The science of nuclear energy
The science of nuclear energy

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The science of nuclear energy

4.2.7 The National Ignition Facility

In the following video, Brian Cox looks round the National Ignition Facility (NIF) and observes laser-induced fusion.

NIF has been running since 2009 and is still a way from producing fusion that maintains an overall gain in energy on a large scale.

However, since 2014 they have been able to produce more energy than that required to start the reaction. If you want to read more about this development, read this article from New Scientist [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] (Aron, 2014).

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_nuclear_energy_vid_1093.mp4
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Transcript

ENGINEER
So this is the sharp end of the whole system, if you like. This is where the lasers come down and start to get focused into the chamber. And each one of them has to be synchronised to a few trillionths of a second to arrive at exactly the same time and of course in exactly the right spot.
BRIAN COX
It's worth stepping back and realising what's happening here, isn't it, because you said there's 192 of these laser beams, which are not small in the middle of that, which is definitely not small.
ENGINEER
Absolutely.
BRIAN COX
There was a target. It was about that big.
ENGINEER
It's like about a millimetre wide.
BRIAN COX
It's a level of precision -
ENGINEER
Absolutely.
BRIAN COX
- and power that you're able to achieve.
ENGINEER
If you can do it uniformly. Then you can create a little star.
[MUSIC PLAYING]
BRIAN COX
It reminds me a little bit of Apollo in a sense. You just think, look what we can do if we try. So you see there, there's a gold cylinder, and in the middle, a little red ball. That's the fusion fuel.
One of those pellets, when all the fusion happens just right, could power my house for a day. So you imagine having a little bag of those pellets. And say you had 300 or 400 of them. You could fit them in your pocket. Then that would power your life for a year.
Thousands of these little pellets could power a spacecraft to the moon. Hundreds of thousands could power a spacecraft out to the edge of the solar system, or perhaps outwards to the stars. One of the interesting things about fusion technology is that there's no waste.
What happens when you released all the energy in that pellet of fuel is you produce helium. So you get your electricity and you get your party balloons, and that's pretty much it. So it's an inherently clean, safe, and extremely efficient technology.
OPERATIONS WORKER (OVER LOUDSPEAKER)
May I have your attention? Preparations for shot operations in laser bay two are underway. Leave laser bay two now. I repeat, leave laser bay two now.
BRIAN COX
This is the NIF control room. This is the heart of all operations. The reason I have to be quiet is because we're getting ready to do a shot.
OPERATIONS WORKER (OVER LOUDSPEAKER)
Main laser operation will begin in approximately one minute.
BRIAN COX
It's a bit like charging a flash gun. The banks of the capacitors all storing up the electric charge, getting ready to discharge all this energy into the lasers and output and output and output.
LEAD OPERATOR
Jacob, looks like it just turned green. Are you comfortable with us moving forward?
JACOB
Yeah. I don't see a problem.
LEAD OPERATOR
OK. So we're ready to proceed if you're OK with it.
JACOB
Yeah.
WOMEN OPERATOR (OVER LOUDSPEAKER)
All right. Proceeding to system shot countdown state.
BRIAN COX
It's the countdown.
LEAD OPERATOR
Start sequence on my mark. Three, two, one, mark. Count down started at T minus 255 seconds.
BRIAN COX
255 seconds. So in 255 seconds time, about 1,000 times the power generating capacity of the United States of America is going to be fired down into something a few millimetres across. That's cool. Brilliant that we can do this, isn't it? By we, I mean them. We, as in our civilisation.
[SIRENS SOUNDING AND MUSIC]
LEAD OPERATOR (OVER LOUDSPEAKER)
Five, four, three, two, one. Shot. [EXPLOSION]
BRIAN COX
That's it. Bang. And that's the future.
End transcript
 
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