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National Ignition Facility Fails To Ignite Support In Congress

samzenpus posted about 2 years ago | from the no-burning-desire dept.

Power 190

Hugh Pickens writes "For more than 50 years, physicists have been eager to achieve controlled fusion, an elusive goal that could potentially offer a boundless and inexpensive source of energy. Now Bill Sweet writes in IEEE Spectrum that the National Ignition Facility (NIF), now five billion dollars over its original budget and years behind schedule, deserves to be recognized as perhaps the biggest and fattest white elephant of all time. With the total tab for NIF now running to an estimated $7 billion, the laboratory has been pulling out all the stops to claim success is just around the corner. 'We didn't achieve the goal,' said Donald L. Cook, an official at the National Nuclear Security Administration who oversees the laser project but rather than predicting when it might succeed, he added in an interview, 'we're going to settle into a serious investigation' of what caused the unforeseen snags. On one hand, the laser's defenders point out, hard science is by definition risky, and no serious progress is possible without occasional failures. On the other, federal science initiatives seldom disappoint on such a gargantuan scale, and the setback comes in an era of tough fiscal choices and skepticism about science among some lawmakers. 'If the main goal is to achieve a power source that could replace fossil fuels, we suspect the money would be better spent on renewable sources of energy that are likely to be cheaper and quicker to put into wide use,' editorializes the NY Times. 'Congress will need to look hard at whether these "stockpile stewardship" and long-term energy goals can be pursued on a smaller budget.'"

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190 comments

Just tell Mitt Romney it's part of the military. (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41583923)

Then he'll never cut it, no matter how much waste it is.

Either that, or find a way to spin it as a cut to Medicare.

Just make sure he knows it's got nothing to do with PBS, that massive drain on the federal budget that never produces anything of value. Why I can't count the ways it hasn't helped me!

Re:Just tell Mitt Romney it's part of the military (4, Informative)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 2 years ago | (#41584009)

The NIF is part of the military essentially. While it has the side-benefit of allowing us to investigate inertial confined fusion, I thought the whole point of places like that was as a way to test nuclear weapons without actually setting them off?

Re:Just tell Mitt Romney it's part of the military (3, Informative)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#41584195)

Yes, in this case it isn't even some secret mission, but one of the reasons the program was set up. The NIF's goal is to improve our understanding of fusion. There are two stated applications for doing so: 1) improving designs for possible future fusion-power reactors; and 2) improving understanding of how matter behaves in a thermonuclear explosion.

The news seems to mostly be about #1, but really #2 is a pretty key part of the reason it exists.

NIF never made much sense for power generation (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 2 years ago | (#41584219)

While it has the side-benefit of allowing us to investigate inertial confined fusion, I thought the whole point of places like that was as a way to test nuclear weapons without actually setting them off?

I've wondered this myself. The design of it seems to make little sense (to me anyway) for use as a sustainable source of power. You blast the target and hopefully get a fusion reaction but then what? There's no turbine or continuous generation of power and the design of it pretty much seems to preclude such use. It makes sense a way to study fusion reactions (and related weapons) but not so much for power generation. Maybe there is hope for some spin-off technology if it was successful but really it seems like a pricey attempt to get around nuclear test ban treaties.

Re:NIF never made much sense for power generation (3, Informative)

vlm (69642) | about 2 years ago | (#41584433)

There's no turbine or continuous generation of power and the design of it pretty much seems to preclude such use.

The walls heat up. That energy is going somewhere. Tell your local thermodynamics engineer, "You dump 10 MW of electricity into it, and magically the walls get 200 MW of heat at a million degrees or so, now do your Rankine/Carnot thing and generate 100 MW of electricity". Stand back and let the engineer work, and ta da !

Re:NIF never made much sense for power generation (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#41585215)

Except there's no way to reload the fuel after each shot (which lasts for a tiny fraction of a second), there's no way to recharge the lasers fast enough even if you could get the fuel in place, and there's no guarantee that the equipment can safely operate at temperatures that make extraction practical. So no, it's not that simple.

Re:NIF never made much sense for power generation (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41586043)

It is definitely not a simple problem to be solved, but certainly has had a lot of work put into it. While NIF's setup fires only about once a day, older laser setups ran several times an hour on par with magnetic fusion facility repetition rates. HiPER in Europe is supposed to be much more fusion power centered, and is being designed toward running at either 1 Hz or 10 Hz to be much more closer to what actual power plant conditions.

Re:NIF never made much sense for power generation (1)

gtall (79522) | about 2 years ago | (#41585221)

Don't do many science experiments, do you? If you had to design a fusion reactor, for which you need to figure out how to make fusion self-sustaining, would you (a) build all the support structure of turbines, steam pipes, etc. as well as the design and build the fusion reactor, or (b) figure out how to make fusion self-sustaining and then worry later about the support structure? Hint, you rarely if ever build the engineering before figuring out the science since how the science comes out will indicate how the engineering should proceed. It's an experiment, not a finalized design.

Assumptions (3, Informative)

sjbe (173966) | about 2 years ago | (#41585923)

Don't do many science experiments, do you?

Since you "asked", my first real job was as a research assistant in a laser and plasma physics lab working on an experiment to study hypersonic shock waves for fusion research. I also have an engineering degree with a minor in applied physics. But thanks for assuming I'm ignorant without actually knowing anything about me.

It's an experiment, not a finalized design.

I'm well aware that it is an experiment. However it also is an experiment that almost certainly cannot be translated into a working power plant. It is designed to study weapons and if we happen to learn something useful for fusion power along the way that is terrific. Don't get me wrong, I support research endeavors like the NIF. I think there will be some terrific engineering and scientific spin offs. I just don't think the sort of research they are doing is likely to lead to fusion as a power source. I'd be delighted to be wrong but I doubt I am.

Re:NIF never made much sense for power generation (3, Insightful)

ericloewe (2129490) | about 2 years ago | (#41585453)

Their goal isn't to generate power. Their goal is to prove that it's possible to generate power.

Proof by doing (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 2 years ago | (#41586041)

Their goal isn't to generate power. Their goal is to prove that it's possible to generate power.

The only way to truly prove that it is possible to generate power IS to generate power. There is no mechanism in this experiment by which a sustained fusion reaction will occur nor is there any effort I can discern by which they are attempting to actually generate electricity. It is a research experiment for nuclear weapons from which we might learn something useful down the road for fusion power.

NIF isn't "getting around" anything (5, Informative)

daveschroeder (516195) | about 2 years ago | (#41585565)

NIF has three missions:

- National security (stockpile stewardship [llnl.gov]
- Basic fusion science [llnl.gov]
- Understanding the origins of the basic building blocks of the universe [llnl.gov]

That's it.

I hate to break it you you, but much of what we do in basic science research is dual-use. It can be used for military applications, or purely scientific applications. Doing stockpile stewardship without nuclear tests is not "getting around" nuclear test ban treaties. It's maintaining the integrity of our increasingly smaller nuclear stockpile as a credible deterrent.

This overwhelming deterrent capability is part of the reason why the world has seen no major global conflict for seven decades [lanl.gov] , and has had the longest period of peace without global conflict for over five centuries. Tens of millions of people died in WWI and WWII.

We maintain a credible deterrent so it's clear that no one can ever strike us first [youtube.com] without the certainty of themselves also being destroyed -- and if our principles and ideals and those of our allies are something you care about, then that should be important to you.

The world is changing, and some might say that the general "cyber" and information threats will more important than nuclear. China certainly seems to think so. [slashdot.org] Then again, China is also building out its nuclear weapons capabilities and stockpiles [washingtontimes.com] as the rest of the world, including the US, disarms. No worries, right? Delivery systems that can rain down nuclear warheads on targets anywhere in the world is just for "peaceful regional defense", right?

A world where the US doesn't maintain an overwhelming deterrent to forces which espouse principles and ideals counter to those of freedom and liberal democracy is not a pretty place [cnn.com] .

(Note to people who think that the US is what's wrong with the world: you are sorely in need of historical perspective -- or, any perspective. The US is not perfect, but the US and West has done far more for the benefit of human life and humanity, on the whole, than any other nation, especially those with Communist, Socialist, or totalitarian systems of government. Wake up.)

Weapons testing by any other name (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 2 years ago | (#41586275)

NIF has three missions:

- National security (stockpile stewardship [llnl.gov]
- Basic fusion science [llnl.gov]
- Understanding the origins of the basic building blocks of the universe [llnl.gov]

I hate to break it you you, but much of what we do in basic science research is dual-use. It can be used for military applications, or purely scientific applications.

So despite your condescending tone to someone you know nothing about, you acknowledge that the first purpose of this facility is weapons research. It also is useful for some basic research which is vitally important. We're on the same page.

Doing stockpile stewardship without nuclear tests is not "getting around" nuclear test ban treaties. It's maintaining the integrity of our increasingly smaller nuclear stockpile as a credible deterrent.

That's pretty much a fancy way to say it is a way to test nuclear fusion without setting off any actual bombs. Amaze me with how you think that is not a way to get around the test ban treaties. While I didn't bring it up, I don't think anyone is particularly worried that the US does not have a "credible deterrent" when it comes to nuclear weapons. We have more nukes than we will ever need and everyone knows it.

Oh and the rest of your reply appears to be an off topic defense of maintaining mutually assured destruction. I wasn't addressing that nor did I make any comments about whether fusion weapons research was good or bad. I merely observed that the first purpose of this facility appears to be for researching fusion based weaponry.

Re:Just tell Mitt Romney it's part of the military (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584613)

But it doesn't have Defense in the name.

Let's make it the National Defense Ignition Facility, then no Republican will ever oppose it.

Wait.. (1)

thej1nx (763573) | about 2 years ago | (#41583939)

...They had a schedule for achieving controlled fusion? Do they have a schedule for warp drive as well?

Re:Wait.. (1)

crazyjj (2598719) | about 2 years ago | (#41584221)

They had a schedule for achieving controlled fusion?

Yes, it's current date + 50 years.

Actually, 10 years. (2)

MickLinux (579158) | about 2 years ago | (#41584501)

When my father was defending his PhD in fusion physics at the University of Wisconsin (1974), he had some very impressive results: 2 data runs, zero standard deviation, date-stamped polaroid photos of every step in each. The zero standard deviation was challenged; the response was to pull out the photos.

He got the PhD. But he didn't continue in the field. Partly why, may be that when he was asked about the future of practical nuclear fusion, he pointed out that for the last 40 years back then, practical nuclear fusion had been ten years away, and he figured it would be the same for the next 200 years. When asked why, he pointed out some standard feynmann estimates that showed that there isn't enough Lithium in the world to make nuclear fusion a practical power source, using the DT reaction.

So when the ignition facility gets a better reaction than the DT, and has a way of making *that* practical, then knock again. Till then, I'll be counting off another 160 years....

Re:Actually, 10 years. (1)

peragrin (659227) | about 2 years ago | (#41584721)

you know in the early days of fission they said the same thing about uranium.

The trick is to understand it enough to make it work, and then to understand it enough to make it stable, and then cheap.

the real problem is the major jump in material sciences needed to control it. fission is easy as it wants to decay. Fusion will be a long way off but solar, and wind while necessary to augment and in a few isolated cases dominate aren't stable enough for the high energy demands of our society

Re:Actually, 10 years. (1)

demachina (71715) | about 2 years ago | (#41585101)

The odd thing is uranium based fission for power generation never did become particularly stable and certainly isn't cheap.

The only reason we did it was because we wanted to make bombs and dual use of Uranium and Plutonium mitigated some of the costs and provided some civilian cover for what was basically a weapons program to produce Plutonium and enriched Uranium. Probably exactly the same thing Iran is doing today.

Japan, Germany and Canada are among the few countries that pursued fission purely as a power source using them to make bombs. Last time I checked Japan and Germany are both abandoning the concept because they've realized its not safe(stable) nor it is it very economical.

If we were actually pursuing fission as a power source Thorium would have been a vastly better approach, but it has no value for making Plutonium or justifying Uranium enrichment infrastructure, so it got no R&D or funding until very recently.

Re:Actually, 10 years. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584755)

To replace the current world power usage of about 15 TW, I estimate about 2 metric tonnes of lithium would be needed each year for a 100% efficient process. Even if the process were 1% efficient, the 200 tonnes needed would be less than the 16,000 tonnes annually used for batteries. The actual consumption of lithium should be pretty efficient in terms of how much lithium is added to a machine versus how much tritium comes out (beyond maybe filling an initial reservoir, in other words the marginal usage should be pretty efficient). It is just a question of how efficient the electricity that is produced per gram of lithium converted to tritium. It might be an issue that factors into what the cost of fusion power would be, but I don't think it would prevent it.

Re:Actually, 10 years. (1)

Jeremi (14640) | about 2 years ago | (#41584787)

When asked why, he pointed out some standard feynmann estimates that showed that there isn't enough Lithium in the world to make nuclear fusion a practical power source, using the DT reaction.

More lithium has been discovered [blogspot.com] since then. How much lithium does a fusion plant need, anyway?

Re:Actually, 10 years. (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 years ago | (#41586049)

there isn't enough Lithium in the world to make nuclear fusion a practical power source, using the DT reaction.

Yes there is. Most quotes of lithium reserves include only a few tens of millions of tonnes located in salt deposits, because these can be cheaply extracted. But the oceans contain another 230 billion tons [wikipedia.org] . It costs much more to extract lithium from seawater, but that cost is still negligible compared to the value of the energy from a fusion reactor. The world has enough lithium to last for millenniums even if we use it for 100% of our power needs.

.

Fusion is needed, maybe not this tech though (3, Interesting)

tomhath (637240) | about 2 years ago | (#41583941)

In the long run fusion will be the best source of energy. I don't mind having spent the money attempting to make this technology work but apparently it isn't the right solution. Time to move on.

Re:Fusion is needed, maybe not this tech though (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41583973)

Oh yeah. The only people better than nincompoop corrupt politicians to judge what science and technology R&D should be funded, are the wingnut anonymous internet forum neckbeards.

Re:Fusion is needed, maybe not this tech though (2)

H-Bomba (2747875) | about 2 years ago | (#41584887)

Not frist psot (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41583953)

Ebin win!

Maybe not irresponsible (0)

mattr (78516) | about 2 years ago | (#41583971)

Totally without any basis, say it needs another 3 billion to get to market.
Instead, spend 1 billion more on education, 1 billion on solar power satellites, and 1 billion reduction of the budget..

Re:Maybe not irresponsible (4, Insightful)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 2 years ago | (#41584017)

Or, you know, spend 1T less on whacking tin-pot dicatooar, put $50B into the NIF to make it actually work, another $50B at ITER as a backup and enjoy the $900B savings...

1 billion on solar power satellites,

Also, seriously, since one speculative tech hit a snag and didn't work, your solution is to invest in another that is evel less likely to work eith current tech at a level which will ensure that it will never get aronud to be working.

£1b is orders of magnitude too low to get anywhere with solar power satellites. $100b _might_ cut it.

Re:Maybe not irresponsible (5, Interesting)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 2 years ago | (#41584103)

There was the article on /. [slashdot.org] a while back where MIT was answering questions about fusion and it was pointed out that based on the historical cutting of fusion research investment, fusion power is about $80 billion away, and has always been 25 years away because it's budget has been progressively cut.

Re:Maybe not irresponsible (1)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 2 years ago | (#41584173)

, and has always been 25 years away because it's budget has been progressively cut

ISTR tht the current level of funding it will basically never end up working.

Re:Maybe not irresponsible (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#41585593)

The thing is this is applied research with a defined goal that's kinda far out there. So a clear forecast of how long it will take and how much it will cost isn't possible. But this is a potentially a multi trillion dollar payout project. So a large expenditure for a low probability it will work may be justified.

7 billion? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41583975)

That's it? This is what they claim is the biggest white elephant in our budget?

It isn't the 700 billion spent on Defense, or the 400 billion we spend on medicare, it's the god damn 7 billion spent on trying to obtain controlled fusion. Don't misunderstand me, it sounds like this project is wasting a ton of money, and something should be done about it. But claiming it is the single biggest flop in our budget, even as hyperbole, is laughable at best, and ill informed at worst.

Re:7 billion? (3, Insightful)

Joce640k (829181) | about 2 years ago | (#41584041)

Well... the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology thinks the Big Bang is lie from hell [slashdot.org] so why is this surprising?

Re:7 billion? (3, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 2 years ago | (#41584583)

This comes from people who bang only to reproduce, they've never had a proper big bang so I'm not surprised they don't believe in one.

Re:7 billion? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584227)

Yeah, stick to the real scourge of the budget, PBS!

You know Big Bird is nothing but a fat cat money hog!

Re:7 billion? (1)

NatasRevol (731260) | about 2 years ago | (#41584621)

No, Big Bird is funneling the money to the Colombians. THAT's why it has to be cut off.

Re:7 billion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584803)

Yeah, big bird is, in fact, the 1%. He's rolling in benjamins thanks to licensing deals. Of course, that does jack shit for PBS since they don't get any of that money.

Re:7 billion? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584419)

A white elephant isn't just expensive, its cost is more than its worth. High amounts of dollars spent are a necessary condition, but not sufficient; you also need a lack of results or value. You may disagree, but many people think we're getting essential value from the money we spend on defense and Medicare. So what you have a disagreement about values, which doesn't make the opposing view "laughable at best, and ill informed at worst."

Re:7 billion? (4, Informative)

i kan reed (749298) | about 2 years ago | (#41584455)

That's 7 billion over the lifetime of the project. The 700 Billion to the military is per year. In fact, I would honestly assert that those costs could be controlled by doing more in-house and less using contractors, but reversing the privatization of government jobs is really unpopular with congress for some reason.

Re:7 billion? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584659)

Some reason like those private contractors provide kickbacks in the form of SuperPACs.

GS Conversion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585501)

... because the GS conversion has gone so well so far? Take people paid market rate by contractors, offer them 30% less for a government job? You get what you pay for, which in this case is the middle finger.

Re:7 billion? (3, Informative)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#41584459)

Or just for science the International Space Station. Every four years or so, they burn the equivalent of a NIF.

Re:7 billion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585293)

You're really suggesting the Medicare and defense are both entirely useless white elephants that could be entirely dismantled without any impact?

Re:7 billion? (1)

gtall (79522) | about 2 years ago | (#41585309)

The other $2.7 Trillion goes for the rest of the discretionary budget (roughly $400-500 Billion). The remaining $2.3-2.2 Trillion goes for SS and the rest of the entitlements. Defense is now at one of its lowest points with respect to GDP since WW2. You won't be balancing anything by taking it out of Defense. That isn't saying Defense could not be streamlined, it could, but it won't solve the budget problem.

Bury it with a shovel ready project (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585427)

Obama tossed more that that away buying votes with "shovel ready" projects. And Obamacare will dwarf both.

Re:7 billion? (1)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about 2 years ago | (#41585839)

You are trying to compare a $100 hooker that gives you a good professional job and some guy charging you $20 to rub one out your self. Which one is the bigger waste?

Holding the fort 'til Alt Energy gets here (2, Insightful)

hyades1 (1149581) | about 2 years ago | (#41583993)

There needs to be a very detailed account of what these people have been doing with public funds. Renewable energy in the form of wind, solar, tidal and geothermal generation cannot replace fossil fuels fast enough to keep Global Warming within reasonable limits, but all show promise.

We've already wasted too much time, and now we need some kind of generation technology to bridge the gap. Imagine what that money could have done helping develop a small, safe, easy-to-build thorium reactor, or overcoming the issues delaying wholesale change to LED lighting.

Re:Holding the fort 'til Alt Energy gets here (2)

dkleinsc (563838) | about 2 years ago | (#41584565)

renewable energy in the form of wind, solar, tidal and geothermal generation cannot replace fossil fuels fast enough to keep Global Warming within reasonable limits

That completely ignores what should be near the top of the energy agenda, namely conservation. The US, for instance, uses about twice as much energy per capita as Germany, and yet there isn't a significant difference in quality of life.

And it's interesting that when somebody who knows what they're talking about proposes a cheap and effective measure, like painting rooftops white so they absorb less heat, they are mostly made fun of and/or ignored.

Re:Holding the fort 'til Alt Energy gets here (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about 2 years ago | (#41584771)

Well, I'd probably laugh them out of the room because the last time I painted my roof at all was... never. That's because of all the shingles on it.

That said, there are white shingles out there, and there's even a tax credit for it.

On the other hand, white roofs eventually looks like ass after being exposed to nature for awhile. You gain a marginally cooler roof, but your property values plummet because your roof looks like its twice as old as the black one next door because you can see every blotch and bit of dirt on it. And it's even worse of you have a tree over it, or God-forbid, anything at all rusting up there.

Now, if you are talking about insulating the crap out of your attic and installing venting, you're starting to make sense.

Re:Holding the fort 'til Alt Energy gets here (2)

tibit (1762298) | about 2 years ago | (#41585743)

For typical US suburban single family construction, painting roofs white doesn't make any sense. Homes have attics, and those attics are ventilated. The more sunlight the roof absorbs, the more air gets pumped through the attic. In my home, the attic is reasonably comfortable even in 30C weather with clear skies -- the air temperature right above the insulation is perhaps 2 C above ambient -- and that's a pretty run-of-the-mill house from 1979. Sure it higher if you measure it elsewhere, but only temperature at the bottom of the attic matters here. Painting the roof white won't any practical difference there. What will make difference is proper insulation in the attic, and that, demonstrably, is quite lacking in most U.S. homes!

Re:Holding the fort 'til Alt Energy gets here (2)

NatasRevol (731260) | about 2 years ago | (#41584683)

Take a week of the Defense budget. Spread it out across 10 projects to fund for a year.

Re:Holding the fort 'til Alt Energy gets here (3, Insightful)

tibit (1762298) | about 2 years ago | (#41585685)

Just because you call some nonexisting tech, wishfully, "small, safe, easy-to-build", doesn't make it so. Unless it's demonstrated to be having those properties, I file it under pink unicorns :(

That is it (4, Informative)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | about 2 years ago | (#41583999)

With the total tab for NIF now running to an estimated $7 billion

That is it, only $7 billion. To put that number into perspective that is about 2 days of deficit spending (not total spending for those 2 days just the deficit) for the US government.

Big budgets = big risks (1)

sjbe (173966) | about 2 years ago | (#41584135)

To put that number into perspective that is about 2 days of deficit spending (not total spending for those 2 days just the deficit) for the US government.

...for a project that few people really understand during tough economic times. While I'm very much in support of science projects like this, it should surprise no one that stuff like this is going to be first on the chopping block come budget time. Voters don't turn out because their favorite science project got the budgetary ax but they do turn out when medicare is threatened. Big budget science comes with big political risks. If it works, great but if it doesn't it is an easy target and it hurts the prospects of future science projects.

I agree thought that we really could use a few less bombers and a few more fusion research projects. The world would be a better place for it.

Hi Bob! (1)

srussia (884021) | about 2 years ago | (#41584291)

That is it, only $7 billion. To put that number into perspective that is about 2 days of deficit spending (not total spending for those 2 days just the deficit) for the US government.

Is that you [wikipedia.org] ? How's business doing in Reno, Mr. Mayor?

Re:Hi Bob! (1)

Bob the Super Hamste (1152367) | about 2 years ago | (#41584321)

No but from what his bio looks like I kind of wish I was him, I would be way better off.

Re:Hi Bob! (1)

srussia (884021) | about 2 years ago | (#41584389)

No but from what his bio looks like I kind of wish I was him, I would be way better off.

Employees at Livermore know him well--it's just a 4-hour drive!

Re:That is it (4, Informative)

Elder Entropist (788485) | about 2 years ago | (#41584633)

The YEARLY amount spent on missile defense with really bad results is more than the total $7 billion here.

Re:That is it (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585315)

To put that in another perspective, since it started being built in 1997, the cost of the project distributed over all American citizens (population size @ 311,591,917 as of July 2011) is just under half a cent per day. Or about $1.82 per year per citizen. That's less than the amount you can opt to put into the presidential election campaign fund when filing your taxes.

Money well spent (5, Insightful)

zill (1690130) | about 2 years ago | (#41584057)

The experiment was a success. The outcome a failure.

There are two proposed approaches for fusion power generation: tokamak and ICF. ITER tests the tokamak approach and the National Ignition Facility tests the ICF approach. Thanks to the NIF we now know exactly what ICF is and isn't capable of. I'd call that an excellent return on investment.

Re:Money well spent (1)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#41584229)

In addition, one of ICF's main goals was to understand the behavior of matter undergoing fusion, which it has contributed extensively to. That's useful scientific knowledge there on its own, but perhaps more relevant to NIF's not-so-secret secondary purpose, it's also been used to improve simulations used in nuclear weapon design and maintenance (since tests are banned, data from experiments like the NIF is very important).

Now you may or may not think improving our nuclear weapon stockpile is a great use of taxpayer money, but then the debate should be over that.

Project Leads Say Otherwise (3, Interesting)

eldavojohn (898314) | about 2 years ago | (#41584239)

The experiment was a success. The outcome a failure. There are two proposed approaches for fusion power generation: tokamak and ICF. ITER tests the tokamak approach and the National Ignition Facility tests the ICF approach. Thanks to the NIF we now know exactly what ICF is and isn't capable of. I'd call that an excellent return on investment.

Weird, you seem to be at odds with much of the article:

With the total tab for NIF now running to an estimated $7 billion, the laboratory has been pulling out all the stops to claim success is just around the corner. At the beginning of July, it announced that 15 years of work had paid off in "an historic record-breaking laser shot," in which 192 beams delivered more than 500 trillion watts of peak power and 1.85 megajoules (MJ) of ultraviolet laser light to its target." The lab's leaders predict that "ignition" -- the point where the 192 lasers actually deliver more energy than they consume -- could occur as early as next year.

So help me out here, if we now know the outcome is a failure why are the project leads asking for more funding and trying to convince us it's just around the corner? Maybe next year, possibly almost sure that it might could happen if the possibilities are totally just almost there.

Sounds more like "It's 20 years off. Wait, you're pulling our funding?! But it might happen as early as next year!"

Re:Project Leads Say Otherwise (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#41585325)

The NIF has been inching closer and closer to ignition for a long time; it really is right around the corner from a scientific standpoint. And it would be an accomplishment, don't get me wrong, but the engineering to actually produce power with such a system would be another $10billion effort on top of what the NIF has spent. Those big lasers? They take a long time to recharge. The fuel doesn't enter the chamber automatically or quickly. And there's no way to actually harvest the energy produced by the fusion reaction.

Reloading fuel is probably relatively trivial. Harvesting is a bit harder because to harvest efficiently you have to have high temperatures which your equipment needs to be able to tolerate in turn. But I've yet to hear any talk about how the heck your going to pulse those lasers at the rates that would be required to produce commercially viable amounts of power.

Re:Money well spent (1)

RabidReindeer (2625839) | about 2 years ago | (#41584503)

The experiment was a success. The outcome a failure.

There are two proposed approaches for fusion power generation: tokamak and ICF. ITER tests the tokamak approach and the National Ignition Facility tests the ICF approach. Thanks to the NIF we now know exactly what ICF is and isn't capable of. I'd call that an excellent return on investment.

You're obviously stuck back in the mid 20th Century when every research project didn't have to show immediate quarterly payback. We don't do that anymore. It's not "efficient".

Re:Money well spent (1)

H-Bomba (2747875) | about 2 years ago | (#41584819)

Like NIF, ITER is also on the road to dismal failure, for the same reason: built before the physics are fully understood. In the case of NIF it is well understood that 10MJ are required i.e. NIF is underpowered by at least a factor 10 (despite its 192 lasers). In the case of ITER it will self-destruct as soon as fired at full power because disruptions cannot be controlled. Now there is another avenue, which has demonstrated fusion and is expectd to break even before end 2013: Sandia's Z-machine and Baikal, its russian equivalent. Both very inexpensive compared to either NIF or ITER.

Re:Money well spent (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585049)

There is a long list of other fusion concepts that show promise, and can be demonstrated to not have the same problems as the current forerunners. This is especially so on the magnetic confinement side, although there are a few novel ICF and MTF designs around too. They can vary in size and development from table top units up to some large national lab facilities. The problem is, while avoiding the problems of say a tokamak, they end up with their own new problems, some of which might not be evident until larger units are tested. So while they show promise, there is a long road of research ahead for several designs, much of which is slowly progressing now, and this is from someone who has worked on several non-tokamak MCF designs.

Re:Money well spent (1)

tibit (1762298) | about 2 years ago | (#41585905)

The Z-machine has not demonstrated fusion. They demonstrated, quite successfully, that their simulations of imploding tubes match the experiment. They are hoping that the imploding tube will contain fusion. That will be shown in early 2014 AFAICT. Yeah, they say "by the close of 2013". Uh huh, and I've got a bridge to sell.

Re:Money well spent (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#41584995)

There are two proposed approaches

There are at least three. The "Polywell" [wikipedia.org] (which uses a form of inertial electrostatic confinement fusion) is yet another approach.

There's also some ways to generate extremely inefficient table top fusion (eg, the Farnsworth fusor [wikipedia.org] ). Some day we might figure out how to make those efficient enough to generate power.

Thanks to the NIF we now know exactly what ICF is and isn't capable of. I'd call that an excellent return on investment.

Nonsense. ROI only makes sense if you consider both the investment and the return. Some vague, fluffy statement that we "know" what ICF can do, isn't a return. And you just blissfully ignored that at least $7 billion dollars was spent so you could blather about ROI on the internet.

Re:Money well spent (1)

khallow (566160) | about 2 years ago | (#41585223)

It's also worth noting that the Z-Machine [wikipedia.org] apparently does ICF for lower cost than the NIC.

Because, like, science is hard and stuff (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584131)

You know what would really make that science thing, like, happen?

Brawndo!

It's got what fusion reactors crave.

.Failzo8s (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584143)

happiness Another Long term su8vival distributions the public eye: time wholeso8e and Blue, rubber

They're Doing it Wrong (3, Insightful)

fearofcarpet (654438) | about 2 years ago | (#41584201)

The scientists at NIF have it all wrong; if they want to save their hides they need to get someone from the military to claim they need fusion for... I don't know, fighting terrorists or whatever. Just look at the rail gun--what a spectacular failure. Sure, we can make heavy things go fast, but they still haven't solved basic problems like how keep plasma from electrical arcing from melting the rails. Or the non-lethal microwave device that doesn't work in a light rain. Hypersonic missiles? Or even the myriad "totally necessary" fighter jets with backup engines being developed, just in case. What about space-based missile defense? Maybe NIF could claim that they could retrain their lasers on ICBMs? Clearly, if the military is into something things like price and feasibility are not a problem.

In all seriousness, how the f*ck can anyone take Congress seriously when it comes to spending? Here we have $7 billion spent trying to discover limitless sources of energy, but ohhhh, they're over budget and that sounds like a big number! The Big Dig (in Boston) was federally subsidized and cost around $8 billion and it was made so poorly (due to corruption and a lack of oversight) that some poor woman was crushed when a ceiling tile fell on her car. And what about the trillion dollar tax cuts enacted in the first term of W? Or the other trillion (give or take) spent on invading Iraq for no particular reason? I don't buy this "we have to start somewhere" nonsense of budget cuts when nothing defense-related is even questioned and just letting the Bush tax cuts expire as they were supposedly originally intended is a non-starter, not to mention the insanity of the blanket 15% capital gains rate (note: you don't tax money, it's fungible, you tax the actions of people and legal entities).

If anything, Congress should be embarrassed by how little they appropriate to science and how many of its members are on the record as refusing to accept Darwinian evolution or anthropogenic global warming (which probably explains their willingness to cut funding for NIF.)

Re:They're Doing it Wrong (1)

MozeeToby (1163751) | about 2 years ago | (#41585393)

Sure, we can make heavy things go fast, but they still haven't solved basic problems like how keep plasma from electrical arcing from melting the rails.

Do the rails cost less than a cruise missile? I've heard the more recent versions can fire several shots before they need to be replaced; if you can fire your railgun 5 times for 10 hours of maintanence and $50000 worth of steel that easily replaces 5 cruise missiles (at a cost of $500,000 each).

Re:They're Doing it Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41586293)

And what is the purpose of firing your rail-gun, except for waving around your American dick? I am only saying this because nobody is actually interested in the US. The only reason why Americans need to wave around their dicks, is because they like interfering and meddling in every little corner of the world. Meanwhile you are a bankrupt country full of dumb asses as far as I can tell.

Re:They're Doing it Wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585865)

Then change congress,

a hint: voting on democrats or republicans will not change congress!

for comparison (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584213)

total cost of stealth bomer including development, engineering and testing, averaged US$2.1 billion per aircraft (in 1997 dollars), $2.87 billion today

London olympics, 2 week sports event, cost £11 Billion, or US$17.7 billion.

This is the largest, most complicated laser in history, give it a chance!

Re:for comparison (1)

maroberts (15852) | about 2 years ago | (#41584753)

This is the largest, most complicated laser in history, give it a chance!

If sharks were involved, I'm sure there would be no difficulty in obtaining funding...

In this rare case, I agree w/Congress (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584509)

Monies spend on fission are monies not spent on Thorium, an energy technology more likely to yield significant energy in a time frame that matters.

It's a nuclear weapon test facility, period (1, Flamebait)

tp1024 (2409684) | about 2 years ago | (#41584543)

It was clear from the start that this was the case, that this was the primary reason of building it.

Why do people keep repeating the propaganda?

Nothing about this project makes any sense at all from a nuclear power perspective. Be it the hugely inefficient, short-lifetime lasers that can be fired about once a day. Just 10% of the energy released from the lasing medium actually reaches the target. Even more energy is wasted creating the laser beam in the first place. Be it the miniscule amounts of *frozen* hydrogen, put into a GOLDEN, high precision capsule, put very precisely into a delicate assembly that needs to be rebuild after each successful shot ... while any significant power generation would need several shots per second, churning through the gold-plated fuel.

Absolutely nothing at all makes sense if you want this to build a power plant. Yet, everybody seems to have swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker. Nobody dared to mentioning the obvious:

The whole assembly is a weapon test stand, with the sole purpose to simulate an environment of radiation pressure that can only be found centimeters away from the explosion of a nuclear bomb, compressing deuterium and tritium - freshly bred in-situ from lithium - for nuclear fusion to boost the fission-chain-reaction of the primary.

I'm more afraid to go to the USA than to China ... there, at least, everybody knows the news are all about spreading propaganda. At least some people still think for themselves every once in a while.

Re:It's a nuclear weapon test facility, period (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584903)

Don't confuse NIF with the total of the inertial confinement fusion concept. While the way NIF does things has no chance of generating net power, it does do a good job of validating and testing various models and computer simulations of such work. Because of their weapons work, they never were even thinking of making the design to test the net production of energy aspect.

A crappy car analogy: NIF is like a facility built to test the chemical and thermodynamic properties of compressed air-gas mixtures. They didn't make an actual internal combustion engine, just some test stand that shows how much power and heat, etc., a single charge of fuel makes. Maybe that also work also doubles because military wanted to use the fuel for weapons too. Everyone involved is aware at some point they need to build an actual engine, but need to first make sure their estimates of power was reasonable.

And there are other more power-centric projects in the works, like HiPER, that will be designed with lasers and other components that can fire multiple times a second.

Re:It's a nuclear weapon test facility, period (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585135)

What the NIF is talking about is that they are close, they think, to creating a fusion reaction that puts out more energy then was put in. They don't claim to be about commercial power production only that they are on the verge of ignition. Even though they are a weapons facility achiveing an exothermic reaction is still a huge deal considering it hasn't been done before.

Re:It's a nuclear weapon test facility, period (1)

tnk1 (899206) | about 2 years ago | (#41585409)

I don't think anyone who knows anything about the NIF has swallowed anything. You're seeing a bunch of people who are reading about it for the first time and the article is talking about it's fusion power research side, which was stated, is only its secondary goal.

What the NIF is there to do is to prove thermonuclear weapons will work without having to test them. Once we have a program to do that, we can ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty (CTBT). Well, that and a few other items on our list.

The NIF did test an interesting idea for laser ignition for fusion plants, but that may well have not panned out. I think the major thrust of this point is that some people think that perhaps both efforts might be best pursued separately.

And yes, people in the US never, ever think for themselves. China is definitely better because since they know it's all government propaganda, they would never be taken in by it and must always think for themselves. I've never, ever seen the Chinese watch their own children die in school collapses due to shoddy workmanship and bribed officials, but make it very clear that they are definitely not criticizing the Party, because the Party could not possibly be at fault. The US is definitely a lot scarier. Really.

Whtever was, it is now PORK, period (1)

slew (2918) | about 2 years ago | (#41585425)

The NIF started out attempting to research the tech needed to make a ICF powerplant, but over time they haven't had much success. After a few major rearchitectures and funding shifts across other national labs, they decided to latch on to Stockpile Stewardship and Management Program as their reason for existance. Unfortunatlly, their current direction isn't very helpful to either the original charter, or their new SSMP charter.

One might argue that based on its initial charter, it should have been canceled a long time ago, but when a government program is threatened, they attempt to latch on to whatever funding is available and basically that is what happened. As with most goverment pork programs, the managment was a mess and there was no oversight. In 2000, the whole project was rebaselined and new management was brought in. Initally, they thought they could theoretically achieve ignition with only a 1MJ or so. Now they have 500TW laser capable of 2MJ, and they acknowledge that the current design won't really work. Not blaming the science or the scientists, but just to clearly illustrate that they really aren't on the cusp of anything...

The SSMP stuff is just a ruse, the facility does whatever they want. The nuclear weapons test stuff was really the previous benefactor that was selected to be the source of funds for the pork. The lastest round of funding (the so-called National Ignition Campaign), was basically a pork-barrel earmark for Diane Feinstein. Their public schedule to achieve ignition was top down made to match the NIC funding duration. Since now they admit that it still doesn't work, it's not clear how long they can keep this house of cards funding up.

I suppose the military is up next, but if Obama wins re-election, they might have to go the PBS funding route ;^) National Ignition Nest Egg? (apologies to big bird)

Remind me again... (1)

Trailer Trash (60756) | about 2 years ago | (#41584629)

How much did we spend to buy GM to satisfy the UAW? But we don't have enough $ to fundamentally transform the nature of energy creation for the human race?

Holy shit humans can be stupid sometimes.

I'm a libertarian who believes that government should be as small as possible and do only those things that are best done communally. Like the GPS system. Or figuring out how to harness fusion energy. We cannot do this "commercially" as the cost is too high. But compared to the other stuff that we spend federal money on (like $1T to turn Iraq into a pseudo-democracy) this is cheap and the benefit is incalculable.

We know what we need to do, let's do it.

Re:Remind me again... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585455)

" But we don't have enough $ to fundamentally transform the nature of energy creation for the human race?"

Remember what they said about fission energy? Too cheap to meter!

"Holy shit humans can be stupid sometimes."

You're a human, and you are correct.

Support?!?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584657)

Congress Fails To Ignite Support In America!!!!

Perspective (3, Insightful)

zugmeister (1050414) | about 2 years ago | (#41584769)

Meanwhile, we're throwing away $ 40 billion every month "until the economy improves" [bloomberg.com] . For me, that puts many things in perspective.
If we're going to flush money down the toilet, this seems like a much more potentially constructive way to do it.

Re:Perspective (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585373)

QE3 isn't throwing money away. It's printing that much money to pump up the economy before the election.

ColdFusion/AnomalousHeatEffects/LowEnergyNuclear? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584833)

Interesting developments on cold fusion (aka Anomalous Heat Effects aka Low Energy Nuclear Reactions). Valid?

-LENR Presentation in NiWeek.
Dr. Duncan, Vice-Chancellor for Research, University of Missouri
Greg Morrow, Principal Software Architect at National Instruments
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A4HG9raN_2U

-Open demonstration by Francesco Celani(Italian National Institute of Nuclear Physics) of Nickel-Hydrogen based LENR reactor at the National Instruments NIWeek 2012. “As soon as we applied the electrical power to the internal nichrome-wire heater (48 Watts DC), we began to see excess heat. There was no incubation period. Celani has eight thermocouples in the reactor, and he measured between 58 and 68 Watts heat output. So, conservatively, it produced an average of 10 Watts of excess heat continuously from the time we started, at 1 p.m., until we left, at 7 p.m. – for six hours.”s of excess heat continuously from the time we started, at 1 p.m., until we left, at 7 p.m. – for six hours.”
http://www.e-catworld.com/2012/08/celani-demonstrates-excess-heat-from-nickel-hydrogen-reactor-at-niweek/

-SGS Certificate issued for machine with maximum electric power in of 200 kW, and potential power out as 1 MW.
http://www.e-catworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/EFA-rep-1107.pdf

Hmmmm.....

50years and Billions wasted on this kind of fusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41584959)

Yet room temperature fusion attempts which can be run on a college science department budget get nothing but mockery and derision. Unbelievable.

One would think after failing for decades and needing to exert so much effort the physics community would realize that attempting to try other pathways to fusion would be the logical choice, but their close mindedness is at this point costing the human race decades of progress in this field.

So perhaps it'll be up to a billionaire to do for fusion what's already been done in the field of private space travel. And they wouldn't be beholden to any "authorities" in physics to tell them it's impossible and they'd also be be able to find flexible physicists to do some real work in this area.

Black world. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585857)

Some people know what's happening with this.

I know a guy.

Black world stuff. Cold fusion is old, old news, works, (and hell, has been weaponized and then put on the shelf because there's bigger and better variations), and to put it mildly, is just a great big no no for the rest of us. Oil is a fabulous control method for the world, keeps the rich rich and the poor under thumb. Removing oil would be like yanking the carpet out from under everything. Try and you die.

I don't know about this big NIF institute of money spending, but I'd be surprised if it wasn't "supervised" in some manner.

Re:50years and Billions wasted on this kind of fus (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585983)

So perhaps it'll be up to a billionaire to do for fusion what's already been done in the field of private space travel. And they wouldn't be beholden to any "authorities" in physics to tell them it's impossible and they'd also be be able to find flexible physicists to do some real work in this area.

There are a few companies doing private research of fusion without government funding. Everyone I've seen is doing some form of magnetic confinement or magnetized target fusion research... even without "authorities" telling them what to do, they are working on (and making a little progress) on hot fusion.

Controlled fusion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41585059)

We achieved that decades ago. H-bombs are controlled but dangerous. You can put windmills around the explosion I guess. A fusor is controlled fusion but can't get over unity.

A billion here, a billion there... (1)

Freddybear (1805256) | about 2 years ago | (#41585127)

Pretty soon you're talking about real money.

Throw more money at it (1)

RogueWarrior65 (678876) | about 2 years ago | (#41585339)

There. I fixed it. #sarcasm

Science increasingly doomed by "failure" (1)

swb (14022) | about 2 years ago | (#41585497)

I've read this in a number of places, but science, especially publicly funded science, seems increasingly doomed by "failure" -- ie, when scientists run a study to prove a link between A and B and the science tells them "A and B are not linked".

The headline is "Scientists fail to prove A and B" and the public opinion is that the scientists failed, as if it was a failure of effort, ability or character. It's never explained that the failure to link A and B *isn't* a failure really, it's a success of science because a theory was posited linking A and B and the relationship could not be scientifically proven.

It's further corrupted, especially in the case of the NIF, in that politicians and the general public (to the extent that the general public even comprehends what the NIF does...) has this kind of "profit motive" mindset where scientific endeavors are expected to provide some kind of return on investment to justify their existence, and the *science* and engineering they do provide isn't enough if their "mission" isn't a quick success.

And this will only get worse if Romney is elected. In the case of NIF, I'm not sure Obama/Dems are any better given the inherent anti-nuclear bias of the Democrats.

Not Quite the Biggest White Elephant (2)

organgtool (966989) | about 2 years ago | (#41585583)

biggest and fattest white elephant of all time

Apparently the author is not familiar with the F-35. The estimated total cost of that project is $1 trillion dollars, or 142 NIF Controlled Fusion projects. But we can't cut the budget on military pet projects because that would just be evil.

Cold fusion? (1)

Relayman (1068986) | about 2 years ago | (#41585891)

Just think if all that money had been spent developing cold fusion instead. We might have actual power plants by now.

Here's an analogy: They're trying to build the most powerful vacuum tube amplifier of thinking about replacing the vacuum tube with transistors.

In perspective (1)

Alioth (221270) | about 2 years ago | (#41586245)

In perspective, 7bn is less than 1% of the direct cost of the Iraq war.

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