The Aquitaine Region and CEA have just signed an agreement to build PETAL (PETawatt Aquitaine Laser), an outstanding piece of scientific equipment that will be set up near LMJ, the renowned Megajoule Laser that is being built at the Barp CEA site (Gironde) near Bordeaux. The bold PETAL project involves designing a high energy, very high power laser that can generate 3.5 kilojoule pulses during 0.5 to 5 picoseconds (one picosecond equals one trillionth of a second) and coupling it with longer lasting (i.e., several nanoseconds, several billionths of a second) high energy laser beams such as the ones at the Laser Integration Line (LIL) that is Europe's most powerful laser to date in terms of delivered energy, or at the Megajoule Laser.
Eventually, PETAL will be one of the critical tools for exploring and validating the technologies and physical principles that will be used for the European HIPER project (High Power Laser Energy Research). The purpose of HIPER is to demonstrate the technological and economic viability of laser fusion for energy production. The project, which brings together 26 partners from 10 different European countries, is now in its preparatory phase, which will end in 2011. The first PETAL phase has already validated the technical options and qualified the most critical components of the future laser.
Thanks to PETAL, the exceptional physical conditions in the core of stars will be recreated in the lab and unusual magnetic fields will be generated, thus increasing our knowledge of the universe and furthering very high level fundamental physics studies, in nuclear physics, for instance. However with PETAL, researchers will also be studying fast ignition for thermonuclear fusion under the European HIPER project. Operating a facility such as PETAL is also an opportunity to produce the high-energy protons required for medical research and specifically proton therapy, for the improved treatment of cancer cells.