Sandia’s nuclear z-pinch fusion project targets scientific breakeven in two to three years

This is an optical photograph of an aluminum z-pinch target tube installed in the Z machine.

A new X-ray imaging capability has taken pictures of a critical instability at the heart of Sandia’s huge Z accelerator. The effort may help remove a major impediment in the worldwide, multidecade, multibillion dollar effort to harness nuclear fusion to generate electrical power from sea water. Previously, competing computer simulation programs had given conflicting predictions as to the extent of the threat posed by the MRT (magneto-Rayleigh-Taylor ) instability.

The more accurate simulations will enable researchers to better tweak the conditions of future Z firings, more effectively combating the effect of the instability.

Researchers believe that with thick liners and control of the MRT, the Z machine could achieve an output of 100 kilojoules to match the 100 kilojoules input to the fuel to start the fusion reaction. “That would be scientific breakeven,” Sinars said. “No one has achieved that.”

That day, he says, may be just two to three years away.

LIFE, an acronym for Laser Inertial Fusion-Fission Energy, is an advanced energy concept under development at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

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