Nuclear fusion news: The National Ignition Facility and General Fusion, Inc – two different approaches to nuclear fusion

Tyler Hamilton, from The Toronto Star and the CleanBreak.ca blog noted a couple of developments in the nuclear fusion area this week. One part of the article was about how scientists at the new National Ignition Facility that was completed last month plan to take its 192 lasers and aim them at a tiny pellet consisting of hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium.  The idea being that the isotopes will fuse into helium and release more energy than what went into the lasers.   The goal is to achieve what’s known as ‘net gain’, and its been the long sought after promise of nuclear fusion research.

Next up was some information about a Vancouver start up company named General Fusion, Inc.  

general-fusion-reactor-core
General Fusion Inc's reactor core design
General Fusion is taking a low cost mechanical approach to nuclear fusion.   They’ve taken and dusted off a 1970’s approach to fusion, which was to use sound waves to create shock waves that are strong enough to fuse the deuterium and tritium into helium.  The problem with this approach back then, says General Fusion founder and president Michel Laberge, was that the technology didn’t exist for the control systems needed to control the speed and precision of the pistons creating the sound waves.    Now with the advent of microprocessors and more advanced materials, the technology is there to pursue this approach.  The picture shows the basic design.   Those things jutting out from the reactor core are pistons.   Each piston is controlled with compressed air and is programmed to ram the surface of the metal ball at exactly the same time.  This creates a shock wave that travels inward thru a lithium-lead liquid towards the plasma filled center, where deuterium and tritium wait to be compressed into helium.  General Fusion, Inc.  has recently been awarded a $13.9 million (canadian) grant from Sustainable  Development Technology Canada, and has also started working with the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

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