Governor praises Livermore laser lab

November 10, 2008 6:45:04 PM PST
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the Bay Area Monday, at the Lawrence Livermore Lab. He and former Secretary of State George Schultz received a progress report on a giant laser energy system that could eventually help the nation.

"This laser technology has the potential to revolutionize our energy future," Governor Schwarzenegger said.

"If successful, this new endeavor could generate thousands of megawatts of carbon-free nuclear power but without the drawbacks of conventional nuclear plants. This type of innovation is why we are a world leader in science, technology and clean energy, and I could not be prouder that this work is happening right here in California."

It's a process called L.I.F.E. and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger claims it could be the clean solution to this country's massive energy needs.

"This fusion energy that we're talking about here, which creates no greenhouse gases whatsoever, but provides so much energy. So I cannot wait for this to become a reality here," he said Monday.

L.I.F.E. stands for "laser inertial confinement fusion-fission energy." It uses the 192 lasers inside the nearly-completed National Ignition Facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The National Ignition Facility is a program run through the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, designed to make significant contributions to national and global security.

The whole point of the NIF is to develop practical fusion energy; Energy produced by fusing atoms together. It is non-polluting, using no fossil fuels and eliminating the risk of a nuclear accident. It also produces no weapons materials like nuclear reactors do with their fission energy.

Workers at the lab have built a ten-story building the size of three football fields inside which they are building the energy equivalent of a star.

The facility is still under construction. When it is completed in 2009 the facility is supposed to deliver 60 times more energy than any other laser system.

When bombarded with lasers, a ball of frozen hydrogen gas as small as a pencil eraser would ignite, releasing incredible amounts of clean-burning energy.

"A thousand times more power than lighting up the whole United States," according to Schwarzenegger.

It is the same type of energy emitted from the sun and stars in our solar system.

Once this facility is completed in March of next year, scientists at the lab are hopeful they'll achieve fusion ignition within 18 months.

That is, if it works. So far no experiments have actually been performed at the lab.

The facility's completion is about six years late and more than $1 billion over budget, now topping $3.5 billion. Congress has also cut funding to the project twice.

Still, Lab Director George Miller is confident this work will succeed.

"I think we will get ignition. I think we will get ignition relatively shortly after we turn the facility on. But, it is science. It is technology and it's not done 'til it's done," said Miller.

If the process works scientists hope to build a L.I.F.E. pilot power plant around 2020 with commercial deployment by the year 2030.

Also present Monday was Sidney Drell, the former Deputy Director of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. Both he and Shultz are experts in nuclear weapons and advocates of their prohibition.


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