Laser enthusiasts everywhere, rejoice. California’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory just unveiled its $3.5 billion National Ignition Facility, a 10 story building as wide as three football fields that contains the world’s largest laser. When it goes online the facility will focus 192 laser beams on a 2 millimeter ball of frozen hydrogen gas in an attempt to create nuclear fusion – the holy grail of clean energy. If the machine does succeed, it stands to monumentally alter our energy landscape — one cubic kilometer of sea water has the fusion energy equivalent of the entire planet’s oil reserves!
If the test run of the machine succeeds, it will be the first in the world to produce more energy than it consumes. Once struck with the laser, the ball of hydrogen will theoretically heat up to 100,000,000C and fuse to form helium, releasing 2 million joules of energy.
But don’t get too excited just yet – while the machine is expected to work up to full power in the next 12 months, experiments will be continue to be conducted until 2040, and there are still technical details to work out. The facility’s central laser is only able to fire a few times a day, and the hydrogen fuel pellet has to be replaced between each shot. And then, of course, there are the NIMBY-ers. A group called Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment speculate that the machine is designed to help build nuclear weapons and could potentially contaminate the surrounding community with radioactive activity.
California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has stated: “We have invented the world’s largest laser system. We can create the stars right here on earth And I can see already my friends in Hollywood being very upset that their stuff that they show on the big screen is obsolete. We have the real stuff right here.”
Via Guardian UK