Rewiring the System


NIF

Posted in Uncategorized by rewiringangel on April 21, 2010
Tags: , , , , , ,

Nuclear energy and what to do with the spent fuel enters my thinking as I sit in my arm chair looking out on the cold gray day. I do not have a solid thought either pro or con but I was invited to view the NIF, I was given a photographic picture of myself and the director as well as the p.r. and my friend rich in front of the huge collider the day or week before it went operational. for this reason this article about its difficulties is of special interest. They are using specially constructed LEGO boxes covered in gold to hold the dots of spent fuel in readiness for the blast. In my mind I thought it was a way to create an atomic explosion above ground in competition with the Koreans,(south?) and not have any one know what they are doing. It is just my thought and not substantiated by any conversation with ‘people’ in the know. I am a lowly creative being and do not spout physics speak…
Steward Brand, creator of the ‘whole earth catalog’, says that fission is the safest long term energy source and will save the earth and all its beings. I went to two in a series of his book tours to hear first hand what he has / had to say. Each talk presented new information from his vast spectrum of thinking on this subject. I felt basically that it was a confrontational stance, though my daughter, who I admire, agrees with him. The USA is trying to do funny things with spent fuel,( that we can only speculate), and parading it as a way to manage the by products of nuclear energy production. Steward Brand in his new book says that nuclear power will save the world. I for one, have no solid thoughts on the pros or cons of this in the long view or the here and now. This article about the NIF problems and the possibility of their losing funding is of interest. If this were a poker game who has the best hand and who is holding a secret ace?

Giant laser draws congressional ire –
April 09, 2010

The world’s most powerful laser is making some powerful enemies. A fairly scathing report out of the US Government Accountability Office (GAO), the congressional watchdog, is taking the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory to task for its management of the National Ignition Facility (NIF), a 1.8-megajoule machine that will use 192 lasers to blast the bejesus out of a target no bigger than a thumbtack.

The idea is to test models of nuclear fusion, which have been built over the years by physicists at Livermore and her sister lab Los Alamos. Those models are a key part of the US stockpile stewardship programme, which is designed to check the health of the nation’s aging nuclear weapons without actually testing one.

Key to all of this is the idea that NIF’s powerful lasers will be able to drive fusion in two isotopes of hydrogen contained in the target. But the GAO report calls that into question. Plasma instabilities might frustrate the heating process, and the thermal effects of pumping several megajoules of energy onto a tiny ball of frozen hydrogen are still—to say the least—poorly understood. It won’t be a big deal if NIF fails to achieve “ignition” of the fuel later this year (or even by 2012 as hoped), but if the machine never reaches ignition, then there’s gonna be trouble in the stockpile stewardship programme.

These sorts of problems have been known about for a while, but the GAO says the lab has not been aggressive enough in addressing them. An independent panel set up by the lab to look at the issue hasn’t been independent enough, and it doesn’t contain enough nuclear weapons scientists, the report says. A more independent, more adequately staffed panel might be able to reduce the already substantial setbacks and delays NIF is facing.

To be fair, this looks like a slap-on-the-wrist compared to some of the trouble NIF has faced in the past. The project was originally supposed to be completed in 2002, for a fraction of the current US$3.5 billion price tag. In 2000, it looked like the Department of Energy, which oversees the lab and ultimately the laser, might even kill the project out of pure frustration.

Those days are long past, but this report makes clear that congress, which appropriates funding to the project, continue to be displeased. The report means that it’s likely the lab will face a fight for funds in the coming fiscal year

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