Exceeding Fusion Fuel Breakeven with Lasers at The National Ignition Facility

Parney Albright
Director 2011 - 2013, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Omar A. Hurricane
Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

John Edwards
Associate Director, National Ignition Facility, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Videography by Nerine & Robert Clemenzi, Edited by Nerine Clemenzi
Copyright © Philosophical Society of Washington.  All rights reserved.


The long sought-after goal of capturing the power source of the stars has been elusive. Fusion scientists have worked for decades on a series of increasingly advanced machines to create the conditions to initiate a self-sustaining fusion burn.

In one such approach, inertially confined fusion, conditions similar to those at the center of the sun are created using powerful lasers, focused on container of deuterium (D) and tritium (T). If the plasma created by the lasers can be confined for a sufficiently long period of time causing DT fusion reactions, self-heating caused by the alpha particles from the fusion reactions will accelerate until the process runs away and the plasma ignites in a self-sustaining burn. Of course, achieving this state is not easy!

In this talk, we will discuss the science, technology, and progress towards ignition on the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. In attempts to create ignition on NIF, the DT fuel is contained in a BB sized capsule which is imploded and compressed in volume by the lasers by a factor of ~40,000. To be successful the implosion must remain highly spherical, which is extremely challenging.

During this talk we will cover some of the setbacks encountered during the progress of the research at NIF, and some exciting recent advances. In particular, we will cover work using the new "high-foot" pulse-shape implosion that presently holds the record for fusion performance on the NIF. High-foot implosions are the first facility based fusion experiments to generate more energy from fusion than was invested in the fusion fuel. In these experiments, the yield was amplified by the alpha-particle self-heating process by more than ~2X. While much needs to be done to reach ignition, these new results are encouraging.

About the Author:

Parney Albright

Penrose ("Parney") Albright served as Director of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) from 2011 to 2013. Before becoming Director he was Principal Associate Director for Global Security at LLNL. Prior to joining LLNL he served as President of the Civitas Group. Before joining Civita he served as Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security, a role he took on after serving concurrently as Assistant Director for Homeland and National Security in the White House OSTP and as Senior Director for Research and Development in the Office of Homeland Security. Earlier in his career Parney worked at DARPA and took on a variety of assignments at the Institute for Defense Analysis.

Parney has been involved in the security arena since 1986. He led planning for the science and technology enterprise as the Department of Homeland Security was being formed. He served as principle advisor to the Secretary of DHS and the Executive Office of the President for security-related science and technology, particularly relating to explosives and CBRN a threats. He was he architect of the DHS R&D and counter-CBRN enterprise, and formulated the National Homeland Security RDT&E.

Parney earned a BS in Physics and Applied Mathematics from GWU and a PhD in Physics from U Md.

John Edwards

John Edwards is Associate Director of the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at LLNL, where he is Director for Inertial Confinement Fusion and High Energy Density Science (HEDS) and leader of the Inertial Confinement Fusion Program. He is responsible for directing the x-ray drive ignition effort. Prior to joining LLNL, John was group leader for the High Energy Research and Alternate Concepts at the Atomic Weapons Establishment in the United Kingdom.

John is a Fellow of the American Physical Society. He is an author on over 100 journal publications.

He earned a BSc is Physics and Astrophysics from U. Birmingham in the UK and a PhD from Imperial College, London.

Omar Hurricane

Omar Hurricane is a Distinguished Member of the Technical Staff at LLNL and lead scientist for the High-foot Implosion Campaign on NIF. His research is focused primarily on high energy density physics science, plasma instability, and weapons physics.

Among numerous awards, he is the recipient of DOE's Ernest Orlando Lawrence Award for National Security and Nonproliferation, DOE Defense Programs Recognition of Excellence Awards, and three LLNL Directors' Science & Technology. He is the an author of 60 journal publications and another 60 conference papers.

Omar earned a BS Physics and Applied Mathematics from Metropolitan State University of Denver, and an MS and PhD from UCLA.

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