Leading light in lasers predicts there is a new star in the making


NUCLEAR FUSION:ONE OF the most powerful lasers in the world will help create a “very small star on earth” within two years. Laser beams will force two hydrogen atoms together to form a helium atom, duplicating the fusion process that lights up the sun and stars.

The first laser was lit up on May 16th, 1940, and since then has become an important tool in the advancement of science, a session at the American Association for the Advancement of Science heard before the event in San Diego closed yesterday.

A laser at the national ignition facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California will soon be used to produce nuclear fusion in a process that could deliver vast amounts of clean, reliable energy in a process fuelled by nothing more than water and the hydrogen that it contains, explained Dr Edward Moses of Livermore.

Fusion was likely to become our next source of energy. “It is kind of a beautiful idea; it has no pollution, no carbon,” he said.

Water would provide the hydrogen needed to fuel such a device, with just 150 gallons enough to deliver a billion watts of power for a full year.

He said a swimming pool of water could keep all of California in electricity for a year.

He described four technological steps required to make a laser powerful enough to produce nuclear fusion, saying that two of the four were already achieved. The third, getting a form of hydrogen called tritium into the beam, would take place this year and the fourth, actually fusing hydrogen into helium, would happen in 2011 or 2012.

At this stage the system would be able to deliver 20 times more energy than the laser actually uses, what he called “scientific break-even”.

He predicted the financial break-even would come in 10 to 12 years when the first laser-powered fusion electricity plant was built.