I was just at a presentation by the head of the NIF (National Ignition Facility) project. Ed Moses presented. This is the big laser fusion project.
They are doing shots at NIF everyday.
They are expecting to perform break even shots (more than the energy of the lasers but not more than the energy of the electricity that powers the capacitors which then power the lasers) in about 9 months.
They are expecting to get to fusion burn within 2 years.
They need to compress the diameter by 2 more times. They already compress it by 20 times. 2 more times in diameter is 8 times in volume. This would be expected to get to full energy breakeven and probably generate 5-20 times more power than what is put into the system electrically.
That would prove feasibility and breakeven. Then they have to get funding and build a pilot system and get up to 10 shots per second/ 600 shots per minute.
The timetable is for about 10 years to get there but they would have get big funding in 2 years to make the one fifth scale pilot system.
LLNL researchers expect to demonstrate the physics of fast ignition on NIF within the next few years. Target production and delivery can be developed and demonstrated independently. A proof-of-principle LIFE fission cycle (from startup through greater than 99 percent fuel burnup) could be demonstrated with a one-fifth scale LIFE engine within less than 10 years.
Although they would be generating a lot of neutrons it would be subcritical so it would not be a good source of nuclear weapons material. It would better to make a more dedicated nuclear weapons grade material reactor or accelerator system.