LIFE: Laser Inertial Fusion Energy Systems for Electric Power Production and Disposal of Nuclear Waste


Date Thursday March 4th 2010
Time 4:00-5:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium, PARC

PARC Forum

The National Ignition Facility (NIF), a laser-based Inertial Confinement Fusion (ICF) experiment designed to achieve thermonuclear fusion ignition and burn in the laboratory, has been completed at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The sequence of experimental campaigns designed to accomplish the NIF’s goal have begun. Fusion yields of the order of 10 to 35 MJ with laser energies of 1.0 to 1.3 MJ are expected by 2011, and we anticipate that fusion yields of 150-200 MJ could ultimately be obtained with NIF-based indirectly driven targets at 2-3 MJ.

In this presentation we discuss an approach to generating several GW of carbon free thermal power (GWth) from the laser-driven sources of fusion neutrons achievable on NIF, either as a pure fusion system, or as a fusion-driven fission hybrid. The approach, Laser Inertial Fusion Energy (LIFE), surrounds a laser driven fusion source with either a pure molten-salt cooled blanket for the pure fusion option, or a subcritical fission blanket into engines capable of generating several thousand MegaWatts of electric power. In the hybrid (or fusion-fission mode) a LIFE engine can utilize a variety of fertile and fissile fuels, eliminates the need for uranium enrichment and for Spent Nuclear Fuel reprocessing, and minimizes the production of long-lived actinides in nuclear waste to below DOE attractiveness level E (the lowest in the safeguards tables) and would thus represents a once-through, closed fuel cycle that can extend the capacity of current underground nuclear waste repository designs by factors of 20 to 100. Moreover, LIFE engines can burn the existing inventories of SNF and excess plutonium thereby drastically shrinking the nation’s—and the world’s—stockpiles of these special nuclear materials.

Because LIFE is passively safe (both in the pure fusion as well as in the fusion-driven fission mode) and minimizes proliferation concerns associated with the nuclear fuel cycle, we envision this technology as capable of providing a global solution to carbon-free energy generation in the 21st century. We will describe progress at LLNL’s National Ignition Facility towards achieving fusion ignition and burn – the sine qua non condition for LIFE – and discuss the specifics of the LIFE engine design and the basic and applied research challenges associated with making this fusion vision a reality.


Tom Anklam has a BS in Nuclear Engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. He began his career at Oak Ridge National Laboratory working in the area of nuclear reactor safety research. Tom then moved to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in 1985 as a member of the Atomic Vapor Laser Isotope Separation Program.  During this time, he held a variety of positions including Uranium Separation Technology Development Program Leader.

In 1999, Tom joined the Weapons Program at Livermore and was instrumental in establishing the Scientific Stockpile Stewardship Program at LLNL and in advancing the use of technical measures to improve the security of US nuclear materials. Tom recently completed a 2-year assignment as the Laboratory's Chief Mechanical Engineer where he provided technical oversight for the Laboratory's engineering processes and standards as well as work force development for the ~600 engineers that work at LLNL. He is currently leads the Systems Engineering and Analysis effort for the LIFE fusion energy project.

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