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First Light


JamesSavik

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First Light

It is stern work, it is perilous work, to thrust your hand in the sun
And pull out a spark of immortal flame to warm the hearts of men

-Joyce Kilmer

first_light.jpg

Cape Verde, Oregon
2019 July 04
1300 PST

What had once been on old barn was completely unrecognizable. Scientific instruments of all descriptions surrounded a concrete vault called the pit.

The pit contained the equipment to make the experiment work. It also protected the human participants in the experiment with a foot of lead and six feet of hardened concrete. Once it was sealed, it could only be viewed by remote cameras in the control room above.

The vapor of condensation washed over the pit as liquid nitrogen flowed through the pipes bringing the superconducting coils to their optimal temperature.

Dr. Victor Keller looked at the checklist on his clipboard and gave the order, "Begin charging the containment field."

Keller's assistant manning the containment control console Michael Brenner, a 16 year old junior at Cape Verde High, started the program that begin building the magnetic bottle to contain the reaction. After thirty seconds he said, "Mag field is at thirty percent and building."

Bruce Fields, a writer for the small towns paper asked, "Dr. Keller, if you could do this in an old barn, why isn't someone else doing it?"

Keller answered, "They don't want to. This will change the world Bruce and everyone is invested in the old world. We've had the tech to do it since the nineties. The tough part was the superconductors and I built those myself."

Keller looked at his clipboard and said, "Where are we Mikie?"

Brenner replied, "Sixty-two percent and building fast."

Keller said, "OK Sal, start charging the laser capacitors and prepare for a full burn."

The young lady at the Firestarter console began the sequence to bring the laser system to full power and answered curtly, "Charging now. Expect full power in two minutes."

Brenner went down his checklist and said, "Hydrogen injection."

Brenner's son Matt replied, "Injectors to standby. Ready to prime the reactor."

"Lasers at full power on standby."

"Containment field is at 120% and I can run it higher for you if you think we need it."

Brenner said, "This is it. Begin hydrogen injection."

Down in the pit a thin stream of liquid hydrogen gas began flowing past the osmium flow regulator and flashed to gas in the vacuum of the containment field.

Brenner said, "Building... building ok, slow to one third. Partial pressure is nominal. Begin firing the laser."

The lasers light emitting diodes flashed a stream of coherent light at exactly the right wavelength to be absorbed by the hydrogen and the temperature began rising sharply in the reaction chamber.

Brenner said, "Chamber temperature is at 1000 degrees kelvin and rising fast. 1500. Hydrogen is fully ionized. 2000. 3000. We have plasma. Fusion reaction detected. Reaction is coming up, smartly. Cut injection to 5% and hold."

The team watched the purple fire of the reaction in the monitors as humanity's first self sustaining hydrogen fusion reaction took hold. There was not a single word save the hum of machinery.

Brenner said, "F+ 30 seconds and containment is nominal."

Keller said, "It's working. Reaction yield is holding at thirty-two mega-joules per second. Call it, all stations."

"Containment is nominal."

"Lasers off and retracted."

"Injection is off. There's enough plasma to drive the reaction for an hour."

Keller said, "Remember this guys. We were here for history. Thermal transfer to heat sinks.Bruce- if this were a production reactor, we would be using that heat to drive steam turbines."

"OK let it ride. The reaction should last an hour on the fuel in the containment vessel. Then we vent our plasma, write up our results and publish."

And once again, the world changed because a few geeks in a garage figured out how to do what "they" said couldn't be done.

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Great stuff! Tom Swift and Bud Barclay for a new generation. It's fanciful, fun fiction that could just grab the right reader to ask, "Why not?" Granted, it's missing a few key details, but that's why it's called fiction. (That or you've already built one in your basement and this is a truly clever announcement!)

Well done.

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Interesting :icon1: I worked out what the story was about early on. I also like the parallel with the building of the first fission reactor, which was in a similarly non-typical location.

Conventional wisdom is that nuclear fusion reactions won't be self-sustaining because they blow themselves out. The conventional goal is to have a fusion reactor produce enough electricity to power itself (breakeven point) with any improvement after that being electricity available for consumption.

This story implies that it should be possible to build a self-sustaining reaction by containing the energy and using that energy to trigger the fusion of other hydrogen atoms. I also noticed the combination of lasers and superconducting magnetic fields, when it's usually one or the other (using lasers to implode pellets to trigger fusion, or use magnetic fields to squeeze the plasma until it fuses. I hope a young (ie. not set in their ways) nuclear scientist is paying attention!

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So I contacted Amazon for an osmium flow generator and they didn't have it in stock! There goes that idea.

C

You would have to build it. Osmium is a platinum group metal and is capable of withstanding great heat without expanding, contracting or melting. All of the platinum group metals are rarer than gold and very expensive. They don't have many applications but I think this one is the best fit.

This story implies that it should be possible to build a self-sustaining reaction by containing the energy and using that energy to trigger the fusion of other hydrogen atoms. I also noticed the combination of lasers and superconducting magnetic fields, when it's usually one or the other (using lasers to implode pellets to trigger fusion, or use magnetic fields to squeeze the plasma until it fuses. I hope a young (ie. not set in their ways) nuclear scientist is paying attention!

Where they fail is plasma density and pressure- like the sun. If you can keep enough plasma in the containment bottle, you can have a self-sustaining reaction because the energy release has to be reabsorbed into the plasma raising the energy level to the point where the reaction sustains itself.

Another key is the frequencies of the laser must change as the hydrogen ionizes to produce the necessary quantum harmonic in the plasma as reaches its maximum ionization potential. I didn't want to go there but that would be a really cool laser emitter.

We're going to do this and we're going to do it soon- we being humanity.

When we do, it will change the world.

(That or you've already built one in your basement and this is a truly clever announcement!)

I wish!

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