On Tuesday, December 13, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), in California, announced that it had reached a milestone in nuclear fusion. This physical phenomenon is at work both in the hearts of stars, which it causes to shine, and in thermonuclear bombs. Its mastery on Earth is presented as an energy source that can replace all others, abundant, safe and practically non-emitting CO2 Operations.
Listen too Nuclear fusion, when is it?
This is no doubt why the announcement was made personally by the US Secretary of National Energy, Jennifer M. Granholm, who was delighted that the National Ignition Facility (NIF) succeeded in producing, on Monday, December 5, more energy than the that had been brought to the system. And also 2.2 times more energy than a previous milestone reached in August 2021. “This is a historic achievement for NIF researchers and staff who have dedicated their careers to making this fusion ignition a reality”said the Secretary of State. “There was a lot of criticism in the US of this project, but they got there at the expense of hard work, which led to this historic result”concludes Sébastien Le Pape, deputy director of the Laboratory for the use of intense lasers, at the Ecole polytechnique.
NIF is a facility that pursues both civilian goals – studying molten matter – and military goals – validating models intended to maintain nuclear weapons without resorting to underground testing. While current power plants operate on the principle of nuclear fission, that is, the breaking of large nuclei into smaller ones, releasing energy, this laboratory seeks to force the marriage of light nuclei, such as deuterium and tritium, cousins of hydrogen. For this, it is necessary, in very short times and in a small space, to heat them to temperatures higher than the Sun’s (several million degrees).
192 laser beams
If these conditions are met, two elements fuse and then release energy as well as other particles which will maintain the cauldron and generate other fusions. The initial “match” is hit by pulses of 192 laser beams lasting only a few billionths of a second. These rays converge inside a cylindrical gold cavity one centimeter high, which, thus bombarded, emits X-rays inside it, which are then used to directly heat a small sphere 2 millimeters in diameter containing the mixture of deuterium and tritium. The capsule implodes and fusion reactions take place.
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