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General Atomics Helps to Create A Fusion First

General Atomics – one of several companies worldwide working to make fusion a viable source of energy – contributed to a historic December experiment at the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Mike Farrell
Vice President of Inertial Fusion Technologies
General Atomics

The San Diego business supplied precision components used in an experiment that was significant because it was the first-ever controlled fusion reaction in a laboratory to generate more energy than was exerted to achieve it. “More energy out than in” has been what researchers have been trying to achieve for seven decades, Science Magazine said in reporting the event.

During the Dec. 5 experiment, 2.05 megajoules of energy were delivered to a target assembly, resulting in 3.15 megajoules of fusion energy output.

While conventional nuclear reactors use fission, the process in which heavy elements are split apart to create energy, fusion combines light elements at high temperatures and pressures to create heavier elements and energy.

In theory, the fusion reactor of the future would use hydrogen isotopes such as deuterium (which has a neutron and a proton at its nucleus) and tritium (which has two neutrons and a proton), which would fuse into heavier elements such as helium.

A Byproduct of Federal Work

Last month’s achievement builds on decades of work that GA has performed for the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which maintains the U.S. government’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, aids in nuclear nonproliferation and oversees the U.S. Navy’s nuclear propulsion program.

The experiment involved inertial confinement fusion, or ICF for short.

Anantha Krishnan
Senior Vice President, Energy Group
General Atomics

GA describes it this way: “In a laboratory setting, ICF occurs when a small capsule filled with deuterium and tritium fuel is rapidly compressed by high-powered lasers, causing the fuel atoms to fuse together and release [a] significant amount of energy. GA participates in this research by designing and fabricating targets used at NIF [the National Ignition Facility] and other ICF facilities, as well as providing components and services important to the shot process. GA fabricates these materials to highly precise tolerances to support the DOE’s ICF research program and has served as NNSA’s primary commercial partner for ICF targets and target support services since 1991. GA provides more than 12,000 components yearly for experiments conducted by the four U.S. ICF laboratories.”

Financial terms of GA’s work for the government were not available.

“General Atomics is proud to partner with LLNL [Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory] and the larger fusion community to push the boundaries of ICF research, and we share in the excitement of this historic achievement,” said Mike Farrell, vice president of inertial fusion technologies at GA.

“We are absolutely thrilled with the accomplishment, which is a significant milestone for the entire fusion community. We are gratified that GA was able to play a role in this historic achievement,” said Anantha Krishnan, senior vice president for the Energy Group at GA. “We look forward to working closely with NNSA and our partners in the National Laboratories in crossing the next set of milestones for the ICF program.”

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