Technicians at the National Ignition Facility, part of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, recently fired all 192 laser beams that make up the NIF Project into a special target chamber. Each beam generated an average of 420 j for a combined output of 80 kj, or 20 times more energy than any other laser can generate.

Over the next several months, the Lab will boost energy levels to the point where the system can send a 1.8-mj, 20-nsec pulse of UV energy into a BB-sized target. This would be 500 trillion W of peak power, more than the peak power of all electrical plants in the U.S. combined, researchers say. They believe this will be enough to fuse hydrogen isotopes in the target into helium nuclei and create more energy than was needed to initiate the reaction.

The first attempt to start such a reaction should be in late 2010. Construction of the laser began in 2001.