Lab unveils world's most powerful laser

Associated Press / June 1, 2009
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LIVERMORE, Calif. - The world's most powerful laser, created to help keep tabs on the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile while also studying the heavens, has been unveiled.

The superlaser, known officially as the National Ignition Facility, was unveiled Friday at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory about 50 miles east of San Francisco.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California and US Senator Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, were among the thousands attending the ceremony.

The National Ignition Facility, as large as a football field, consists of 192 separate laser beams, each traveling 1,000 feet in one-thousandth of a second to converge simultaneously on a target the size of a pencil eraser.

Federal officials said they planned to use it on a multifaceted assignment that would include ensuring that aging nuclear weapons are functioning properly without resorting to underground testing.

Other uses will include the study of astrophysics and experiments in developing green energy programs.

Beginning next year, scientists also will use the laser for experiments aimed at creating controlled fusion reactions similar to those found in the sun.

"More energy will be produced by this ignition process than the amount of laser energy required to start it. This is the long-sought goal of energy gain," said Edward Moses, facility director.