Print 77 comment(s) - last by EricMartello.. on Oct 12 at 8:58 AM

National lab project is unlikely to produce results and is being misrepresented, allegedly

California's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) -- located on the grounds of the University of California, Berkley (UC Berkley) -- is the center of a growing controversy regarding a $7B USD laser fusion project, dubbed the "National Ignition Facility" (NIF).

I. LLNL Says Project is Near Fusion, IEEE Editor Says "No Way"

The project -- launched 15 years ago in 1997 -- has yet to achieve "ignition"; the point at which the laser-confined fusion produces more energy than it consumes.  And it carries a sticker price of $290M+ USD per year in operating costs.

But those issues didn't stop LLNL from releasing a cheerful press release, proclaiming:

Fifteen years of work by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory's National Ignition Facility (NIF) team paid off on July 5 with a historic record-breaking laser shot. The NIF laser system of 192 beams delivered more than 500 trillion watts (terawatts or TW) of peak power and 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to its target. Five hundred terawatts is 1,000 times more power than the United States uses at any instant in time, and 1.85 megajoules of energy is about 100 times what any other laser regularly produces today.

The release was hardly coincidental.  It came just months ago, in hopes of swaying Congress, which is presently deciding whether to sustain funding for the troubled project.

NIF Laser pre-amps
Pre-amplifiers are pictured pumping up the power to the LLNL's record-setting laser.  But is all that power being wasted on pipe dreams? [Image Source: LLNL]

But according to IEEE Spectrum editor Bill Sweet, a veteran of India's nuclear power development project, most physicists view laser-contained (aka. "inertial confinement") fusion ignition as a pipe dream.  He argues that most agree that magnetic confinement fusion is far more likely to be realized, though still a difficult problem.  

William Broad, chief nuclear issues reporter for The New York Times, agrees.  He writes that the National Nuclear Security Administration's project overseer, Donald L. Cook, has serious concerns.  He quotes Mr. Cook as saying, that even with the latest power milestone considered, the project simply "has not worked", and that the NNSA is "going to settle into a serious investigation" of the NIF's sliding ignition deadline.

II. Protecting the Nuclear Stockpile?  Maybe Not...

Mr. Sweet also takes issue with LLNL's other justification for the project -- that it provides a test-bed to simulate nuclear weapons performance, a key national security goal.  

LLNL comments, "[The NIF] is the only facility with the potential to duplicate the actual phenomena that occur in the heart of a modern nuclear device -- a goal that is critical to sustaining confidence that a return to underground nuclear testing remains unnecessary."

But Mr. Sweet counters, "Richard Garwin, for decades the most highly regarded independent specialist on nuclear weaponry in the United States, told IEEE Spectrum six years ago that it would be 'a mistake to assume that NIF experiments are going to be directly relevant to weapons testing. The temperatures in the NIF chamber are much lower than they are in actual nuclear weapons, and the amounts of material being tested are much smaller.'"

He adds, "For decades the joke about magnetic confinement fusion--much the more plausible approach to harnessing the energy of the sun--is that the technology is always 20 years away. So when will inertial confinement fusion be delivering commercial electricity? That one is easy. Never."

NIF lasers
Congress is debating whether to scrap the NIF. [Image Source: LLNL]

It sounds like there's some serious credibility question regarding the project's security and energy claims.  That said, there might be some merit to the project, even if Mr. Sweet is at least partially right.  

UC Berkley astronomy Professor Dr. Raymond Jeanloz, comments, "Already the most incredibly tightly controlled and most energetic laser in the world, it is remarkable that NIF has achieved the 500 TW milestone - quite a significant achievement.  This breakthrough will give us incredible new opportunities in studying materials at extreme conditions."

Indeed, from a pure science perspective, the device is a pretty impressive accomplishment, even if it turns out its fusion goals are indeed pipe dreams.  It could indeed yield some novel materials research, if it escapes this round of funding reviews.  Ultimately the issue appears not so much that the super-laser lacks novelty, but rather that its critics argue that it is being misrepresented.  For that reason, Mr. Sweet infers, the NIF is the "mother of all boondoggles".

Sources: IEEE Spectrum, LLNL, The New York Times

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

RE: I'm fine with this
By corduroygt on 10/9/2012 3:37:46 PM , Rating: -1
I'd sign up the first thing tomorrow if the North had to kick your asses again like 150 years ago, but this time, frankly, we'd just let you go and spend our tax dollars on our own states instead of yours.

RE: I'm fine with this
By Ringold on 10/9/2012 3:57:01 PM , Rating: 1
I'll point out the North, man to man, had measurably inferior soldiers. Ya'll just used to breed like rabbits. If it weren't for Grant having no regard for how many men he lost, it'd of gone totally different.

But if you'd let the South go its own way then, you wouldn't have the problem.

Besides, your math, like all liberal math, is skewed. NJ is extremely dense in terms of population. A state with lots of farmland but the occasional expensive ICBM silo is obviously going to have a poor ratio.

Really though, the South's also beat you at politics, having relatively more federal programs located there; not just military bases, but NASA facilities, research, government contractors of various sorts, agriculture subsidies, etc. Despite a disadvantage in population.

I'd say man up, but you probably dont know what I mean by that. :P

RE: I'm fine with this
By corduroygt on 10/9/12, Rating: -1
RE: I'm fine with this
By Ringold on 10/9/12, Rating: 0
RE: I'm fine with this
By corduroygt on 10/10/2012 12:35:57 AM , Rating: 1
The only way that is even remotely possible is if you brought back slavery, which I would not past the current southern Republican politicans. One of them already wrote in his book that it was a blessing in disguise.

RE: I'm fine with this
By Ringold on 10/10/2012 5:19:56 PM , Rating: 2
Yep, because all of those countries have slavery.


RE: I'm fine with this
By EricMartello on 10/12/2012 8:58:05 AM , Rating: 2
Just wanted to drop a bit of fact on your "enlightened" discourse. During the civil war, which you've indicated you'd sign up for, the south was largely DEMOCRATIC. The so-called northern democrats were a bit more "liberal" but maintained pro-slavery ideology.

It was the GOP - formed specifically as an anti-slavery, pro civil rights party, that really started to drive the country away from its racially divided roots. President Lincoln was a republican and he was reviled not only by the democratic south, but also by many in the north as well. During his time, it's not like he was some "hero" that united all people - which is a large reason the war occurred in the first place.

The point that you and many other "modern democrats" fail to realize is that your party is representative of America's worst elements.

Over the years following the civil war there has been a lot of 'spin' trying to position democrats as the 'forward thinking' group that wants freedom and liberty for all, at the same time painting republicans as the narrow-minded oppressors...but the underlying leftist agenda that is fundamental to democrats has not changed and this is easily evident in the types of policies they tend to support and champion.

There is no such thing as a right-wing dictatorship; the best place to be, politically, is moderate-right. You cannot be a lefty and proclaim that you value INDIVIDUAL rights, freedoms and do so is a contradiction.

RE: I'm fine with this
By corduroygt on 10/10/2012 12:41:25 AM , Rating: 1
Singapore, Hong Kong, Switzerland and Ireland.

All of these countries have Universal Healthcare and mostly allow abortions. There is NO WAY IN HELL the ignorant dumbfvck south would resemble anything close those countries. You guys are too dumb and too religious to be successful like that.

RE: I'm fine with this
By Ringold on 10/10/2012 5:19:13 PM , Rating: 2
All of these countries have Universal Healthcare and mostly allow abortions.

Thanks for again proving you don't know what you're talking about. The Swiss model of health care doesn't get much more competitive.

Speaking of people too dumb and ignorant to adopt successful policies, i'll point out that in places like Sweden charter schools are the norm, not controversial at all. It's not the South with its head in the sand.

RE: I'm fine with this
By corduroygt on 10/11/2012 1:12:18 AM , Rating: 1
Swiss healthcare system from Wikipedia:

As far as the compulsory health insurance is concerned, the insurance companies cannot set any conditions relating to age, sex or state of health for coverage.

Sounds like Obamacare to me, which the southern hicks are vehemently objecting to...

RE: I'm fine with this
By Paj on 10/10/2012 9:11:39 AM , Rating: 2
If by growth you mean cheap unsustainable loans flowing to an oversaturated property market, then by all means follow Ireland's example.

Like Spain, most of their recent economic growth was building far too much, on the back of loans that then became toxic, resulting in bankruptcies and writedowns.

Like many other countries, Ireland had a debt-fuelled purple patch until the GFC, and now, like everyone else, they are actually doing pretty badly.

RE: I'm fine with this
By Ringold on 10/10/2012 5:27:59 PM , Rating: 2
Ireland had a housing bust, yes, but it has a lot of strong fundamentals. Net exports seem to be doing better, and it shows flickers of life but, IMO, due to its understandably powerful links to the Euro-zone it's getting dragged down by that crisis that just refuses to die.

They were also powerfully hurt by bailing out their banks; would've been FAR better for Ireland to let them fail, but Germany wouldn't of stood for it; word has always been that it'd of caused Deutche Bank to fail, so pressed Ireland to jump on its own sword.

Regardless, there's no denying that in international rankings Ireland is extremely competitive. It's closest comparison would be Spain, which had the next-largest housing boom and bust, and Irelands unemployment is about 11% points lower and GDP bouncing between flat to slow growth. Can try to spin it however you like, but facts are facts.

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki