The National Ignition Facility (NIF), the world's largest and highest-energy laser, was dedicated on May 29, 2009. In 2010, NIF began experiments that focus the energy of 192 giant laser beams on a BB-sized target filled with hydrogen fuel. NIF is capable of creating temperatures and pressures similar to those that exist only in the cores of stars and giant planets and inside nuclear weapons.
WCI is using NIF to advance an understanding of fundamental nuclear processes and nuclear weapon performance. NIF is the only facility that can perform controlled, experimental studies of thermonuclear burn, the phenomenon that gives rise to the immense energy of modern nuclear weapons. It provides unprecedented experimental access to the physics of nuclear weapons. Data from NIF experiments complement testing at other experimental facilities at Livermore and elsewhere. This experimental data helps to inform and validate sophisticated, three-dimensional weapons-simulation computer codes and bring about a fuller understanding of important weapon physics.
Last year, a decades-long investigation into so-called energy balance resulted in a theoretical breakthrough for a phenomenon that perplexed physicists for decades. WCI's theoretical explanation and detailed simulation models were validated in 35 NIF experiments.