Tuesday, September 26, 2023

The United States will play a key role in the nuclear fusion race

The US Department of Energy (known as DOE) is a strong advocate for the development of inertial confinement fusion. And the institution doing most of the research in this area is the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LNLL), based in California. This center dedicates a large part of its activity to the development of nuclear weapons, although its purpose is also to drive innovation in the energy field.

In any case, the DOE is the main source of funding for LNLL. Just two weeks ago, this scientific facility acquired a certain importance: its technicians had managed to successfully repeat the milestone they announced in mid-December 2022. In short, they had managed to generate 3.15 megajoules of energy in their inertial fusion reactor. According to those responsible for the experiment, this energy delivery represents a net energy advantage of 35%, although the commercial application of this technology is still a long way off.

And that’s because inertial fusion has to solve several very important challenges to be commercially viable. Even more than the magnetic confinement fusion used by ITER. In general, it must be so. Handling high-energy neutrons This results, among other things, from the fusion of the deuterium and tritium cores as well as the necessary technological support to ensure, among other things, a continuous, precise, and very fast supply of fuel microspheres of at least ten capsules per second to the reactor.

$112 million to support nuclear fusion

DOE officials and LNLL scientists know better than anyone the tremendous engineering challenges ahead in developing practical applications of inertial fusion. And we can be reasonably certain that the recent success of this last institution has prompted the DOE to announce a $112 million investment in 12 supercomputing projects designed precisely to help solve these challenges.

Supercomputers are of great importance for simulating complex systems

This cash injection from the DOE will come as part of a program called SciDAC (Scientific discovery through advanced computing), which promotes the use of supercomputers to solve some scientific challenges. And yes, it makes sense. This is because these machines are very important tools when performing complex system simulations, such as the dynamics of plasma in nuclear fusion reactors under magnetic confinement.

However, if we stay with the inert nuclear fusion that concerns us, the Department of Energy’s plan is to model and simulate the multiple physical processes involved in plasma dynamics under extreme conditions, with the aim of embarking on the path that involves the design of a nuclear power plant and a pilot fusion plant. That doesn’t sound bad at all, although, as we’ve seen, it’s clear that that goal is still a long way off. The Joe Biden-led administration has set itself the goal of building a fusion power plant within the next decade, but a priori, that sounds too ambitious. We’ll see if they succeed.

World Nation News Desk
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