11.3.06

Another dramatic climb toward fusion conditions for Sandia Z accelerator

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Researchers at Sandia National Laboratories' Z machine -- the former dark horse among accelerators meant to produce conditions required for nuclear fusion -- have increased the machine's X-ray power output by nearly 10 times in the last two years.

The most recent advance resulted in an output X-ray power of about 290 trillion watts -- for billionths of a second, about 80 times the entire world's output of electricity.

The figure represents almost a 40 percent increase over the 210 trillion watts -- itself a world record -- reported last summer.

Strangely, the power used in each trial is only enough to provide electricity to about 100 houses for two minutes. Electricity is provided by ordinary wall current from a local utility company.

Yet particles imploded in the accelerator's tiny targets -- about the size of a spool of thread -- reach velocities that would fly a plane from Los Angeles to New York in a second.

In a different series of experiments, the accelerator achieved a temperature of approximately 1.6 million degrees Celsius (140 electron volts) in a container the size of a spool of thread.

Other experiments in a still smaller volume target suggest temperatures may eventually be achieved on Z in the range of 2.0 to 2.2 million degrees. The now-realistic goal of reaching 2.0 million degrees is so significant because radiation temperatures in the range of two million to three million degrees are generally considered an essential condition for nuclear fusion.

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