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Will the National Ignition Facility announce a shot at break-even fusion by start of 2017?
The National Ignition Facility (NIF), residing in Livermore, CA, is the largest laser and inertial confinement fusion (ICF) device in the world. It's mission is to provide high energy gain from the fusion of a hydrogen fuel pellet, ignited using an impressive array of 192 lasers (see how it works).
Development of the NIF has had a rocky history. Construction finished in 2009, and a campaign was launched that year to bring the laser system up to ignition specifications, which ended in 2012 at only a small fraction of its design goal. When the ignition campaign fell short, the success of the program to produce a positive yield in fusion energy was questioned, and not for the first time. Proposals have been made to entirely shift the NIF from a fusion energy facility to a research facility of different stripes, including weapons and materials research.
Currently, the fusion experiments at NIF are focused on optimizing different aspects of their ICF ignition process. In particular, increasing shot rate has been a key metric over the past years, with 356 shots fired in 2015 at experimental targets and more ongoing in 2016. However, it's unclear if the NIF will ever attempt or attain break-even fusion in the near future. By start of 2017, will the NIF announce plans to attempt a laser shot at a fusion pellet with the intent of achieving a positive net energy gain?
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