Journal article Open Access
Inertial confinement fusion (ICF) is an approach to fusion that relies on the inertia of the fuel mass to provide confinement. To achieve conditions under which inertial confinement is sufficient for efficient thermonuclear burn, a capsule (generally a spherical shell) containing thermonuclear fuel is compressed in an implosion process to conditions of high density and temperature. ICF capsules rely on either electron conduction (direct drive) or x rays (indirect drive) for energy transport to drive an implosion. In direct drive, the laser beams (or charged particle beams) are aimed directly at a target. The laser energy is transferred to electrons by means of inverse bremsstrahlung or a variety of plasma collective processes. In indirect drive, the driver energy (from laser beams or ion beams) is first absorbed in a high‐Z enclosure (a hohlraum), which surrounds the capsule. The material heated by the driver emits x rays, which drive the capsule implosion. For optimally designed targets, 70%–80% of the driver energy can be converted to x rays. The optimal hohlraum geometry depends on the driver. Because of relaxed requirements on laser beam uniformity, and reduced sensitivity to hydrodynamic instabilities, the U.S. ICF Program has concentrated most of its effort since 1976 on the x‐ray or indirect‐drive approach to ICF. As a result of years of experiments and modeling, we are building an increasingly strong case for achieving ignition by indirect drive on the proposed National Ignition Facility (NIF).