Los Alamos National Labs with logo 2021

Mission: Ignition

An advanced nuclear-fuel capsule offers a new shot at a functional solar core here on Earth.
February 1, 2019
An illustration of fusion occuring in the core of a nuclear weapon.

Fusion occurs at temperatures and densities so high that containing the material long enough to extract energy from its nuclear reactions is a major unsolved challenge. In a new approach, 192 powerful laser beams are used to implode an onion-like fuel capsule, ultimately delivering the required heat and compression to the nuclear fuel at its center.

"This was always going to be a long game. But it’s an incredibly worthwhile game."- Mark Schmitt, Los Alamos Scientist

Nuclear fusion happens effortlessly, even inevitably, at the temperature and density conditions at the core of the Sun. But to make it into a power source here on Earth, humanity must figure out how to replicate those conditions—creating and containing an artificial solar core—without consuming more energy in the process (or losing it along the way) than is generated by the fusion itself. Achieving that—getting more energy out than what was put in—is called ignition. Yet after nearly seven decades of fusion-science research and development, ignition remains a fairly distant hope, perhaps requiring a massive expansion, redesign, and replacement of the world’s already-extravagant fusion research facilities. Or might there be another way?


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