Excitement and optimism tempered by warnings against unrealistic expectations were the primary themes emerging from last month’s LLNL-sponsored workshop on the potential use of inertial confinement fusion (ICF) to generate commercially viable inertial fusion energy (IFE).
The virtual workshop, held from Feb. 22-24, was inspired by a number of national reports recommending the reestablishment of a national IFE program and the results of the milestone Aug. 8, 2021, National Ignition Facility experiment that produced 1.35 megajoules of energy. That experiment moved NIF to the threshold of ignition—when the fusion energy generated is equal to or greater than the amount of laser energy delivered to the target (see How NIF Works).
About 200 IFE researchers and supporters participated, submitting 83 white papers, making 19 presentations and plenary talks, and brainstorming ideas in five breakout sessions. The workshop covered the role of government agencies and the private sector in pursuing IFE; methods of driving, or compressing, the fusion fuel; target physics and fabrication; engineering challenges in designing an IFE power plant; and a development pathway, such as constructing a test facility to assess the various approaches to IFE and determine the most promising path forward.