The National Ignition Facility - A New Age in Science

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) is presently under construction at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in Livermore, California. NIF is a 192-beam Nd-glass laser system for studying inertial confinement fusion (ICF) and the physics at extreme temperatures (108 K), extreme pressures (10 GBar) and high energy densities (>100g/cm3). When completed in 2009, NIF will be able to produce 1.8 MJ, 500 TW of ultraviolet light for target experiments. This is approximately 100 times as energetic as present laboratory capabilities. The Project is approximately 90% complete with the first 48 beams operational in the main laser bay. These 48 beams have produced 1 Megajoule of 1.05-┬Ám light, making it already the most energetic pulsed infrared laser in the world by an order of magnitude. NIF has also demonstrated that it can meet all of its functional requirements and primary criteria in single-beam experiments.

The requirements for performance of the NIF laser are extremely demanding for reaching the goals of ICF. The ICF mission of NIF is to produce fusion ignition of thermonuclear fuel in the laboratory. Fusion is the process for heating the sun and is of long-term interest as a clean, reliable power source on earth. The approach on NIF for ignition is to use the lasers to compress and heat the deuterium-tritium (DT) fuel in millimeter-size capsules. Beyond the ignition mission, NIF will establish a unique capability to understand high energy physics issues relevant to fusion energy and basic science, including topics such as element formation in stars, planetary system formation, astrophysics and many others.

This talk will summarize progress on building the NIF laser – the world’s largest and most complex optical system – the campaign to achieve ignition in 2010, and the transition of NIF to the premier facility for exploring extreme conditions of high energy density physics.