Bang! 10 Quadrillion Watts of Power Generated in a Flash

700 Times the Power of the United States Electric Grid

Image Courtesy of Lawrence Livermore Laboratories

10 Quadrillion Watts of Power

What would you do with 10 quadrillion watts of power?

Run a country that has converted to nearly 100% electric vehicles including busses, trucks, trains, all electric home appliances, including cooking, light, heat, and hot water, all lighting, heating, cooling, and ventilation, in all buildings, all factories, warehouses, offices?

Sounds like the crazed dream of a power company executive. But no, it’s the result of an experiment run on August 8th this year at a national laboratory in California.

The value of this experiment is that it added to the evidence that controlled fusion is real. Other work over recent years at labs throughout the world has shown that fusion can be created by at least two approaches. But it did more than prove feasibility. This experiment advanced the knowledge required to move the entire industry forward.

I use the word “industry” in the sense that this appears to be exactly that. An industry that is in a very early stage of formation. It is like some wild car company that intends to use batteries only. They build one and broadcast far and wide that it works. This kind of activity went on for years with many attempts by all sorts of startups and laboratories. Now we see Tesla and the tremendous move into EVs by both existing and new vehicle manufacturers. Cell phones began with luggable car phones and evolved into what we have today. Granted, these examples are simpler than fusion power plants. They are in an entire different class.

A Closer Look

Results are still being analyzed and reviewed, and I look forward to learning more when the project report is published by Lawerence Livermore Labs (LLNL).

Room containing fusion reaction chamber — Courtesy of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory

Above is a snapshot of the area where the laser beams are focused on a tiny fuel target. This is where the experiment was done. Looks complex. It is. I can imagine the questions about how this can move forward. There are many and they are real. But take a look at the cell phone in your hand. How many transistors are in the microprocessor? Apple’s M1 chip has 16 billion. And that’s just in the brain of the phone. It also communicates wirelessly to over 30 wireless systems. You get the idea. Complex.

Experimental work at LLNL, ITER, JET, Wendelstein X7, and others is refining the engineering. They are especially complex as the snapshot shows. But this is partially because they have a massive amount of instrumentation. This is necessary to obtain information for refinement of system design, behavior of materials, energy transfer mechanisms, and more. The result will be power plant designs that are far simpler.

A caveat — The energy used to cause the reaction was more than what was produced. The experiment was possible because the power was stored and released in only 100 trillionths of a second. If it were significantly longer, given the equipment used, it would have popped a large circuit breaker and taken the entire lab off the grid.

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