If successful, the resulting conditions--a temperature of more than 100 million degrees Celsius and pressures 100 billion times the Earth's atmosphere--will cause the fuel core to ignite and thermonuclear burn will quickly spread through the compressed fuel, releasing ten to 100 times more energy than the amount delivered by the laser beams. This is the long-sought energy gain that has been the goal of fusion researchers for more than half a century and would be a scientific breakthrough of historic significance--the first demonstration of fusion ignition in a laboratory setting.
Construction of NIF began in 1997 with three scientific missions. Its first is to serve as a key component of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Stockpile Stewardship Program to ensure the safety and reliability of the nation’s nuclear weapons without the need for nuclear testing.
NIF’s second mission is to search for new discoveries in planetary science and astrophysics through its ability to conduct a wide range of experiments never before possible on Earth. Ignition experiments can be used to help scientists better understand the hot, dense interiors of large planets, stars, and other astrophysical phenomena.