(NIF) by the end of this decade. A key aim of this study is to determine how best to exploit this opportunity to advance the science and technology of IFE.
CURRENT R&D STATUS
U.S. research on inertial confinement fusion (ICF)—one of the two ways (the other is magnetic confinement fusion) energy is produced by means of fusion— has been supported by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), primarily for applications related to stewardship of the nuclear-weapons stockpile. This research has benefited inertial fusion for energy applications because the two share many common physics challenges.
The principal research efforts in the United States are aligned along the three major energy sources for driving the implosion of inertial confinement fusion fuel pellets: (1) lasers, including solid state lasers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL’s) NIF and the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE), as well as the krypton fluoride gas lasers at the Naval Research Laboratory; (2) particle beams, being explored by a consortium of laboratories led by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL); and (3) pulsed magnetic fields, being explored on the Z machine at Sandia National Laboratories.
There has been substantial scientific and technological progress in inertial confinement fusion during the past decade. Despite these advances, the minimum technical accomplishment that would give confidence that commercial IFE may be feasible—the ignition1 of a fuel pellet in the laboratory—has not been achieved as of this writing.2
For the first time, a research facility, the NIF3 at LLNL, conducted a systematic campaign at an energy scale that was projected to be sufficient to achieve ignition. In anticipation of this, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) asked the National Research Council (NRC) to review the prospects for inertial fusion energy with the following statement of task:
1 In this report, ignition is defined as “scientific breakeven,” in which the target releases an amount of energy equal to the energy incident upon it to drive the implosion.
2 As of December 27, 2012.
3 The NIF, which was designed for stockpile stewardship applications, currently uses a solid-state laser driver and an indirect-drive target configuration.