Measuring laser power and energy in laser-induced nuclear fusion systems
Thursday, January 30, 2020
The quest for controlled inertial confinement fusion (ICF) using high-powered lasers has been ongoing for more than half a century and continues to be a major goal among the scientific community.
While significant progress has been made in this field in recent years, there continue to be significant challenges ahead, particularly where laser systems are concerned.
One of the main challenges that has plagued nuclear fusion systems since the 1970s is the delivery of laser energy to the target material. This, in turn, has affected our ability to control the symmetry, heating, and hydrodynamic stability of the imploding fuel.
For fusion experiments to be successful, the aim of the lasers needs to be highly accurate, with all beams approaching the target at the same time, at all points.
In addition to timing, the beams impinging on the target must also possess similar characteristics. One of the greatest obstacles to the achievement of high symmetry and high densities of the imploding target is beam-beam imbalance. This problem occurs in situations where the lasers impacting the target possess different power or energy levels.
Another cause of beam-beam imbalance during ICF is inconsistent power distribution over the beam diameter hitting the target. This can lead to the creation of ‘hot spots’ within the impacted area, which can give rise to uneven compression and Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities.
The lasers used in nuclear fusion have evolved rapidly from the late 1970s. While early lasers were only capable of generating energy levels of only a few joules per pulse, today’s lasers are capable of delivering tens of kilojoules to the target.
As a result, high-energy-density environments can be regularly produced in the laboratory. However, due to the intense power and energy levels used, there are only a few measuring tools that can withstand the rigors of this aggressive and demanding application.
The complex and multistage process of nuclear fusion requires various tools that can check different power and energy levels. For seed lasers, low power detectors with direct PC interfacing can be used for off-site monitoring of the laser characteristics.
However, for end-of-line, high-powered beams used in fusion systems, you need a meter capable of measuring energy levels in the order or kilojoules. In this case, a high energy calorimeter is one of the few viable solutions available.
These devices, which are developed specifically for high energy applications such as inertial confinement fusion, measure the pulse energy of high-powered lasers by measuring the increase in temperature of an optical absorber exposed to the beam.
The most reliable calorimeters on the market can calibrate lasers with uncertainties within ± 3% with a repeatabilities better than ± 2%.
The overall goal of nuclear fusion - thermonuclear ignition - is widely considered to be a significant milestone in the scientific community. The success of this process, however, is heavily dependent on the accuracy of the impinging laser beams. Therefore, if you are a professional involved in this area of research, be sure to verify that you are using the best power and energy meters to achieve optimal results.