Green light for fusion energy with PetaWatt lasers

The production of fusion energy with a PetaWatt laser is a step closer now that a team of scientists from Japan and the UK has demonstrated that the physics works. Using the GEKKO XII laser system at the Osaka University in Japan, the team has successfully conducted experiments at laser powers equivalent to those required for a full-scale ignition system, and the results will be published in Nature on Thursday 29 August 2002.

“We carried out a first “proof of principle” experiment in 2001 that showed that both the compression of the fusion fuel to high densities and substantial heating were both possible at the same time. Now the experiment has been repeated with a much more powerful PetaWatt laser as the heating source,” said Dr Peter Norreys from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, the UK team leader. “It was great to see a 1000-fold increase in fusion products as the heating energy increased from 50 to 350 Joules – proving that as you ramp up the laser power, the temperature rise keeps pace”.

“This is a very significant result. The demonstration that fast ignition works could be a very significant step towards the realisation of the production of energy by inertial confinement,” explained Professor Henry Hutchinson, Director of the Central Laser Facility at RAL “We must now very seriously consider the design and construction of a fast ignition facility which could demonstrate fusion energy gain in the foreseeable future”.

“According to our results, we are now planning and proposing a relatively inexpensive fusion ignition facility called the “FIREX (Fast Ignition Realization EXperiment)” project. If the laser fusion ignition facility employing the new ignition method can be built using steadily advancing laser technology, it will greatly advance the realisation of a compact and efficient, state-of-the-art nuclear fusion reactor. I believe that this would explore one of the most attractive fast-track paths to fusion energy production.” Said Professor Ryosuke Kodama, Osaka University, Japan.

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