You are currently viewing This is how nuclear fusion by inertial confinement is keeping the pulse of fusion by magnetic confinement

Much of the progress in nuclear fusion that we have witnessed in recent years is linked to fusion by magnetic confinement. This is the strategy used in ITER, the experimental reactor that an international consortium in which most of the planet’s scientific powers participate is building in the French town of Cadarache.

In it, the fusion of deuterium and tritium nuclei is possible thanks to the confinement of the gas that contains them inside a magnetic field. This process requires heating the plasma that acts as fuel until it reaches a temperature of at least 150 million degrees Celsius. At that temperature, the nuclei acquire the necessary kinetic energy to overcome their natural electrical repulsion (both have a positive electrical charge, so they repel each other) and merge.

Very roughly, this is how nuclear fusion by magnetic confinement works, but this is not the only possible way. There is also another strategy known as nuclear fusion by inertial confinementand, unlike magnetic confinement, it does not use a magnetic field of enormous intensity to prevent the plasma from touching the walls of the vacuum chamber that contains it.

Instead of using a magnetic bottle, what he proposes is to use a very small amount of fuel, in the form of a small ball of deuterium and tritium, and make it implode by suddenly concentrating on it the energy of a large number of high-power lasers. . In this way the fuel is condensed with tremendous violence so that the probability of the deuterium and tritium nuclei merging is very high.

All eyes are on the argon fluoride laser

Nuclear fusion by inertial confinement faces two major challenges, which, in turn, can be broken down into many other smaller challenges. The first of these is the need to achieve energy profitability, which is the point at which we get more energy through fusion than we have invested in triggering it. This milestone still seems to be far away. The second challenge requires finding a way to stabilize the reaction so that it can be sustained over time.

Fortunately, nuclear fusion using inertial confinement, like the strategy using magnetic confinement, continues to develop slowly. Scientists working on it are focusing primarily on optimizing the lasers and the package that contains the fuel. On August 8, 2021, the technicians of the NIF experiment (National Ignition Facility) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, located in California (United States), managed to generate 1.3 megajoules for a tiny fraction of a second.

The new argon fluoride laser is capable, according to simulations, of transferring energy to the fuel encapsulation in a more efficient way

This result was welcomed with open arms by all of us who closely follow advances in nuclear fusion because it brings the strategy that advocates inertial confinement one step closer to energy profitability. Every achievement, no matter how small, is a spur that encourages scientists to keep going, and just a few days ago NRL researchers (Naval Research Laboratory), the US Naval Research Laboratory, have fine-tuned a high power laser which, according to them, fits like a glove in the strategy of nuclear fusion by inertial confinement.

It is an argon fluoride laser that, according to the simulations carried out at the NRL, should be able to transfer energy to the encapsulation that contains the fuel more efficiently than the krypton fluoride lasers used up to now. now. In this way, the fuel will reach a higher temperature in less time, and the implosion necessary for the fusion of the deuterium and tritium nuclei to be possible will arrive with less energy invested in the process. There is no doubt that it sounds good, so now it only remains to trust that the result of the simulation is corroborated by the first tests in the reactor.

Commercial nuclear fusion is still a long way off. The itinerary set by the consortium participating in ITER foresees that the first commercial nuclear power plant that will use a nuclear fusion reactor by means of magnetic confinement will come in the 60’s. If everything follows its course. In any case, it is very good news that the technology involved in both magnetic and inertial confinement strategies continues to develop. In fact, the latter could help us achieve more compact, simpler and less expensive reactors if it finally comes to fruition. Let us hope that this is the case, even if we still have to wait several decades.

Cover image: US NRL

More information: US Naval Research Laboratory


Disclaimer: If you need to update/edit/remove this news or article then please contact our support team Learn more

Tarun Kumar

Tarun Kumar has worked in the News sector for 05 years and is currently the Owner and Editor of Then24. He reside in Delhi, India with his Family.

Leave a Reply