The European Union will spend about 700 million euros ($900 million) to build the world’s most powerful lasers, technology that could destroy nuclear waste and provide new cancer treatments.
The Extreme Light Infrastructure project has obtained funding for two lasers to be built in the Czech Republic and Romania, Shirin Wheeler, spokeswoman for the European Commission on regional policy, said in a phone interview. A third research center will be in Hungary.
The lasers are 10 times more powerful than any yet built and will be strong enough to create subatomic particles in a vacuum, similar to conditions that may have followed the start of the universe. Eventually, the power of the light beams could be used to deteriorate the radioactivity of nuclear waste in just a few seconds and target cancerous tumors, the projects’s Romanian coordinator Nicolae-Victor Zamfir said in an interview.
“We can’t find in nature any phenomenon with such an intense power like the one that will be generated with this laser,” Zamfir said in a phone interview from Romania. “We expect to see the first results of our research in one or two years after the centre becomes operational.”
The Magurele research center, where the Romanian laser will be located, will consume about 10 megawatts of energy, enough to supply about 2,500 average U.S. households. Most of it will come from geothermal pumps installed at the site, where the laser is expected to become operational in 2017.
“It is probably one of the largest such sites in Europe using unconventional energy,” Zamfir said.
Zamfir said companies from the computer industry have shown interest in the project, but none from the nuclear sector. “We haven’t advertised the project yet properly, possibly also because we didn’t have the EU’s approval.”
The research may replicate the same principles used in a new type of cancer radiotherapy called hadrontherapy, Zamfir said. It directly targets deep-rooted tumors, reducing the risk of recurrence or new tumors. The first results of the experiments are expected for 2018-2019.
“This treatment already exists, but requires expensive and big accelerators,” Zamfir said. “If it becomes possible by using this type of laser, it can be implemented at lower costs as technology advances and the lasers get cheaper.”
The laser technology might also be used to reduce the time it take for atomic waste to lose its radioactivity from thousands of years to a few seconds. That could remove the need to build underground stores to keep waste secure for centuries.
Read the rest of the article here: Bloomberg Businessweek