Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger toured the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Monday and said its work on laser technology could lead to the development of limitless clean energy that might be able to help the nation address its energy problems.
Schwarzenegger described the new technology as "unbelievable" and "mind-blowing" and said it has "the potential to revolutionize our energy future."
However, lab officials say the earliest the new technology, which is called Laser Inertial Fusion-Fission Energy, or LIFE, would be ready for a demonstration plant would be 2020, with commercial development to follow 10 years later.
But Schwarzenegger was enthusiastic nonetheless, saying, "Just because it's long term it doesn't mean we shouldn't do it. It means we should start yesterday."
"In the meantime, we've got to continue to work on renewable energy. We want to reduce our reliance on carbon fuels and dirty coal and increase our use of solar, geothermal and wind power," he said.
The governor said he toured the lab and its National Ignition Facility at the urging of former U.S. Secretary of State George Schulz, who accompanied him Monday.
Schwarzenegger and Schulz received a private, classified briefing from Laboratory Director George H. Miller on the lab's operations, which include stewardship of the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile.
The lab broke ground on the National Ignition Facility in 1997 and it's now 99 percent finished, with full completion slated for next March.
The lab's first ignition attempt is set for 2010 and it has a goal of reaching nuclear fusion, which is energy produced by fusing atoms together, in 2011.
The laser facility has three major missions: research to support the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile, research into the origins of the universe and research to help pave the way for the future use of fusion energy.
Schwarzenegger said if the new laser technology is successful it "could generate thousands of megawatts of carbon-free nuclear power but without the drawbacks of conventional nuclear plants."
Miller said that in about 15 months lab officials should have a better idea about whether the technology is feasible.
Miller said he's more optimistic than he's ever been that the technology will work but admitted "it's not done yet."
Lab officials say LIFE is a hybrid technology that aims to combine the best aspects of nuclear fusion, which the believe is a clean, safe and virtually unlimited energy source, with fission, which is a reliable energy technology that currently provides about 16 percent of the world's electricity.
According to lab officials, LIFE power plants, through the combination of fusion and fission, could generate gigawatts of power 24 hours a day without refueling while avoiding carbon dioxide emissions.
Schwarzenegger said, "This is fundamental change but it will take time."