In the early morning hours of Aug.13, Lawrence Livermore’s National Ignition Facility (NIF) focused all 192 of its ultra-powerful laser beams on a tiny deuterium-tritium filled capsule. In the nanoseconds that followed, the capsule imploded and released a neutron yield of nearly 3×1015, or approximately 8,000 joules of neutron energy—approximately three times NIF’s previous neutron yield record for cryogenic implosions.
The primary mission of NIF is to provide experimental insight and data for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s science-based stockpile stewardship program. The experiment attained conditions not observed since the days of underground nuclear weapons testing and represents an important milestone in the continuing demonstration that the stockpile can be kept safe, secure and reliable without a return to testing.
This newest accomplishment provides an important benchmark for the program’s computer simulation tools, and represents a step along the “path forward” for ignition delivered by the NNSA to Congress in December 2012. Early calculations show that fusion reactions in the hot plasma started to self-heat the burning core and enhanced the yield by nearly 50 percent, pushing close to the margins of alpha burn, where the fusion reactions dominate the process.
“The yield was significantly greater than the energy deposited in the hot spot by the implosion,” said Ed Moses, principle associate director for NIF and Photon Science. “This represents an important advance in establishing a self-sustaining burning target, the next critical step on the path to fusion ignition on NIF.” Via Laser fusion experiment yields record energy.