|Trained technicians inspect the burnt out starting solenoid.|
Scientists at Lawrence Livermore national Labs reported a new problem at the National Ignition Facility. Despite many repeated attempts, the central core of the machine, known as the "starter," won't engage, rendering the laser facility inoperable.
"It's a potentially serious problem," said lab scientist Theresa Nancer. "We're hoping we don't have to replace the whole unit. That could get expensive."
The NIF uses 192 high-powered lasers to compress and detonate a small pellet of nuclear fuel in hopes of harvesting the energy it generates.
The problem at the facility was first noticed late yesterday when the machine started inexplicably losing power during some of the longer runs. This morning, when scientists tried to turn it on, they reported it only made a sort of grinding noise.
"It just kind of went 'Vrrrr-rrr-rrr-rr-rr-rr-r-r-r-r,' and died," Nancer said.
|Workers said that the indicator light had been on for several weeks, but they figured they could ignore it.|
The lab called on two experts, originally from MIT, to help assess and fix the problem.
"You know, it seems like Ford has been having more success with their Fusion these days," said Thomas Magliozzi, a specialist on complex machines.
"That's because they're building off another project back in the 1970s that experimented with trying to confine powerful explosions," added Raymond Magliozzi. "They called it the Pinto."
Until they can devise a more permanent solution, Livermore laid over 40 miles of jumper cables to the nearby Berkeley National Laboratory to try to get the NIF started again.
Officials at the lab say that they're not happy with the latest performance snafu.
"It's brand new!" said Kent Wait, the head of the lab. "It has less than 30,000 megajoules on it. It shouldn’t be having these kinds of problems already!"
|A technician checks the dipstick at the NIF. |
The timing of NIF's failure is potentially catastrophic for U.S. science-makers. In recent years, they have been fighting hard to regain dominance in the international market at a time when its fiercest competitors have stumbled. Japan's KEK Linac had to be recalled in late 2009 after several users reported experiencing unintended particle acceleration.
Most infamously, CERN's Large Hadron Collider sprung a leak in its particle lines in September 2008. The Magliozzis were brought in to consult after that incident as well.
"The problem there was with the magnetic manipulation," Raymond said. "That's something we know a lot about, we've been manipulated all our lives."Updated:
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