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After Failed Attempts at Nuclear Fusion, NIF Shifts Priorities

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Courtesy NIF

At NIF, the goal was to create nuclear fusion inside this peppercorn-sized "hohlraum."

After missing a September 20, 2012 deadline to ignite a nuclear fusion reaction -- essentially a tiny sun -- in a laboratory, scientists at Lawrence Livermore National Lab are making some changes.

The National Ignition Facility (NIF) was designed to provide a means to study the effectiveness of the country's nuclear arsenal without actually exploding the weapons themselves. The facility directs 192 lasers -- collectively, the world's most powerful laser -- at a hydrogen-filled capsule the size of a peppercorn. Had things gone according to plan, for a billionth of a second, the fusion reaction would release more energy than the lasers put into it.

NIF officials touted the facility's potential to revolutionize energy by laying the groundwork for a nearly endless supply of clean energy that could run on water and produce no dangerous waste. Critics have said that goal is nowhere within reach.

When NIF began operating in 2010, officials were confident they could achieve nuclear fusion by September 2012. That deadline came and went.

Ed Moses, who has directed NIF since 2007, will no longer be director of the facility. That position will go to Jeffrey Atherton. Moses retains his former title of principal associate director for the NIF & Photon Science Directorate.

Host Mina Kim talks with KQED science reporter Amy Standen, who has been following the developments at NIF.

More: In Livermore, Still Waiting on Nuclear Fusion (Amy Standen's report from Oct, 2012)

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