National Ignition Facility Promises Endless Carbon-Free Power

Thursday, Jan 7, 2010  |  Updated 5:18 PM CDT
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National Ignition Facility Promises Endless Carbon-Free Power

LIVERMORE, California, November 11, 2008 (ENS) - Forty miles east of San Francisco, scientists are constructing a miniature Sun within a stadium-sized building at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

Called the National Ignition Facility, it will use 192 of the world's most power lasers to ignite a hydrogen fuel pellet, fusing its atoms, and producing enormous amounts of energy from that fusion.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and former Secretary of State George Shultz toured the facility on Monday. First, they received a private, classified briefing by lab director George Miller on the lab's operations, which includes stewardship of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.

The lab broke ground on the National Ignition Facility in 1997, and it is now 99 percent completed. It is scheduled to begin operations in March 2009.

Laboratory Director George Miller told the visitors that the National Ignition Facility "represents the culmination of more than 50 years by the scientists of the world to achieve fusion in the laboratory," adding that it will produce "the possibility of limitless clean energy."

The laser facility has multiple missions - research to support the nuclear weapons stockpile, research into the origins of the universe, and research to help pave the way for the future use of fusion energy.

The lab's first ignition attempt is set for 2010, with a goal of reaching nuclear fusion in 2011.

Governor Schwarzenegger described what is expected to happen when the 192 beams of light enter the hydrogen target the size of a pencil eraser.

"The impact will unleash a burst of fusion energy up to 500 billion watts of power and, just to show you what this is, generating the power of the United States and multiply that by a thousand. So that's what we are talking about, the energy this will create," the governor said.

California's fast-growing population needs not just more energy but more clean energy to fight global warming and keep the environment clean. The fusion energy that National Ignition Facility is expected to produce creates no greenhouse gases.

"What's most exciting about it is the potential to revolutionize our energy future," Schwarzenegger said. "Scientists here will work to harness that fusion energy and turn it into a viable long-term nuclear power source. And I have said many times that nuclear power ought to be part of our future energy supply, assuming that it is safe and the waste issue is addressed."

"If successful, this new endeavor, called The Life Program, would generate an endless amount of megawatts of carbon-free power - and that's the important thing, of carbon-free power - but without the drawbacks of the conventional nuclear plants, which means that there is no risk of a reactor melting down or anything like this," the governor said. "The nuclear waste is minimized. In fact, it would even replace or reduce existing nuclear stockpiles, since live engines can burn nuclear waste."

Schwarzenegger said he expects that within 10 to 12 years a fusion energy demonstration project will be up and running. "This is monumental, a monumental change," he said.

Schultz said, "Science is something that deserves support, because in the end science will support us and our future."

Ed Moses, principal associate director of the facility, who led the tour, said that energy security, and the creation of clean energy, is a key component of national security.

But not everyone is enthusiastic about the National Ignition Facility.

The local anti-nuclear group Tri-Valley CAREs has opposed the facility since 1994, believing that it may encourage nuclear proliferation.

Tri-Valley CAREs Executive Director Marylia Kelly says, "The NIF is the most costly element of the Department of Energy's tockpile Stewardship" program, and is intended to train a new generation of bomb designers and enhance U.S. capability to develop new and modified nuclear weapons."

{Photo: Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger tours the National Ignition Facility. (Photo courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Lab)}

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2008. All rights reserved.

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