The Department of Energy’s $3.5 billion laser, designed to simulate the energy of a nuclear explosion, is ready to fire up all of its 192 beams, AP reported Tuesday.
After more than a decade, that included several delays and cost overruns (it was initially supposed to cost $700 million), the world’s most powerful laser has been certified by the DOE and is ready to begin experiments, some of which physicists hope could lead the way to fusion energy.
The National Ignition Facility, located in a building with a footprint the size of three football fields at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, was designed to help the DOE ensure the country’s aging nuclear weapons stockpile remains reliable without detonating any bombs.
But recently, Livermore Lab has been repositioning itself as a more multi-dimensional facility as funding for nuclear weapons shrinks. The stockpile stewardship mission has been downplayed while the potential for an unlimited energy source has been touted.
Over the next year, NIF will increase the power until it reaches the temperature and pressures at the center of the sun by aiming all 192 laser beams into a chamber where they will be focused simultaneously on a deuterium-tritium target the size of the tip of your little finger. This is more than 60 times the energy of any other laser.