Fusion – National Ignition Facility – Lawrence Livermore Lab

There are some fusion developments I can get excited about but the recent news from Lawrence Livermore isn’t one of them.

Although they achieved technical break-even, which is the point at which more energy came out of a fusion reaction than went into initiating it, it’s a long ways from real break even, given the inefficiency of the lasers, and certainly from economy break-even given that 192 extremely high power lasers need to be fired, and a single firing can’t be repeated with any frequency, certainly not the frequency that would be required for practical power generation.

The NIF is primary a research facility for understanding how a nuclear fusion bomb, that is a hydrogen bomb might work, given that we aren’t testing the real thing now.  It likes to present itself as a peaceful energy development resource but really it’s not a practical route to peaceful fusion energy.

On the other hand, Lockheed Skunk Works, which traditionally has created military hardware, expects to have a prototype 100MW trailer sized fusion reactor by 2017, and commercial production of same by 2022.  Skunk Works reactor is a magnetic confinement reactor similar to Tokamak, but unlike a Tokamak reactor where the magnetic field decreases as you get away from the center of the plasma, and thus is inherently unstable, Skunk Works design has a magnetic field that increases as you get away from the center of the plasma and thus is inherently stable.  It is also much more compact than a Tokamak design, and therefore likely to be less expensive.

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