Construction of the world’s largest laser device is finally complete, the U.S. Department of Energy proudly announced late last month, and it only took $4 billion (U.S.) and 15 years to do it.
Scientists at the new National Ignition Facility plan to take its 192 massive lasers and aim them at a tiny pellet containing the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium. If all goes as planned, the isotopes will compress, heat up and finally fuse into helium, releasing a split-second wallop of emission-free energy.
The goal – after decades of research and unfulfilled promise – is to get out more energy than goes in, a sought-after turning point in fusion research called “net gain.”
Achieve net gain, the theory goes, and you’re on the path to developing nuclear fusion power plants that can generate an almost endless supply of clean electricity with virtually no radioactive waste – a dramatic improvement over the nuclear fission reactors we use today.
“It’s the big target for fusion,” says Michel Laberge, founder and president of Vancouver start-up General Fusion Inc.
Looking For a Net Gain in the Energy Sector (Toronto Star)