The National Ignition Facility: an experimental platform for studying behavior of matter under extreme conditions
The National Ignition Facility (NIF), a 192-beam Nd-glass laser facility capable of producing 1.8 MJ and 500 TW of ultraviolet light, is now operational at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). As the world’s largest and most energetic laser system, NIF serves as the national center for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and National Nuclear Security Administration to achieve thermonuclear burn in the laboratory and to explore the behavior of matter at extreme temperatures and energy densities. By concentrating the energy from all of its 192 extremely energetic laser beams into a mm3-sized target, NIF can reach the conditions required to initiate fusion reactions. NIF can also provide access to extreme scientific environments: temperatures about 100 million K, densities of 1,000 g/cm3, and pressures 100 billion times atmospheric pressure. These conditions have never been created before in a laboratory and exist naturally only in interiors of the planetary and stellar environments as well as in nuclear weapons.
Since August 2009, the NIF team has been conducting experiments in support of the National Ignition Campaign (NIC)—a partnership among LLNL, Los Alamos National Laboratory, General Atomics, the University of Rochester, Sandia National Laboratories, as well as a number of universities and international collaborators. The results from these initial experiments show promise for the relatively near-term achievement of ignition. Capsule implosion experiments at energies up to 1.2 MJ have demonstrated laser energetics, radiation temperatures, and symmetry control that scale to ignition conditions. Of particular importance is the demonstration of peak hohlraum temperatures near 300 eV with overall backscatter less than 10%. Cryogenic target capability and additional diagnostics are being installed in preparation for layered target deuterium-tritium implosions to be conducted later in 2010. Important national security and basic science experiments have also been conducted on NIF. This paper describes the unprecedented experimental capabilities of NIF and the results achieved so far on the path toward ignition, for stockpile stewardship, and the beginning of frontier science experiments. The paper will also address our plans to transition NIF to a national user facility, providing access to NIF for researchers from the DOE laboratories, as well as the national and international academic and fusion energy communities.
KeywordsNational Ignition Facility National Ignition Campaign Inertial fusion energy Inertial confinement fusion High energy density science Laser inertial fusion energy
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