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November 19 2012
After an unsuccessful campaign to demonstrate the principles of a futuristic fusion power plant, the world’s most powerful laser facility is set to change course and emphasize its nuclear weapons research.
For the past six years, scientists and engineers at the US National Ignition Facility (NIF) have been working flat out to focus 192 laser beams on a gold-lined ‘hohlraum’ capsule, just a few millimeters long, containing a pellet of hydrogen isotopes. As 500 terawatts of laser power hits the capsule, it generates X-rays that blast into the pellet, causing the atoms of deuterium and tritium inside to fuse. The fusion converts a tiny amount of their mass into a burst of energy.
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