How To Improve Nuclear Fusion? With A LASER PUNCH

Nuclear fusion is a tricky business: the last thing you want is any of the residual radioactive isotopes leaking out from the reactor. So how might California's National Ignition Facility mitigate that possibility? By laser punching. Obviously.

The NIF may begin nuclear fusion later this year, according to the New Scientist:

To kick-start the reaction, the plan is to focus 192 high-power laser beams onto a tiny hollow metal cylinder that contains a small spherical fuel pellet of deuterium and tritium. The lasers would heat the cylinder to several million degrees, encouraging it to emit high-power X-rays into the pellet.

The X-rays would compress the fuel to 1/1000th of its original volume, raising its temperature and kick-starting a fusion reaction that spews out helium-4 and neutrons. The hope is that the reaction would release more energy than was injected into the system.

But that approach increases the possibility of radiation slough, which has lead some scientists to propose a "laser punch". This approach would hit the surface of the fuel, but not penetrate it. It's a more efficient method, though it would require laser pulses 100x more powerful that the NIF's current set up. To which I say: who couldn't use a more powerful laser?

It's just a theory right now, and further experiments are needed to test it out. Which is maybe the best news of all! If anyone needs a volunteer to push a button that fires off a laser punch, email me. [New Scientist]