X-rays squeeze fuel to generate nuclear fusion energy
Working toward the vision of generating clean energy from nuclear fusion, researchers have successfully imploded fuel capsules by bombarding them with intense x-rays. The results show that the process generates significant fusion and that the implosion method looks capable of generating large-scale energy production.
The process works by bombarding two millimeter (about 1/16th inch) fuel capsules with intense x-rays from Sandia National Laboratories Z-pinch machine. The x-rays, impacting from all directions, cause an implosion that reduces the capsule’s size by a factor of ten (see images). This implosion needs to be symmetrical or else the capsules will break apart and fusion won’t take place. In one set of experiments, a high degree of symmetry has been achieved in the implosion process, indicating that the process might be scaled up to energy production levels. In another set of experiments using the Z-pinch, researchers observed significant production of neutrons, a sign of nuclear fusion.
These successful experiments are an important step toward ignition, the level at which the fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining and excess energy can be drawn from the process for other applications.
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