The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) Program is addressing the critical physics and technology issues directed toward demonstrating and exploiting ignition and propagating burn to high gain with ICF targets for both defense and civilian applications. Nova is the primary U.S. facility employed in the study of the X-ray-driven (indirect drive) approach to ICF. Nova's principal objective is to demonstrate that laser-driven hohlraums can achieve the conditions of driver-target coupling efficiency, driver irradiation symmetry, driver pulseshaping, target preheat, and hydrodynamic stability required by hot-spot ignition and fuel compression to realize a fusion gain.
The LLNL ICF Program believes that the next major step in the national ICF Program is the demonstration of ignition and moderate gain (G ≤ 10). Recent theoretical and experimental results show that the ignition drive energy threshold can be reduced significantly by operating indirectly driven targets at radiation temperatures ∼ 1.3–1.6 times higher (thereby achieving higher implosion velocity) than originally proposed for the Laboratory Microfusion Facility (LMF). (Temperatures of ∼ 1.3 times higher have already been demonstrated on Nova.) Specifically, it should be possible to demonstrate ignition and propagating with burn about 1–2 MJ of laser energy as against the 5–10 MJ necessary for the high-yield LMF. LLNL proposes to upgrade the existing Nova facility to 1–2 MJ (2- to 4-ns pulses) and demonstrate ignition and propagating burn to moderate gain with appropriately scaled hydrodynamic equivalents of high-yield targets.
Once moderate gain has been demonstrated at 1–2.0 MJ on the Nova Upgrade, investigations into improving, by about 50%, the coupling efficiency between the driver and the capsule could provide gains >20 at about 1 MJ or less. A database for gain below 1-MJ driver energies could lead to a low-capital-cost Engineering Test Facility (ETF) for a first inertial fusion energy engineering reactor. Because the capital cost for both the target chamber and the driver scale with size, there is the opportunity to realize large savings by lowering the required driver energy necessary to demonstrate the technology for a first demonstration power plant. A target gain, G ∼ 25, at a driver energy, ED ∼ 0.75 MJ, would be self-sustaining for a driver efficiency of ∼10% and a thermal-to-electric conversion efficiency of ∼33% and at 12 Hz would generate ∼10 MW of gross electric power. Although the cost of electricity would be high, the combination of low capital cost and early demonstration of reactor technology would be an attractive step in the development of inertial fusion energy.