NIF at the Starting Gate
Posted: 22 September 2010 01:48 AM   [ Ignore ]
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Livermore lab nears launch of fusion quest, though ignition not expected this month


I don’t expect them to get lucky. I suppose they’re just as subject to Murphy’s Law as anyone else, but who knows…?

However, the official word seems to be one to two years to ignition. Whether that’s an educated guess or a Montgomery Scott estimate….


h/t chrismb at Talk Polywell

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Posted: 22 September 2010 04:15 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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They aren’t even using enough D & T to achieve it this time.

It’s hard not to resent $5bn being blown on this kind of mega-Rube Goldberg contraption when 0.1% of that would have had FF over the top years ago.

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Posted: 22 September 2010 08:13 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Brian H - 22 September 2010 08:15 PM

They aren’t even using enough D & T to achieve it this time.

It’s hard not to resent $5bn being blown on this kind of mega-Rube Goldberg contraption when 0.1% of that would have had FF over the top years ago.

The common denominator in government fusion programs is that they’re designed to produce headlines, photo-ops, and link bait rather than useful results for real people. Something like welfare for physicists.

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Posted: 22 September 2010 09:25 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Aeronaut - 23 September 2010 12:13 AM
Brian H - 22 September 2010 08:15 PM

They aren’t even using enough D & T to achieve it this time.

It’s hard not to resent $5bn being blown on this kind of mega-Rube Goldberg contraption when 0.1% of that would have had FF over the top years ago.

The common denominator in government fusion programs is that they’re designed to produce headlines, photo-ops, and link bait rather than useful results for real people. Something like welfare for physicists.

And lotsa pork. It might be very interesting to see the results of a thorough and honest forensic audit report on some of these projects!  cool hmm  sick

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Posted: 23 September 2010 02:30 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Brian H - 23 September 2010 01:25 AM
Aeronaut - 23 September 2010 12:13 AM
Brian H - 22 September 2010 08:15 PM

They aren’t even using enough D & T to achieve it this time.

It’s hard not to resent $5bn being blown on this kind of mega-Rube Goldberg contraption when 0.1% of that would have had FF over the top years ago.

The common denominator in government fusion programs is that they’re designed to produce headlines, photo-ops, and link bait rather than useful results for real people. Something like welfare for physicists.

And lotsa pork. It might be very interesting to see the results of a thorough and honest forensic audit report on some of these projects!  cool hmm  sick

See how easily it creeps in.  You’re favoring proof over exploration here.  What if LPPX doesn’t produce the results we are all hoping for?  You will then have to use this same harsh standard against them. 

Unfortnately, this is the kind of thinking that makes them conservative.  Currently, the government is focusing spending on NIF and ITER type approaches because they feel slightly more secure about the physics, and feel they can eventually figure out the engineering.  This other stuff with less certain, under-peer-reviewed physics is considered more speculative and more pork-like. 

If you are applying “forensic audits” to the pursuit of knowledge - that kills the pursuit.  If you keep going along these lines, it cuts off funding for all fusion, since even the majors are considered dubious. 

From the Taleb article:

Many people labor in life under the impression that they are doing something right, yet they may not show solid results for a long time.  They need a capacity for continuously adjourned gratification to survive a steady diet of peer cruelty without becoming demoralized.  They look like idiots to their cousins, they look like idiots to their peers, they need courage to continue.  No confirmation comes to them, no validation, no fawning students, no Nobel, no Schnobel.  “How was your year:” brings them a small but containable spasm of pain deep inside, since almost all of their years will seem wasted to someone looking at their life from the outside.  Then bang, the lumpy event comes that brings the grand vindication.  Or it may never come.

This applies to any fusion project.

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Posted: 23 September 2010 04:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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Rezwan - 23 September 2010 06:30 PM

Unfortnately, this is the kind of thinking that makes them conservative.

I don’t see how one can argue that spending tens of billions and decades on one approach is “conservative”, when other options would take orders of magnitude less money and time to test (and possibly rule out).  Researching all of the “alt-fusion” approaches to the point of determining their viability would likely take less than $100 million and five years’ time.  It is hardly “conservative” to go all-in on one unproven technology that won’t show definitive results for years.

Of course, the NIF is a special case, since its main purpose is really for nuclear weapon research—any fusion power applications are incidental (and any practical uses are very far down the road, even if they are successful).

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Posted: 23 September 2010 04:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Yes, NIF is a special case.  It proves its value to funders on other criteria.

Tulse - 23 September 2010 08:01 PM

I don’t see how one can argue that spending tens of billions and decades on one approach is “conservative”, when other options would take orders of magnitude less money and time to test (and possibly rule out).

Good debate team exercise - argue things from another point of view.

The policy approach is polarized.  The minors will argue it one way, but let it slip that the field requires a “miracle” still, and we need to diversify our approaches because we really don’t have any clear viable ideas.  This fills policy makers with panic, so they respond better to the majors, who suggest that other approaches are mostly “speculative,” and that the physics problems are mostly solved for their approaches, only engineering issues are outstanding.  And engineering, we can handle, allegedly.

All of this takes place in a climate of shrinking funds.  The majors need all of that to work, and feel the minors is a step back into speculation and delay.  To them, money is wasted on the minors, since most of those approaches won’t work either.

It is hardly “conservative” to go all-in on one unproven technology that won’t show definitive results for years.

I didn’t think so either, but apparently, this is the very definition of “due diligence”  - which I had been using incorrectly.  “Due diligence” with VC’s refers to looking through the candidates and eliminating most of them.  Trying to bet on the one or two you think will make it. 

What we want is a multi-target approach - with a dispersed constituency.  A harder policy sell.  Not impossible, but it will take some organization to get it to happen.  Something the Focus Fusion Society will be part of.  I’m still trying to understand the thinking behind the current policy, and what would be required to change it. 

Researching all of the “alt-fusion” approaches to the point of determining their viability would likely take less than $100 million and five years’ time.

This is where the policy analysis is required.  We’d need to get the data on this.  A white paper would have to be commissioned to collect the information about how much it would cost to fund the alt-fusion approaches.  The paper would have to be written by credible, respected members of the field.  Simply writing this paper would cost hundreds of thousands for their research and writing fees.  Getting the funding for said white paper, or the committment to ask this question would take a lot of organizing, phone calls, persuasion, etc.  Leveraging the paper for policy change - again many many steps.

Policy doesn’t write itself.  Special interests are well organized and make their case.  The other sides case has yet to be credibly made, presented, and followed through with.

This is something I hope the Focus Fusion Society can raise funds to take on.  It doesn’t seem like the other organizations are up to tackling it.  Maybe just a little bit of activity by one organization can get things moving.

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Posted: 23 September 2010 05:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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I like the idea of a professionally researched and written white paper which would explore the costs vs potential benefits to arrive at the price, talent, resources required and the various side benefits which each technology examined could provide, but which haven’t been able to be heard in the mainstream. Properly promoted, this could be a blockbuster.

Now, about doing anything useful within 20 years, you’re going to need a new breed of entrepreneur who has nothing to lose by betting on changing the world’s energy supplies. Such an entrepreneur realizes that his or her $250 to $500 startup can and should be designed to grow into a new Palo Alto Research Center, for instance.

We need a new rulebook, iow, where innovation is rewarded.

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Posted: 23 September 2010 07:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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Aeronaut - 23 September 2010 09:29 PM

I like the idea of a professionally researched and written white paper which would explore the costs vs potential benefits to arrive at the price, talent, resources required and the various side benefits which each technology examined could provide, but which haven’t been able to be heard in the mainstream. Properly promoted, this could be a blockbuster.

Now, about doing anything useful within 20 years, you’re going to need a new breed of entrepreneur who has nothing to lose by betting on changing the world’s energy supplies. Such an entrepreneur realizes that his or her $250 to $500 startup can and should be designed to grow into a new Palo Alto Research Center, for instance.

We need a new rulebook, iow, where innovation is rewarded.

Yes, all that “proper policy” stuff is internal wheel-spinning, and the best spinners get the prize.  As for “forensic audit”, I was using that in the true accounting sense: Follow The Money.  There are reasons why the pattern of “we missed our target so we need more $$” is so common. Note that the NIF is in the middle of a major fudge of its “promise” to reach ignition in 2010.

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Posted: 25 September 2010 09:29 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Brian H - 23 September 2010 11:51 PM

Yes, all that “proper policy” stuff is internal wheel-spinning, and the best spinners get the prize.  As for “forensic audit”, I was using that in the true accounting sense: Follow The Money.  There are reasons why the pattern of “we missed our target so we need more $$” is so common. Note that the NIF is in the middle of a major fudge of its “promise” to reach ignition in 2010.

This is entirely possible.  I have no insider information.  I am only saying that the same accusations could be leveled against LPP.  It’s more likely that things take time, and that in hind sight, some things appear not to take time and you may be tempted to say they knew what they were doing all along.  But a lot of quick success comes down to chance.  Wilbur Wright said he didn’t expect flight to happen for 50 years, and then he proved himself wrong.

C’est la vie say the old folks, it goes to show you never can tell.

Given the inherent uncertainties (pro or con), a diversified policy and tolerance for continued funding seem to be par for the course for fusion.  And as noted elsewhere, a single F-16 (or whatever number the F planes are up to now) costs about as much as the fusion program, so I wouldn’t get stingy with the other fusion guys.

More is more.

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Posted: 25 September 2010 11:41 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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Rezwan - 26 September 2010 01:29 AM

...
I am only saying that the same accusations could be leveled against LPP. 
...

To the best of my knowledge, no one was promised a result by LPP on a given date. And the intensity of the scrutiny has a lot to do with the amount of money involved, which is billions for NIF, not hundreds of thousands! The answers they’re giving at NIF sound like purest bureau-babble. 
Hanford News

“Lab officials promised congressional funders that before Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2010, they would start “credible ignition experiments” in the enormous facility, which officially opened in spring 2009.
...
For Marylia Kelley, the director of Tri-Valley CAREs, a Livermore laboratory watchdog group, the fact that the facility will not be attempting fusion ignition this month is “actually shocking,” she said.

“Its scientific goal was ignition,” she said. Funding from Congress for the $3.5 billion facility — a figure that Kelley disputes, saying it’s closer to $5 billion — was based on assurances of success within a certain time frame.”

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Posted: 26 September 2010 12:06 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Brian H - 26 September 2010 03:41 AM

To the best of my knowledge, no one was promised a result by LPP on a given date.

LPP published a graph to project experimental milestones, and many people send anxious querries asking why these steps have not been completed “on schedule”.

And the intensity of the scrutiny has a lot to do with the amount of money involved, which is billions for NIF, not hundreds of thousands!  The answers they’re giving at NIF sound like purest bureau-babble.

What if LPP starts asking for millions?  At what point does the experiment reach bureau-babble?  What if, by asking for modest sums, the LPPX is jeopardized, and a savvy bureau babbler is just the person to assure it what turns out to be an adequate budget?

“Lab officials promised congressional funders that before Sept. 30, the end of fiscal year 2010, they would start “credible ignition experiments” in the enormous facility, which officially opened in spring 2009.
...

I doubt they put in writing, “we PROMISE to have ignition”.  I’m sure they used appropriately disclaimer laden language, such as, “if x,y,z, we should start credible ignition experiments…”

For Marylia Kelley, the director of Tri-Valley CAREs, a Livermore laboratory watchdog group, the fact that the facility will not be attempting fusion ignition this month is “actually shocking,” she said.

Yes, but I get the sense from some visitors to this site that they are shocked by LPP not sticking to the numbers of the initial work process projection.  Watchdogs shock easily. 

“Its scientific goal was ignition,” she said. Funding from Congress for the $3.5 billion facility — a figure that Kelley disputes, saying it’s closer to $5 billion — was based on assurances of success within a certain time frame.”

Yes, the guys at LIFE tell me it’s $5 Billion - over many years.  War in Afghanistan, $????Trillion.  Assurance of success within a certain time frame?  Gnats and camels, here. 

Science is worth it.  Exploration is worth it.  Demanding instant product is an obstacle.  Science is exploration.  It appears wasteful.  Even if a lot of it ends up being welfare for scientists, I think it’s worth it.

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Posted: 26 September 2010 03:45 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Now that they have the most powerful laser(s) on the planet, and presumably the mirrors to control the output, I guess it’s safe to aim at fusion. should they actually achieve ignition, what might happen to their chamber? Also, have they any idea how to capture and use all that glorious heat? If so, is that part of the 3.5 to 5G$ already budgeted?

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Posted: 26 September 2010 05:16 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Aeronaut - 26 September 2010 07:45 PM

Now that they have the most powerful laser(s) on the planet, and presumably the mirrors to control the output, I guess it’s safe to aim at fusion. should they actually achieve ignition, what might happen to their chamber? Also, have they any idea how to capture and use all that glorious heat? If so, is that part of the 3.5 to 5G$ already budgeted?

From what is revealed and known, it’s independent blips of “ignition”, with a complete replacement of the bead after each cycle.

IMO, this may achieve ignition, but the harnessing of such an awkward heat source is a real beast. The whole project kind of irritates me; it seems so impractical.

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Posted: 26 September 2010 10:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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Brian H - 26 September 2010 09:16 PM
Aeronaut - 26 September 2010 07:45 PM

Now that they have the most powerful laser(s) on the planet, and presumably the mirrors to control the output, I guess it’s safe to aim at fusion. should they actually achieve ignition, what might happen to their chamber? Also, have they any idea how to capture and use all that glorious heat? If so, is that part of the 3.5 to 5G$ already budgeted?

From what is revealed and known, it’s independent blips of “ignition”, with a complete replacement of the bead after each cycle.

IMO, this may achieve ignition, but the harnessing of such an awkward heat source is a real beast. The whole project kind of irritates me; it seems so impractical.

To me it seems impractically named and “justified”. Same’s ITER being all about cheap, clean power. Wait till the tritium cat’s containment record gets out of the bag.

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Posted: 27 September 2010 12:06 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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Aeronaut - 26 September 2010 07:45 PM

have they any idea how to capture and use all that glorious heat? If so, is that part of the 3.5 to 5G$ already budgeted?

The real purpose of the NIF is to test models for thermonuclear warheads to ensure the reliability of the US nuclear stockpile without actually blowing up the occasional warhead.  To do that, you need to be able to produce fusion on a regular basis.

The NIF is emphatically not designed to produce a practical source of fusion energy, or even to provide a path for designing a practical fusion generator.  While I have no doubt that very useful information about the basics of the D-T fusion process will come from their research, I think the NIF is being rather misleading to suggest the facility is a major step in the road to practical fusion energy.  It’s really a weapons lab that (at some point) happens to produce fusion.

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