May 4, 2023
Attendees at this year’s NIF and JLF User Groups Meeting celebrated Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s (LLNL) recent fusion ignition breakthrough at the National Ignition Facility, but also kept their focus on looking ahead to a bright future of high energy density (HED) science research.
The forward-thinking discussions included new Stockpile Stewardship projects, the impetus for inertial fusion energy (IFE), and user experiments through NIF and the Jupiter Laser Facility (JLF), with the emphasis on HED science.
In opening remarks, LLNL Director Kim Budil noted the Dec. 5. 2022, fusion ignition breakthrough at NIF and the important contributions of the NIF and JLF User Groups has created a key “moment in time” when the world is focused on the possibilities of science.
“It’s very rare for a large scientific institution to get a lot of attention for a long time for something good,” Budil said. “And it’s a moment for the community to come together around that because we have a chance to really build on that success, advance capabilities to these facilities, and help them understand how laser facilities and R&D facilities have transformed how we think of material science, how we think about astrophysics, how we think about plasma science, and how we think about energy futures.”
The annual meeting resumed as an in-person gathering for the first time in three years. In all, 198 people registered for Feb. 21-23 meeting, including at least 50 students. Attendees came from across the United States, United Kingdom, Israel, Germany, Japan, and Canada.
NIF User Office Director Kevin Fournier, NIF User Group Chair Petros Tzeferacos of the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, and JLF User Group Chair Christine Mariscal of General Atomics (GA) all said it was wonderful to be back in person again after the pandemic forced the meeting into a virtual format.
Mariscal shared the welcome news that JLF’s four-year refurbishment project is now complete and that JLF is ready for business.
“We’re really excited to welcome research back at JLF with our facility upgrades,” she said.
“The news of ignition will resonate throughout this meeting,” Tzeferacos said. Indeed, various presenters congratulated LLNL and NIF for the achievement.
Vincent Tang, principal deputy director for the NIF and Photon Science (NIF&PS) Directorate, praised the contributions by NIF and JLF users and their role in the ignition milestone. He echoed Budil and other speakers by saying, “This is a great time to be a HED scientist.
“The discovery and fundamental science work that we in this community do on NIF and JLF has helped enable that (fusion ignition) and other Stockpile Stewardship Program breakthroughs,” he said. “(The) Discovery Science program does that by helping to answer the most fundamental questions about the universe—ones that we’ve asked since humans looked up at the stars. It pushes NIF to develop new experimental concepts and capabilities that are leveraged by other programs, and this also ensures that our laboratory and the academic, HED, and plasma communities have ample opportunity for engagement and collaboration, so that we can all stay together at the forefront.
“Livermore’s core mission is national security, but we can really only accomplish that mission by bringing the best science to it and helping to push forward that frontier,” he said.
Fusion Pilot Plant by 2040s
Paul Davis, deputy director of the Office of Experimental Sciences in the Department of Energy (DOE)’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), said the DOE’s goals for 2023 included advancing world-class science, technology, and engineering by deploying NNSA’s first exascale computer and quantifying the repeatability of laser-driven fusion ignition.
Davis also noted a 10-year ICF facility and infrastructure plan that was delivered to Congress and a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine HED science report that was released as the meeting was underway (see “National Academies Report on HED Science Includes LLNL Contributions”).
Kramer Akli, program manager of the DOE Office of Science, said the long-range goal is to establish a pilot fusion energy plant by the 2040s. He also noted the proposal of a new, fusion-centered program with private industry. In the cost-sharing program, the DOE would leverage private-sector creativity to develop new U.S.-based capabilities that would enable fusion commercialization.
NIF’s Achievements, Priorities
NIF Director Gordon Brunton explained that the ignition milestone opens the future to new regimes of weapons physics and sets the stage for fusion energy possibilities.
A report from Brunton and NIF Operations and Facility Manager Bruno Van Wonterghem also highlighted:
All of this, Brunton said, has set the stage to attract new talent to NIF’s workforce to take on upcoming challenges.
Brunton also listed NIF’s key priorities, which he said aim to deliver for NNSA and develop capabilities for upcoming HED needs. They include:
“Our December result will change things a lot in achieving target gains greater than 1,” he said. “It’s super exciting and has accelerated our plans by a few years. We’re revising our goals for the next decade.”
Those goals include: pushing NIF’s performance up to 10 megajoules (MJ) in the near term for SSP applications; increasing NIF laser power and energy and pushing performance to 30 MJ or higher in the longer term; and laying the groundwork for a next-generation ICF facility for high yield.
Brunton noted that achieving ignition was in part enabled by an 8 percent increase in laser energy, providing more margin in target physics designs. He also said that NIF is continuing to manage the impacts of COVID-19.
Brunton said that megajoule-level nuclear yields present opportunities and challenges for NIF’s users and require a careful balance until NIF addresses the impacts of aging equipment. The aging of many of the facility’s systems has resulted in degradations and a backlog of system maintenance and equipment obsolescence. Equipment failure impacts are now contributing to about 50 lost shot opportunities per year.
NIF sustainment plans, due to be completed over the next five years, will ensure the facility can continue to meet program needs for the next two decades.
Brunton also described the Discovery Science projects selected in 2022 that span astrophysics, planetary science, nuclear science, and hydrodynamics:
Fournier outlined the impact of increased yields on scheduling, saying the higher yields require a longer stay-out time after the shot. He said High-Fidelity Pulse Shaping (HiFiPS), which will enable up to a 10-fold improvement in shaping precision, is in the final phase of a multiyear modernization project that will significantly improve power balance and accuracy.
Fournier also noted the web-based Pulse Shape Tool (PST), which replaces the Pulse Shape Editor (PSE). The PST will ease the responsible individual (RI)s’ work to create, search, save, and validate NIF laser pulses.
JLF’s New Facility Plans
Félicie Albert, deputy director of JLF and LLNL’s HED Science Center, said a long-term JLF strategic plan includes a new facility within the Livermore Valley Open Campus (LVOC). The facility would be integrated within LLNL’s High Energy Density (HED) Science Center’s mission and include office space, and have three goals:
In the near term, she said, JLF is looking forward to welcoming users back this spring. To enable high-impact experiments, the facility will capitalize on the recently completed refurbishment project and conduct a series of advances through partnerships at LLNL, including with NIF&PS, Weapons and Complex Integration, Physical & Life Sciences, and Engineering. JLF will continue to be a member of LaserNetUS, engage with the broader scientific community, and attract HED scientists to LLNL.
The NIF and JLF members heard presentations from:
Tammy Ma, the lead for the Lab’s Inertial Fusion Energy (IFE) Institutional Initiative, gave a presentation on “DOE Basic Research Needs in Inertial Fusion Energy.”
Tzeferacos and NIF User Group Vice Chair Professor Louise Willingale of the University of Michigan presented these awards in the best poster contest, sponsored by General Atomics:
The meeting concluded with tours of the NIF and JLF and a breakout session led by the Lab’s Raspberry Simpson and Jackson Williams on “Community Discussion on Facility Capability Development of an ARC-Driven TNSA Proton Radiography Source.”
The NIF User Office organized and hosted the event, including managing student travel and the logistics for the offsite venue, the Bella Rosa Conference Center at the Garré Vineyard & Winery.
“The User Office administrative staff, with help from across the NIF enterprise, did a great job preparing for and hosting and running the event,” Fournier said. “Due to turnover during the pandemic, this was the first such event for nearly all the User Office administrative team, and they did a marvelous job managing the logistics and dealing with numerous vendors, complying with the Lab’s and DOE’s procedures and requirements, managing sponsor interactions, and making everyone who attended feel welcome and valued.”
The meeting organizers and support staff included: Meaghan McDonald, Anthony “Aj” Salaices, Rachel Ghilarducci, Debbie Bradford, Stephanie Lahman, Amy Rohrbacker, Mary Orrett, Jason Laurea, David Alyea, Chalena Ramirez, Dionne Hidalgo, Gabrielle Gutierrez, Renee Roberts, Mary Harrington, Natalie Rowland, MariAnn Albrecht, Amanda Eaton, and Jill Stevens.
General Atomics, Sydor Technologies, LUXEL, Nevada National Security Site, and the University of California Office of the President (UCOP) sponsored a social event at Da Boccery in Livermore.
“NIF and JLF User Groups Cite HED Science Successes Amid Pandemic,” NIF & Photon Science News, March 15, 2022
“NIF and JLF User Groups Push HED Science Forward During Pandemic,” NIF & Photon Science News, February 25, 2021
“NIF-JLF User Group Celebrates Exciting Future for HED Science,” NIF & Photon Science News, February 26, 2020
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