By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Northern San Joaquin Valley home to 25% of Livermore Lab’s workforce of nearly 10,000
Photo courtesy Lawrence Livermore National Lan Before each experiment at the National Ignition Facility, a positioner precisely centers the target inside the 10-meter diameter target chamber and serves as a reference to align the laser beams. NIF is located at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore.

The key to the world’s future energy supply is in its infancy stage just 35 miles southwest of Manteca at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab.

It is there that at the National Ignition Facility researchers chip away three billionths of a second at a time in their bid to unlock the potential of nuclear fusion to lay the groundwork for clean electricity.

And while that isn’t the primary mission of the elaborate laser — keeping the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons safe is — building on a breakthrough where nuclear fusion generated more energy than was consumed to power it has significant global consequences.

Here is what can happen if and when the process gets to the point it can be harnessed to generate electricity as shared by Chris Stolz, an associate program manager for the optics supply.

Producing current annual energy needs of San Francisco, a city of 808,000,  requires using the equivalent of:

*200,000 train car loads of coal or

*six to seven oil tankers of fossil fuel.

But to meet the energy needs of a city the size of San Francisco, nuclear fusion requires just two 55 gallon drums of material.

And that material doesn’t create pollution.

Stolz a former longtime resident of Lathrop who has since moved to Livermore, shared information Thursday with the Manteca Rotary Club at Ernie’s Rendezvous Room on the nuclear ignition facility that produced one of the most impressive scientific feats so far of the 21st century on Dec. 5, 2023.

He noted that of the nearly 10,000 workers at Livermore Lab — of which 1,000 are working at the nuclear ignition facility — 20 percent reside in San Joaquin County, primarily in Tracy, Manteca, Mountain House, and Tracy.

Another 5 percent reside in Modesto and rest of Stanislaus County.

That means roughly a quarter of the lab’s over $2.3 billion payroll is helping power the Northern San Joaquin Valley economy.

The is addition to $1 billion annually in local procurements.

The national ignition facility exists first and foremost to assure the United States has good stewardship of its nuclear stockpile.

Since the end of nuclear weapon testing either underground or in remote locations in the Pacific Ocean, science replicating the elements and conditions in the warheads have been used to make sure they stay safe and stable.

The mission also is to get a better understanding of matter.

The third mission is exploring the development of fusion energy.

Since the first time the lasers produced more energy than needed to create fusion, the ignition facility has had four other times where “shots” have exceeded the break-even mark with each one producing more energy.

In a typical year, the lasers can be used to produce 400 shots.

The material with a lead-walled chamber where fusion happens is significantly hotter than the core of the sun during the extreme brief time it occurs.

The time fusion occurs is measured in billionths of as second.

During that brief sliver of an instance, the process consumes the equivalent of the energy that the entire world uses in a year.

It is created through an extensive relay of lasers.

And while that sounds mind-boggling, the extreme brief time the process occurs thanks to the lasers involved means a mere fraction of electricity is used to get things going.

Stolz noted an associate, a number of years ago, calculated at the price of PG&E power back then that the electricity need to conduct each shot cost just 50 cents.

The lab buys power from PG&E and two public power agencies.

Stoltz noted most projections based on current consumption rates anticipates fossil fuel supplies will be depleted by the end of the century.

At the same time, renewables such as solar and wind are highly unlikely to be able to meet current demand let along growing demand as the years unfold.

It is why there is a high degree of private sector interest in the fusion technology to the point private entities are spending billions of dollars on research.

The ignition facility shares its results and data the private sector in its bid to come up with a  new energy source for the world.

Besides not being carbon based which means the process is clean, Stolz noted it is safe given there is no threat from earthquakes and such to trigger a disaster.

 Scientists on Dec. 5, 2023 performed a NIF shot as they always do — firing the facility’s 192 powerful lasers onto a BB-sized target of deuterium and tritium (DT), heavier isotopes of hydrogen.

However, in the Dec. 5 experiment, the laser energy was upped to 2.05 MJ, and conditions of implosion symmetry, heat and compression were just right, generating the record-breaking energy output of 3.15 MJ.


To contact Dennis Wyatt, email