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Sandia Scientists Confirm; Huge Pulsed Power Machine Enters Fusion Arena!!!
Science Daily ^ | 2003-04-07 | Editorial Staff

Posted on 04/07/2003 4:26:58 PM PDT by vannrox

Z Produces Fusion Neutrons, Sandia Scientists Confirm; Huge Pulsed Power Machine Enters Fusion Arena

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (April 7, 2003) -- Throwing its hat into the ring of machines that offer the possibility of achieving controlled nuclear fusion, Sandia National Laboratories' Z machine has created a hot dense plasma that produces thermonuclear neutrons, Sandia researchers announced today at a news conference at the April meeting of the American Physical Society in Philadelphia.

The neutrons emanate from fusion reactions within a BB-sized deuterium capsule placed within the target of the huge machine. Compressing hot dense plasmas that produce neutrons is an important step toward realizing ignition, the level at which the fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining.

The amount of energy a larger successor to Z could bring to bear offers the still-later possibility of high-yield fusion -- the state in which much more energy is released than is needed to provoke the reaction initially to occur. The excess energy could be used for applications such as the generation of electricity, said Tom Mehlhorn, a project leader on the machine.

Z causes reactions to occur neither by confining low density plasmas in dimensionally huge magnetic fields, as do tokomaks, nor by focusing intense laser beams on or around a target, as in laser fusion, but simply through the application of huge pulses of electricity applied with very sophisticated timing. The pulse creates an intense magnetic field that crushes tungsten wires into a foam cylinder to produce X-rays. The X-ray energy, striking the surface of the target capsule embedded in the cylinder, produces a shock wave that compresses the deuterium within the capsule, fusing enough deuterium to produce neutrons.

"Pulsed power electrical systems have always been energy-rich but power-poor," said Ray Leeper, a Sandia manager. "That is, we can deliver a lot of energy, but it wasn't clear we could concentrate it on a small enough area to create fusion. Now it seems clear we can do that."

A partial confirmation of the result came about when theoretical predictions and lab outcomes were determined to be of the same order of magnitude. Predictions and measurements of the neutron yield were both of the order of 10 billion neutrons. The predicted neutron yield depends on the ion density temperature and volume. Those quantities were independently confirmed by X-ray spectroscopy measurements.

Neutron pulses were observed as early as last summer but researchers were wary that the output was produced by interactions between the target and ions generated by Z's processes, rather than within the capsule itself.

Ion-generated neutrons were not the point of the experiment, since they would not scale up into a high-yield event in any later, more powerful version of Z.

But a series of experiments completed in late March demonstrated that the production was within the capsule itself. To show this, researchers inserted xenon gas within the capsule. The gas prevented the capsule from getting hot during compression. Thus, the neutron yield dropped dramatically, as predicted.

The action takes place within a container the size of a pencil eraser, called a hohlraum, at the center of the Z machine, itself a circular device about 120 feet in diameter.

Sandia researchers Jim Bailey and Gordon Chandler led the experimental team and Steve Slutz performed theortical calculations. Sandian Carlos Ruiz and Gary Cooper of the University of New Mexico performed the neutron measurements.

Editor's Note: The original news release can be found here.

Note: This story has been adapted from a news release issued for journalists and other members of the public. If you wish to quote any part of this story, please credit Sandia National Laboratories as the original source. You may also wish to include the following link in any citation:

TOPICS: Business/Economy; Culture/Society; Extended News; Foreign Affairs; Government; News/Current Events
KEYWORDS: 121gigawatts; atom; atomic; discovery; energy; energylist; fission; fluxcapacitor; fusion; iter; light; nuclear; power; radiation; realscience; science; techindex; technology; unlimited
This is exciting news!
1 posted on 04/07/2003 4:26:58 PM PDT by vannrox
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To: vannrox
Fusion (of any sort) BUMP!
2 posted on 04/07/2003 4:28:35 PM PDT by aruanan
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To: vannrox
This is cool stuff. If these dudes would hire me I'd hitchhike out there in a heartbeat. I talked to somebody a few months back who was researching plasma density localization via oscillating B-fields...
3 posted on 04/07/2003 4:32:05 PM PDT by maxwell (Well I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation...)
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To: vannrox
Note to Saudi Arabia.
4 posted on 04/07/2003 4:33:01 PM PDT by PokeyJoe (BBQ Iraqi Pork Ribs for Dinner.)
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To: PokeyJoe
Fish carburetor ?
5 posted on 04/07/2003 4:36:27 PM PDT by Eric in the Ozarks
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To: vannrox
This stuff is so far over my head, I feel a sudden urge to "Duck and Cover".
6 posted on 04/07/2003 4:39:42 PM PDT by Migraine (...that really goes against migraine!)
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To: Migraine
So, we can begin to see gas prices fall at the pump soon?
7 posted on 04/07/2003 4:43:12 PM PDT by princess leah
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To: vannrox
So this will work to compact and excite deuterium, producing fusion reaction?
How much radiation is released?
8 posted on 04/07/2003 4:43:14 PM PDT by rmlew ("Millions for defense, but not one cent for tribute.")
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To: vannrox
Sounds alot like the 2 stage H-bombs of the early 60's.
They also used heated foam to generate X-rays to compress Deuterium. Interesting!
9 posted on 04/07/2003 4:44:04 PM PDT by Zathras
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To: Zathras
That's actually a common misperception.

The foam didn't react appreciably--it was used because it was relatively transparent to X-Rays, but could be cut easily into whatever shape was necessary to support the components and keep them aligned.
10 posted on 04/07/2003 4:46:24 PM PDT by Poohbah (Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women!)
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To: princess leah
I thought Lyndon LaRouche's scientist friends licked the fusion problem in 1985? Someone should have told Sandia physicists huh?
11 posted on 04/07/2003 4:47:02 PM PDT by blackdog (Peace, love, and understanding.....$10 bucks a hit in America.)
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To: Poohbah
Time to but stock in deuterium, much like I enjoyed that brief palladium up-spike in 1981. Somehow history keeps repeating itself.

When I can run my chainsaw on it.....I'll buy the idea.

12 posted on 04/07/2003 4:50:06 PM PDT by blackdog (Peace, love, and understanding.....$10 bucks a hit in America.)
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To: blackdog
No, they just designed an X-Ray laser for his personal doomsday weapon :o)
13 posted on 04/07/2003 4:50:34 PM PDT by Poohbah (Crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and hear the lamentations of their women!)
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To: *Energy_List; *RealScience; *tech_index; sourcery; Ernest_at_the_Beach
14 posted on 04/07/2003 4:52:45 PM PDT by Libertarianize the GOP (Ideas have consequences)
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To: maxwell
Can you explain to me what happens after ignition?
15 posted on 04/07/2003 4:59:15 PM PDT by thoughtomator (I predict hysteria at the UN)
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To: vannrox
kool! just in time too. we've just begun to study nuclear physics in my physics class.
16 posted on 04/07/2003 4:59:44 PM PDT by swaimh (Venimus, vidimus, vicimus: we came, we saw, we conquered [saddam, that is])
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To: blackdog
I thought Lyndon LaRouche's scientist friends licked the fusion problem in 1985? Someone should have told Sandia physicists huh?

No, those scientists featured in Fusion were legitimate. The reporting of their research was used by LL in Fusion to legitimize and push his agenda. He did the same thing with the strategic defense initiative. I read about it first in Fusion.

I remember once seeing a photo published in Fusion of a Fusion employee that supposedly taken with a particular fusion scientist at some function. The LL Fusion employee was standing there grinning at the camera and the scientist had a really surprised look like, "Who the hell is this person standing next to me getting her picture taken?" It was obviously not a photograph of a couple of people who knew each other and were talking. For some reason I think the woman's name was Marsha. I remember writing to her and saying that I enjoyed reading about developments around the world in fusion, but that I thought LL's approach to the economy was rather dirigiste. She replied in a somewhat hysterical tone asking me why I said that.
17 posted on 04/07/2003 5:12:26 PM PDT by aruanan
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To: vannrox
Excellent news - and great find. Thanks for posting!

18 posted on 04/07/2003 5:15:52 PM PDT by 11B3 (.308 holes make invisible souls. Belt fed liberal eraser.)
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To: vannrox
Later read.
19 posted on 04/07/2003 5:24:22 PM PDT by Diddley (I'm a man of few words.)
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To: vannrox
20 posted on 04/07/2003 5:24:24 PM PDT by Captain Beyond (The Hammer of the gods! (Just a cool line from a Led Zep song))
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To: vannrox
area 51 reverse enginering technology.
21 posted on 04/07/2003 5:27:52 PM PDT by green team 1999
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To: vannrox
If we could ever make this work at the power plant level, the world would be a much more interesting place. It will happen someday - when is anybody's guess.
22 posted on 04/07/2003 5:28:29 PM PDT by July 4th
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To: July 4th
Wow, 120 ft diameter? I hope they can reduce the size somewhat before getting into hundreds of mega watts - jeez! The thing might have the undesired effect of blocking out the sun.
It's cool though, just when we starting thinking cold fusion was dead.
23 posted on 04/07/2003 6:12:46 PM PDT by WhoisAlanGreenspan?
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Comment #24 Removed by Moderator

To: vannrox
Let me throw my man's 'hat into the ring of machines that offer the possibility of controlled nuclear fusion' as he routinely 'creates hot dense plasma' that is repleat with 'thermonuclear neutrons'!

Hoo-yaa !!! !! !!

25 posted on 04/07/2003 6:49:58 PM PDT by dodger
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To: thoughtomator
Ignition: The condition in which the fusion process has sufficient power to maintain the plasma temperature without external heat input [i.e., "level at which the fusion reaction becomes self-sustaining"]. An “ignited” reactor plasma burns on its own without external heat input in much the same way that an ordinary fire will burn on its own once a portion of a flammable fuel has been made sufficiently hot.
26 posted on 04/07/2003 7:13:47 PM PDT by maxwell (Well I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation...)
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To: vannrox
Who needs fusion? Fission works great.

These guys have been 10 years from breaking even for the last 40 years. This is welfare for eggheads, folks.

Fission hit the break even point in less than decade.

27 posted on 04/07/2003 7:13:59 PM PDT by AdamSelene235 (Like all the jolly good fellows, I drink my whiskey clear....)
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To: thoughtomator
General Atomics has a tech info site where they describe their internal confinement concept (using pulsed energy sources, e.g. lasers, as opposed to magnetic confinement, which I alluded to above, or stellar gravitational confinement)...

This is cool stuff-- I find B-confinement the most intriguing because you have to find the plasma density configuration for the system minimum-- which apparently doesn't quite correspond to the energetic minimum...

28 posted on 04/07/2003 7:25:55 PM PDT by maxwell (Well I'm sure I'd feel much worse if I weren't under such heavy sedation...)
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To: vannrox
Bump. Great picture of the Z machine here.
29 posted on 04/07/2003 7:41:42 PM PDT by ThinkDifferent
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To: ThinkDifferent
Great Pic! Thanks for posting it!
30 posted on 04/07/2003 8:01:17 PM PDT by Publicus
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To: vannrox
If they can convert this into a reliable, continuous source of electricity - and perhaps use the waste heat for water purification and industrial processes - then this really is great news. Fusion is truly new energy on the planet, since the nearest natural source is the Sun.

Energy from fission is actually just using another consumable fossil fuel - in this case it happens to be Uranium instead of hydrocarbons. But fissionable Uranium is rare, while Hydrogen, of which Deuterium is a subtype, constitutes the large majority of all of the common matter in the universe.
31 posted on 04/08/2003 8:47:06 AM PDT by MainFrame65
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To: vannrox

Here's the nytimes' report.

April 8, 2003
New Fusion Method Offers Hope of New Energy Source

HILADELPHIA, April 7 — With a blast of X-rays compressing a capsule of hydrogen to conditions approaching those at the center of the Sun, scientists from Sandia National Laboratories reported today that they had achieved thermonuclear fusion, in essence detonating a tiny hydrogen bomb.

Such controlled explosions would not be large enough to be dangerous and might offer an alternative way of generating electricity by harnessing fusion, the process that powers the Sun. Fusion combines hydrogen atoms into helium, producing bountiful energy as a byproduct.

"It's the first observation of fusion for a pulsed power source," said Dr. Ramon J. Leeper, manager of the target physics department at Sandia, in Albuquerque, who presented the findings at a meeting of the American Physical Society here.

Fusion power would be safer than fission, the current method used in nuclear power plants, because fusion does not produce long-lived radioactive waste.

Most fusion efforts have tried to use magnetic fields to compress hydrogen to temperatures hot enough for fusion to occur continuously, as it does in the Sun. But sustaining a dense hot cloud of hydrogen gas has proved trickier than scientists thought when they started fusion experiments 50 years ago. Even proponents say decades of research and expensive reactors are needed before a commercial power plant is possible. Dr. Jeff Quintenz, director of the Pulsed Power Sciences Center at Sandia, likened the approach to burning coal in a furnace.

The Sandia experiments, by comparison, could lead to something more like an internal combustion engine, in which power is generated through a series of explosions. "Squirt in a little bit of fuel, explode it," Dr. Quintenz said. "Squirt in a little bit of fuel, explode it."

That approach is potentially simpler, eliminating the need to confine hot hydrogen gas. But designing a machine that could detonate controlled thermonuclear explosions in quick succession — and survive them — is an engineering challenge that scientists have only begun to think about.

Earlier, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California set off fusion explosions by shining intense lasers on hydrogen capsules. Livermore plans to further that research in a new National Ignition Facility. Other scientists are looking to implode hydrogen with beams of heavy elements like xenon or cesium.

The Sandia apparatus, the Z accelerator, was originally built to study nuclear weapons explosions without actual nuclear tests. In the mid-90's, the Z accelerator put out an impressive 20 trillion watts of X-rays. But that was far short of what is needed to induce fusion, and Sandia officials considered turning it off.

Improvements have raised the peak X-ray power by a factor of 10, to more than 200 trillion watts. It has been considered a dark-horse candidate for practical fusion. "We are solidly in the fusion regime," Dr. Quintenz said. "We're in the game."

For a few billionths of a second, the power of the X-rays crashing into the hydrogen capsule far exceeds the output of all the world's power plants.

Most of the 104-foot-wide machine, which resembles a large wagon wheel, stores a large amount of electrical energy, enough to power 100 houses for two minutes, and unleashing it quickly, which sets off a Rube Goldberg chain of events that leads to fusion. At the center of the machine are 360 vertical tungsten wires that form a cylindrical cage one and a half inches across. Inside the cage is a plastic foam cylinder. Encased in the foam is a BB-size plastic capsule that holds deuterium, a heavy form of hydrogen.

The burst of 20 million amperes of current vaporizes the tungsten wires and generates a magnetic field that accelerates the tungsten vapor toward the center of the cylinder. The vapor slams into the plastic foam, creating a supersonic shock wave. The shock wave generates X-rays that heat the deuterium to more than 20 million degrees Fahrenheit and squeeze it tightly.

In experiments last year, the Sandia researchers first detected telltale neutrons produced by the fusion reactions. They confirmed their findings last month. At present, the thermonuclear explosions are minuscule pops, enough to power a 40-watt light bulb for a mere one ten-thousandth of a second. "This is a first step on a long road," Dr. Leeper said.

A $60 million upgrade to the Z accelerator planned for 2005 will increase the maximum current by a third. Sandia scientists hope for a larger, more powerful machine later. "The physics looks encouraging," said Dr. Dale M. Meade of the Princeton University Plasma Physics Laboratory.

Eventually, to generate electricity, the Sandia scientists envision surrounding the fusion chamber with a liquid that heats up by absorbing the neutrons generated by the fusion reaction. The hot liquid would boil water to turn a turbine.

The Z machine can fire one shot a day. A power plant using the technology would have to include a robotic system that could replace the burned-out tungsten wires, foam and hydrogen capsule every few seconds. Dr. Quintenz said the future plant might be able to produce pulses of energy one trillion times as large as that coming from the Z machine.

Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. Lasers, which can be precisely focused, win the most attention. The $4 billion National Ignition Facility will fire 192 lasers at one target. Lasers, however, are relatively inefficient. Scientists looking to use heavy elements hope to take advantage of existing technology from particle physics accelerators, using magnets to guide charged particles. The Z machine is relatively energy-efficient and straightforward. "It's a simple technology, really, and it's robust," Dr. Leeper said.

Traditional magnetic-confinement fusion is also moving forward. An international group may build a $5 billion experimental reactor.

"It's premature to judge which is the winner," said Dr. Stewart C. Prager, a fusion scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "We definitely need more physics."

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company | Privacy Policy
32 posted on 04/08/2003 9:10:37 AM PDT by aculeus
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To: AdamSelene235
I couldn't agree more. Fission has "worked" for mankind since December 2, 1942 (and a lot longer in nature - Africa and maybe the core). Today it provides for more than 20 percent of our electrical grid's and propulsion power for numerous boats and ships (That's not to mention as part of the trigger for deterent weapons). It is near criminal that we're not using more fission power as part of our energy mixture, especially since we're blessed with the uranium and knowledge. Fission power makes money for generation companies now.

When I was studying nuclear power in the 1970s, it was suggested to me that fusion power was only 10 years away and the Lawson criteria (break even) would satified in a few more years after that. This definitely a boondoogle - although it has some neat toys I'd love to play with.
33 posted on 04/08/2003 9:41:16 AM PDT by 103198
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To: MainFrame65
Your first sentence reads from the 1954 AEC booklet on fission power. Fusion has its own set of problems including what to do with materials irradiated from very high energy neutrons and how to capture the energy. It is not the panacea that those looking for funding may suggest. Fusion energy has been used on earth since the first hydrogen device was tested in the 1950s.

All energy production uses consumable fuels, whether fission or fusion. In fact, using breeder fission technology, more fissionable material can be "created" than is used - which is unlike any other energy source I can think of at the moment. If you include thorium and plutonium in the fuel cycle - in addition to uranium, fisson power can offer us earthlings a long, safe, environmentally clean, and low cost energy source.
34 posted on 04/08/2003 10:04:26 AM PDT by 103198
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To: 103198
I agree that radiation from any kind of fusion power reactor is likely to produce some level radioactive wastes that will require treatment and isolation.

Fusion on the Earth has not, to date, produced usable energy in any form other than extremely large explosions. The experimental reactors that have approached breakeven have never produced a single watt for public consumption.

A breeder reactor still depends on consuming a limited resource - in this case, the U238 that is transformed into fissionable Plutonium. I don't know the actual numbers, but I believe that fissionable materials could provide more energy than all of the recoverable hydrocarbon fossil fuels, if fully exploited, but it is still a limited, relatively rare resource. On the other hand, fusion fuel is far more plentiful. I realize that the supply is not infinite, but it far exceeds any other energy source around.

If you look at my past comments, you will see that I am very much an advocate of fission power, now and for quite a way into the future. But if we ever can make fusion work, it will be the winner.
35 posted on 04/08/2003 11:24:49 AM PDT by MainFrame65
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