National Ignition Facility on the brink of key nuclear fusion goal

The National Ignition Facility (NIF), a leading science institute based in US, is reportedly on the brink of attaining a longstanding goal in the field of nuclear fusion research. If successful, the energy harnessed from the recreated nuclear fusion, a process which is known to powers the Sun, would likely provide the world a clean, limitless energy source.

For the uninitiated, the NIF utilizes a highly powerful laser to compress and heat hydrogen fuel, which initiates the nuclear fusion. A recently conducted experiment suggested that the end-goal, something referred to as ‘ignition’, wherein the energy output by fusion surpasses that provided by the laser used to heat the fuel, is now achievable.

Supposedly, in a process labelled ‘inertial confinement fusion’, approximately 192 beams of NIF's laser, which is currently the world’s highest-energy example at the moment, are pointed towards a capsule the size of a peppercorn that contains tritium and deuterium, both different forms of hydrogen element.

This process effectively compresses the said fuel until it has a density that is 100 times that of lead. Meanwhile, it also heats it up to a temperature of 100 million degrees Celsius, which is hotter than the center of the Sun. Effectively, these conditions help in kickstarting a thermonuclear fusion.

A recent experiment, conducted on the 8th of August 2021, yielded more than 1.35 megajoules (MJ) of energy, which is approximately 70% of the energy delivered through the laser to the small fuel capsule. Obtaining a fusion yield that is greater than 1.9 MJ, which the laser is capable of putting in, would mean that ignition has been reached.

Physicist Debbie Callahan from the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, stated that the recent experiment is a significant step for fusion and signifies big things for the overall fusion community.

As a scale of the institute’s progress, the yield obtained from the experiment conducted this month is eight times higher than its previous record, which was established back in Spring of 2021, and approximately 25 times more than the yield obtained from experiments in 2018.

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