Burning Plasma
Image Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Scientists at the National Ignition Facility, at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, say that after a decade of experiments and challenges now, it’s finally near to reaching productive nuclear fusion.

Popular Mechanics reports, This puts the facility in a race against a handful of other major fusion projects worldwide that are all, they say, finally striding toward the goal of fusion ignition.

National Ignition Facility scientists believe they are near to an important milestone known as ‘burning plasma’.

Science’s Daniel Clery writes, “A decade and nearly three thousand shots later, National Ignition Facility is still generating more fizz than a bang, hampered by the complex, poorly understood behavior of the laser targets when they vaporize & implode. But with new target designs and laser pulse shapes, along with better tools to monitor the miniature explosions.”

In the National Ignition Facility, almost 200 lasers are trained on a tiny amount of nuclear fuel. The laser beams do not actually reach the fuel. Instead, they “heat a gold can the size of a pencil eraser called a hohlraum, which emits a pulse of x-rays meant to ignite fusion by heating the fuel capsule at its center to tens of millions of degrees and compressing it to billions of atmospheres,” Science reports.

Over the last few years, the scientists at National Ignition Facility have tried several strategies that have led to improved outcomes in their trajectory towards nuclear fusion.

Of course, when it comes to nuclear fusion reactors, a race towards a new milestone will likely still take years to be decided. The scientists at the National Ignition Facility seem fairly confident the exciting ‘burning plasma’ milestone will take years, not decades, to reach.