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French Scientists Make Breakthrough in Inertial Confinement Fusion Process

PARIS, Nov. 5, 2019 (EIRNS)—Yesterday, Nov. 4 former French Presidential candidate Jacques Cheminade, president of the Solidarité et Progrès party, shared the following tweet: “Success at the Laser Megajoule facility after the implosion of a micro-balloon inside a target containing deuterium leading to thermonuclear fusion. It was achieved in a defense context, but still a major step toward civilian nuclear fusion and space propulsion. The downside: No one is really explaining its significance.JC.”

The breakthrough took place in inertial confinement fusion (ICF), which in addition to the more familiar magnetic confinement fusion (e.g., tokamak, ITER), is one of the most promising routes towards achieving commercial fusion power.

ICF deploys lasers to heat and compress a mixture of deuterium and tritium (DT) contained in a pellet or microcapsule (also known as a micro-balloon) with the goal of inducing nuclear fusion reactions. To achieve this, the mixture is compressed for a very short period to obtain a density of several hundreds of grams per cubic centimeter, and heated to a temperature of 10 million degrees centigrade. The lasers of the device are designed to deliver, in a few billionths of a second, more than 1 million joules of light energy to targets measuring a few millimeters in size. The aim is to vaporize the external part of the microcapsule very rapidly. The reaction will cause the rest of the microcapsule to move towards the center (implosion), compressing and heating the DT mixture inside. The center reaches very high temperatures (hotspot) and fusion reactions occur. The hotspot behaves like a match and ignites the rest of the “fuel.”

Today, only two countries operate laser-based ICF devices: France, with the Laser Megajoule (LMJ) near Bordeaux, and the United States, with the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. There is longstanding cooperation between the French and the American teams of scientists.

In France, the LMJ is a key component of the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) “Simulation Program.” Its purpose, it writes, “is to study, at a very small scale, the behavior of materials under extreme conditions similar to those reached during the operation of nuclear weapons.” It was officially commissioned on Oct. 23, 2014, with the performance of a first series of experiments.

According to an internal document made available to this author, a very successful operation took place on Friday, Oct. 11, when the organized beams of light of 48 giant lasers of the LMJ imploded a micro-balloon of a target of deuterium, creating a nuclear fusion reaction, that “materialized” by producing a 100 billion neutrons. Targeting, measurements, in short, everything took place as planned and calculated.

During his election campaigns, Cheminade repeatedly demanded that civilian researchers working on thermonuclear fusion get larger access to the LMJ. While the achievement of fusion power should be a priority for all, their access to the LMJ is limited to only 25% today. Even better would be to build a similar facility and dedicate it entirely to fusion research. In the near future, fusion power and lasers will be essential for travel in space and to eliminate space debris and nuclear waste.

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