s state.

  3. Keep up the good work and continue to fight the good fight, Rod. I don’t agree with your politics, but I do support your cause of clean, low cost, non-polluting energy for everyone (and it isn’t going to be fusion in our life time unless some entirely new technology is developed). Your endeavor is entirely consistent with and to a great extent would help to implement the social teaching of Holy Mother Church as explained in Pope Leo XIII’s Encyclical Rerum Novarum of 1891 and Pope John Paul II’s Encyclical Centesimus Annus of 1991.

    1. I beg to differ on your timeline. Lawrenceville Plasma Physics says they can have commercial units available in 6 years. I believe them. It’s easy to follow their progress as they post updates on their research just about every month. You can even tour their lab with notice.

  4. One of things readers should be aware of is the issue of ‘net energy’ coming from a fusion experiment. This is what all the excitement is about, that a fusion reaction was able to create a few nanoseconds of net energy. That is, more energy was released from the process than went into the x-ray or other lasers that created the fusion. There was cheering all over the fusion community on this.

    However…this is a slight of hand. While it’s true that the energy from the lasers for any given amount of energy hitting the fusion fuel was greater after the fusion, what they don’t tell you is that this is largely irrelevant. Why? Because they don’t count the amount of energy it takes to create the laser beams in the first place. They are only measuring the the energy at the point of production, in the reactor itself, not the energy used on the outside of the reactor to create the needed energy in the form of lasers.

    The bottom line is there was no ‘net’ energy.

    In terms of the Catholic Church, the real vindication is the Church’s greatest scientist: Nicolas de Cusa.

    David

    1. Just to be clear, the “net energy” claim was comparing the heat actually deposited by the lasers in the target against the generated heat of fusion. The laser energy was far higher – only 1-2% (as I recall) of the laser energy is deposited as heat. The original energy used to generate the laser beams was another order of magnitude higher.

  5. High investment costs will kill nuclear fusion in any case. Lasers and tokamaks will be always too expensive to compete with windmills and even with PV. The fusion people don’t notice the changes over the past 50 years.
    But it would be nice to see that we can achieve nuclear fusion, land again on moon, fly to Mars etc. Please note that Higgs boson is already discovered, and it was a very costly project.

  6. Thank you for the Langley link. It is a great comparison to NIF and its counterpart at Sandia labs…the Z-machine. I used to work at the Z-machine and the constant hype about furthering fusion research was nauseating. Most of the elitist scientists were more worried about another years worth of funding and their publishing quota than coming up with new and outside-the-box ideas. In the five years that I worked there, nothing new actually happened. To be fair to the Z-machine, they also do materials science and Nuclear Weapons stewardship work.

    Forget about projections of our lifetimes. Fusion will never happen. Its hard to believe that the general public is okay with this pointless waste of their money but they’re not okay with fission energy which actually saves them money.

      1. Virtually all energy sources on earth are “Fusion-based”, thus all electric supply is already fusion based; but i know what you meant to say.

  7. Missing from the discussion are approaches like ours at LPPhysics, where we use an inexpensive device called the dense plasma focus (DPF). We’re much closer to the Wright Brothers than Langley! For more on how DPF fusion results compare to those of NIF, see our latest progress report on how Russian Lightning Steals NIF Thunder. http://bit.ly/1kDU61c

    We’re expecting some major advances after upgrades due for completion in May!

    1. @Derek at LPPhysics

      Thank you for the interesting information and link. It certainly appears that your approach is somewhat more promising than the NIF approach. However, your claim to superiority is analogous to me claiming to be a better Russian speaker than my granddaughter, merely because I know the word “nyet” and she doesn’t.

      According to your own summary, NIF needs 30,000 J to obtain 1 J of fusion while your device needs at least 4,500 J for each 1 J of fusion.

      In contrast, the simple CP-1 pile could have easily produced many multiples more energy than it required to start the reaction.

  8. @Derek at LPPhysics, @RodAdams

    I’ve been following LPP’s experiments for some time now, and you’re misreading these results, Rod. The link reports results from two different (but similar) machines. These two machines are both Dense Plasma Focus (DPF) machines. The Russian machine is larger, while LPP’s machine is more technically advanced. So it is actually the Russian machine that achieved 4500-to-1 using D-T fuel.

    The LPP machine has never been run using D-T fuel, so they can’t be compared directly that way. But using the much less reactive D-D fuel, LPP is performing about five times better than the Russian machine using the same fuel. This implies that presumably LPP’s machine could achieve something like 900-to-1 if they used D-T: about 30 times better than NIF.

    It’s also worth mentioning that LPP is entirely privately funded, their machine is built on a shoestring (roughly a million dollars) and would fit in your garage. NIF costs $4 billion and is the size of a football stadium, and ITER costs $20 billion and spreads across an area the size of a university campus.

    1. @Keith Pickering

      I did misinterpret a bit. I did not realize that LPP has not been tried on D-T fuel; I assumed their results would be equivalent to the results they reported. So let’s go with your interpretation and believe that they would be 5 times better than the 4,500 to 1 they report for the Russian machine.

      The analogy I provided still holds; working on that technology seems to be about as worthwhile as me attempting to become fluent in Russian. While it is not impossible to improve from 900 to 1 to the required 1 to 5 or so that would be necessary for a commercially viable energy source, it is not impossible for me to become a fluent Russian speaker.

      It is, however, highly unlikely to occur and has a low return on the investment for me to try, especially considering all of the other ways I can invest the limited time I have remaining on earth.

      Of course, if I did, after a lot of very hard work, become fluent in Russian AND was thus able to somehow become involved in a lucrative enterprise as a result of that fluency, I suppose I could achieve a great return on the investment.

      1. Glad to see this discussion. It seems like it depends on how quickly you could “learn Russian”/scale up fusion yields. We think we should be able to “become fluent”/demonstrate scientific breakeven within a year of installing our new tungsten electrodes in May, so given the short timeframe seems at least worth a try! We’ll keep you updated @LPPX.

        1. @Derek

          Good luck. I hope you are better at physics than I am at languages.

          I have no problem with small scale experimentation, even if it was on the tax payer dime. My problem is with NIF or ITER-style Big Science that promises energy when there is no path towards that goal without many more years and many more billions.

        2. @Derek

          Good luck. I hope you are better at physics than I am at languages.

          I have no problem with small scale experimentation, even on the tax payer dime. My problem is with NIF or ITER-style Big Science that promises energy when there is no path towards that goal without many more years and many more billions.

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