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Power Science

French Fusion Experiment Delayed Until 2025 or Beyond 272

Posted by timothy
from the time-travel-will-patch-things-up dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The old joke is that fusion is the power of the future and always will be. But it's not looking so funny for ITER, an EU10 billion fusion experiment in France. According to Nature News, ITER will not conduct energy-producing experiments until at least 2025 — five years later than what had been previously agreed to. The article adds that the reactor will cost even more than the seven parties in the project first thought:'...Construction costs are likely to double from the 5-billion (US$7-billion) estimate provided by the project in 2006, as a result of rises in the price of raw materials, gaps in the original design, and an unanticipated increase in staffing to manage procurement. The cost of ITER's operations phase, another 5 billion over 20 years, may also rise.'"
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French Fusion Experiment Delayed Until 2025 or Beyond

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:16AM (#28136459)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bussard

    Even if he fails miserably its gonna cost a shedload less than all the projects like ITER around the world are

    • by Kokuyo (549451) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:35AM (#28136563) Journal

      And what kind of breakthrough would you expect from throwing money at a dead man? Or was that the implied joke?

    • by EdZ (755139) on Friday May 29, 2009 @10:56AM (#28138953)
      Why not simply have more than one avenue of research? We have many designs of fission reactor (PWR, pebble bed, MAGNOX, fast-breeders, etc), many designs of internal combustion engine (4-stroke, 2-stroke, rotary, gas turbine, diesel, etc), why not have several designs of fusion reactor as well? Tokemaks, Spheromaks, Polywells, PPDs, laser inertial and so on, all of them may have different applications, different niches where they work better than others.
  • by sien (35268) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:19AM (#28136483) Homepage

    So the Europeans and the US governments say they are firmly convinced of dangerous anthropogenic global warming but they won't spend 15 Bn over 10 years to speed this up?

    If fusion could be made to work for 2-3 times the cost of coal electricity massively reducing C02 emissions without massively cutting energy usage would be possible. It's worth spending money to find this out. Bjorn Lomborg, who is loathed by most environmentalists recommends spending more on alternative energy research. Anthorny Watts would probably approve spending more on this kind of fusion research.

    Surely if the US and the Europe, that would collectively spend about 700 Bn a YEAR on defence are serious about alternative energy this should be funded more.

    Steven Chu where are you?

    • by MichaelSmith (789609) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:25AM (#28136519) Homepage Journal

      So the Europeans and the US governments say they are firmly convinced of dangerous anthropogenic global warming but they won't spend 15 Bn over 10 years to speed this up?

      Probably because its not going to work. Fusion can only be made to work on a large scale, if at all. Every step along the way will cost the 15 billion you speak of and we are probably 100 years away from commercial production of energy. Wind, tide, photovoltaic and solar thermal power work right now. They can be tested on a small scale for a couple of thousand bucks then scaled up as far as you want in many cases.

      • by afc_wimbledon (1052878) on Friday May 29, 2009 @08:08AM (#28137013)

        Wind, tide, photovoltaic and solar thermal power work right now.

        Wind power only works when it's windy, and where it's windy, and not as efficiently as generally advertised. NIMBYs object to serious scale windfarms on land, and they kill migrating birds and cock up radar. There will also need to be a hugely expensive and unsightly ( or buried, and even more expensive) expansion of power grid systems.

        Tidal systems are hideously expensive - estimates of UKL 23 billion for the Severn Barrage for example. And they have massive negative effects on wildlife too. NIMBYS are not fans of these either.

        Photovolatic systems are unproven, but on a serious scale would probably involve enormous quantities of highly toxic chemicals. Like wind power, solar power is not available where the power is needed all the time, or even any of the time in many populated regions.

        Barring a massive program of depopulation, there are no quick answers to power production vs climate change. Some or all of the three methods above will probably be part of the solution, as will be fusion power, fission power, carbon sequestration and other technologies, plus a lot of money. Anyone who says otherwise is probably selling snake oil.

        • by Yoozer (1055188) on Friday May 29, 2009 @08:12AM (#28137041) Homepage

          NIMBYs object to serious scale windfarms on land

          NIMBYS are not fans of these either.

          Barring a massive program of depopulation

          Well, there's your solution.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            by ledow (319597)

            Yeah but where would you stick the bodies? That controversy would generate more NIMBY's and form an infinite loop - maybe if we burned all the bodies, we could stick some sort of steam-powered turbine on the fire and with our infinite supply of NIMBY's (bouyed up to excess with those NIMBY's who don't like the stench from the fire)...

          • Nah, too expensive (Score:3, Interesting)

            by DrYak (748999)

            Barring a massive program of depopulation

            Well, there's your solution.

            Well, except the USA's war in Irak [costofwar.com] proved that it cost much more than 10bn to go and kill a few civilians in a small region.
            Nah, funding fusion is still cheaper. Could buy around 20 ITERs for the same budget.

        • by x2A (858210) on Friday May 29, 2009 @09:38AM (#28137919)

          "Photovolatic systems are unproven, but on a serious scale would probably involve enormous quantities of highly toxic chemicals"

          Photovoltaic isn't the only option for solar power though. This article [bbc.co.uk] about a plant in Spain that uses mirrors to collect light, heats water, which drives a standard turbine. This is basically last century's technology, very easy to do (relatively speaking of course), yet genius all the same.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by tomtomtom777 (1148633)

      So the Europeans and the US governments say they are firmly convinced of dangerous anthropogenic global warming but they won't spend 15 Bn over 10 years to speed this up?

      Please note, that it is not 15 Bn to get fusion energy. It is 15 Bn for fusion energy research. The equations depends on the amount that such research would help. If there is only a tiny chance that the development of fusion energy would be a tiny step closer with this research, 15 Bn is suddenly quite a lot

      • by Marcika (1003625) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:59AM (#28136667)

        So the Europeans and the US governments say they are firmly convinced of dangerous anthropogenic global warming but they won't spend 15 Bn over 10 years to speed this up?

        Please note, that it is not 15 Bn to get fusion energy. It is 15 Bn for fusion energy research. The equations depends on the amount that such research would help. If there is only a tiny chance that the development of fusion energy would be a tiny step closer with this research, 15 Bn is suddenly quite a lot

        But it is not a "tiny step", it is the last and most important step that is supposed to iron out the last big problems with the design and materials before a grid-connected multi-GW power plant can be commissioned (that would be DEMO [wikipedia.org], now not likely to come on stream before 2040).

    • So the Europeans and the US governments say they are firmly convinced of dangerous anthropogenic global warming but they won't spend 15 Bn over 10 years to speed this up?

      If fusion could be made to work for 2-3 times the cost of coal electricity massively reducing C02 emissions without massively cutting energy usage would be possible.

      The fusion boys should aim for the same energy price as coal power, simply because wind and solar are almost there. Wind energy suffers more from a lack of space to place the turbines at this moment (and in the future possibly from a lack of energy storage)... Solar power is believed to reach normal electricity prices in areas like Spain and Italy in the next few years.

      If fusion is 2-3 times more expensive, and no cleaner than solar/wind power - why invest in it?

      for 10 billion, you can also construct 10 Gig

      • by Marcika (1003625) on Friday May 29, 2009 @07:22AM (#28136773)

        for 10 billion, you can also construct 10 Gigawatts of wind power... which will eventually (within a few years) pay itself back.

        Because 10GW of wind power gives you a LOT less energy than 10GW of nuclear. Typical wind power capacity factors are 20-40% (wind doesn't always blow), typical (fission) nuclear capacity factors are 90%-ish. Thus nuclear plants are cheaper than wind even if they cost 3 times as much per GW.

        In addition, wind power needs additional grid investment and lots of pumped storage to even out spikes in capacity to be suitable for base load power, while nuclear power plants are suitable from the get-go.

        • by Rogerborg (306625)
          Segueing from that, the next Big Investment should be in a HVDC European backbone, so that there's the potential (ho ho) to transport and sell power, and thus the incentive for any given region to fully exploit its renewable resources.
      • by Ihlosi (895663)
        If fusion is 2-3 times more expensive, and no cleaner than solar/wind power - why invest in it?

        Because it produces more power per area, and does not depend on local weather conditions. This also means that you can use it as a power source outside of Earths atmosphere and far away from the sun.

    • I am all for investment in fusion technology, but that money should be better spent. Even if the Tokamak approach can be made to work, it will never be economically viable. It is extremely expensive, and there is no hope of scaling it down; the physics requires such an enormous and complex machine.

      In the mean time, there are a number of other very promising approaches which continue to be neglected, and these could be funded at a small fraction of the cost. What is very frustrating is that most of these

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mako1138 (837520)

        In the mean time, there are a number of other very promising approaches which continue to be neglected, and these could be funded at a small fraction of the cost. What is very frustrating is that most of these have been around for a long time, and some were even cancelled so that our futile pursuit of Tokamaks could continue.

        Such as?

      • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2009 @07:48AM (#28136895)

        The reason the tokamak approach has been followed for ITER is that it is currently the most promising. Temperatures achievable in tokamak reactors are orders of magnitude higher than in other machines. Tokamaks have demonstrated fusion-relevant temperatures (~10 keV, 100 million degrees C) and net power gain (briefly in TFTR and JT60-U), and long pulse operation (in e.g. Tore Supra). Other approaches still need much more research before they get to the ITER stage.

        The only other designs which come close are stellarators, and this approach is also being followed with this machine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wendelstein_7-X
        The main problem with stellarators is that they need very complicated coil arrangements (whereas tokamaks' are pretty simple), greatly increasing the costs. Until relatively recently (10-20 years), the computing power necessary to design these machines properly simply wasn't available. Wendelstein 7-X is projected to have a performance similar to the JET tokamak (which was built in 1982).

        Non-toroidal designs (e.g. linear machines, fusors etc.) always have problems with loss of particles/energy along magnetic fields (end loss), primarily due to fast electrons. This is because non-toroidal magnetic field structures always have nulls or holes where plasma can escape: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hairy_ball_theorem

        Disclosure: I am a plasma physicist working on tokamaks

    • the governments and special interest groups don't want the problem solved. When it is "solved" then all the regulatory structure and special fees/taxes won't have application. The lose revenue and control over other people.

      Look, we have known for a long time in the US that Nuclear power when done right is great for the environment. Yet at every corner it was shot down by one group or another. I have been watching Georgia Power trying to spin up two new nuclear reactors and it took years just to get it t

    • by SolusSD (680489)
      The parent makes a very good point, and I'd like to add- The excuse for underfunding fusion power research has for a long time been that fusion power is at least 30 years off. Seems like a great reason to start aggressively pursuing it _now_. After all, in 30 years we will need fusion power more desperately than ever. Researchers in the field have long pointed out that the problems with fusion as a source of energy are not theoretical, but technical hurtles. This _is_ the solution to our ongoing energy cri
    • by Yvanhoe (564877)
      The French oil company Total racked up 13 billions of profit last year. That is an interesting comparison.

      However, I think that ITER (that is not btw a French effort but a real international cooperation including EU, US, Japan and others) suffers from very poor management : it took them almost 5 years to decide where they would build the prototype. I wouldn't be surprised if most of their time was wasted in bikeshed [wikipedia.org] discussions.

      My bets are safer put on the Chinese fusion reactor project [msn.com]
  • by VShael (62735) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:19AM (#28136485) Journal

    and I swear, it's like reading the Duke Nukem Forever "reviews" that appeared when the product is/was/ vaporware.

    "The ITER tokamak, 24 metres high and 30 metres wide, will be smaller than a conventional power station. It will produce up to 500 MW of thermal power in a toroidal fusion plasma of 800m^3 volume confined by strong magnetic fields. It will demonstrate prolonged power production aiming ultimately a steady-state operation."

    In the words of wikipedia, citation please?

    • by mako1138 (837520) on Friday May 29, 2009 @07:05AM (#28136701)

      In the words of wikipedia, citation please?

      http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jnucmat.2004.04.004 [doi.org]

      But seriously, with the hedging language in the statement you've quoted, there's nothing controversial. Note the "up to" and "aiming ultimately". (Plus "prolonged" in this line of business means a few minutes.) Fusion scientists are cautious people, having made rosy predictions in the past that never came to fruition. And when you're cautious, it's hard to convince lawmakers to hand over the money.

      On the other hand, ITER as a concept has been around since the '80s. If they had just gone ahead with it back then, we would have learned a lot by now. Same goes for the cancellation of the SSC.

  • by jabjoe (1042100) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:23AM (#28136505)
    Don't know about anyone else but polywell is far more interesting to me. IF it works, then it will be much better then tokamak. At this rate, IF it works, it could also beat tokamak to net energy production. I have a dream of cheap energy! Nearly all the worlds problems come down to energy! I'll keep dreaming. ;-)
    • by BerntB (584621) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:44AM (#28136615)

      Nebel recently claimed in an interview that he expects to know if Polywell will work or not in 18-24 months [nextbigfuture.com]. Not a long wait, really...

      There are some other funded projects that might work (and some that probably won't). It would be good for the world if at least one did. Maybe it is time to buy shares in an electric car-builder...?

      General Fusion [wikipedia.org] seems the coolest; steam driven pistons! :-)

      • by Rogerborg (306625)
        Hmmm. "18-24 months" sounds like a round of funding to me. I'm 100% certain that the answer will either be "Yes, it will work" or "It might work. Please insert more credits to continue research."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:24AM (#28136513)

    Freedom Fusion in the U.S.A.

  • Not "French" (Score:5, Informative)

    by Liquid Len (739188) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:27AM (#28136533)
    The title got it wrong: this is not a French experiment, but an international one which happens to take place in France. There's a difference...
    • by krouic (460022) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:35AM (#28136565)

      When (if) the experiment is a success, it will become a "US led experiment".

      • by Acer500 (846698)

        When (if) the experiment is a success, it will become a "US led experiment".

        Actually, I've heard lots of grumbles about the US not funding / underfunding ITER.

        • Re:Not "French" (Score:5, Interesting)

          by Late Adopter (1492849) on Friday May 29, 2009 @09:03AM (#28137535)
          That would be correct. ITER was slashed entirely from the '08 (I think?) budget, the first one passed after the Democrats got control back of Congress.

          Story goes, Democrats wanted to use their new-found power to add items from their party wishlist onto the budget. Bush gave a specific limit over which he threatened to veto. Instead of cutting back on new stuff, the Democrats had an overnight session and ransacked much of the pre-existing budget. That's also how Fermilab got into so much trouble, along with most of the DOE Office of Science (physical sciences) budget.

          I guarantee you there were maybe 5 overworked staffers going over the budget line by line trying to reach a number their bosses liked. "ITER?" "Never heard of it." "It says, fusion research" "Cut it.".

          Wouldn't you like to be the lobbyist who offers them a pizza?
    • the I in ITER stands for international...

    • by segedunum (883035)

      ...this is not a French experiment, but an international one which happens to take place in France. There's a difference...

      Clearly you haven't encountered the French. As long as something is based in France then it is French in their eyes, and that's all that matters to them. It's why there are two European parliaments - one in Brussels and one in Strasbourg that all the MEPs spend ridiculous amounts of money moving their stuff between, just to satisfy the French.

    • . . . it should be called Freedom Fusion???

  • by assemblerex (1275164) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:33AM (#28136559)
    the French 30 hour work week.
  • by jdigriz (676802) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:38AM (#28136587)
    Seriously ,GM burnt through 5 billion in 3 months and we got bupkis for it. Costing only 5 billion extra over 20 years sounds pretty good to me if there's a chance we'll get fusion out of it. In fact, given unlimited funds, how much can we expedite this? We've spent hundreds of billions on banks that are worth less than nothing. Let's build some hardware!
    • by jamesh (87723)

      In fact, given unlimited funds, how much can we expedite this?

      Clearly you haven't thought this through. If we had unlimited funds then we could just _buy_ all the oil we needed, and then send the excess CO2 into space.

      (listen carefully... you might hear a whooshing sound if you think i'm serious)

  • Trying to turn theoretical ideas into concrete practical projects is expensive. Damn expensive. However, if anything concrete at all comes out of it then the payoffs are going to be almost infinite.
  • Fusion (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lifyre (960576) on Friday May 29, 2009 @06:49AM (#28136629)

    The idea of fusion and benefits of fusion are tremendous compared to fossil fuels but I've always wondered how long will it last before it starts eating a significant enough portion of the hydrogen to be a concern. (Or possibly when the helium concentration will become high enough to be a concern.) I imagine that we have enough reserves of hydrogen in the oceans it won't be a concern for many many many years to come but it is an interesting thought experiment.

    Ultimately the only "safe" power sources are those that derive their energy from external sources such as solar, wind, hydroelectric, and wave power; all of which are powered by the sun's energy and/or gravitational interaction with outside sources (aka moon). Granted eventually the sun will run out of hydrogen and we won't be able to use it as an outside source of energy. As long as we're burning things that have a finite source in the closed system of the planet we'll eventually run out or pay some unforseen consequences (Global Warming).

    Not exactly the largest concern when it comes to alternative power but still and interesting topic to think about.

    -Lifyre

    • Re:Fusion (Score:5, Informative)

      by wjh31 (1372867) on Friday May 29, 2009 @07:10AM (#28136717) Homepage
      to provide 1TW for 1 year would require about a cubic meter of water based on the proton proton chain. ~25MeV per 6 hydrogens, means 75000 moles of water at 50% efficieny to produce 1TWyr, 0.018kg/mole means about a 1000kg ballpark. Wiki lists global power consumption at about 15TW, so even if you allow much lower efficay, and energy costs to extract hydrogen from the water etc, its concievable that your local swimming pool could power the world for a couple of years
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Lifyre (960576)

        How much more difficult using a H-H reaction would be instead of a D-D reation or a D-T reaction as is used currently? D is moderately abundant in the oceans (something like .015%). My math skills are very rustly after 5 years of not using them at all.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by mako1138 (837520)

          Pretty darned difficult:

          Even at temperatures in the sun's core, 15,000,000 Kelvins or 27,000,000 Fahrenheit, the average lifetime of a proton against pp fusion is about 8,000,000,000 years.

          http://www.tim-thompson.com/fusion.html [tim-thompson.com]

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by mako1138 (837520)

            Thinking about it a bit more, in comparison, the ideal temperature for DT fusion is 15 keV = 174,000,000 K. I don't know what the pp fusion cross section vs temperature looks like, but since it's not in the tables of the NRL Plasma Formulary [navy.mil] it's probably not worth pursuing.

          • by Lifyre (960576)

            Wow. Interesting, useful, and mildly disheartening information. No badge though cause you didn't use both absolute scales. Granted the difference between F and R (or C and K) at millions of degrees is silly.

          • by imsabbel (611519)

            But then again, the reaction rate goes up with the power of 28 or something of the temperture... (sorry, dont know it by heart. Just remembering that a few million kelvin can make the difference between "last till the end of the time" and "woooooshhh" :). Carbon cycle is even worse...

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Cyberax (705495)

      "The idea of fusion and benefits of fusion are tremendous compared to fossil fuels but I've always wondered how long will it last before it starts eating a significant enough portion of the hydrogen to be a concern."

      If your fusion powerplants are eating a significant portion of Earth's hydrogen, then it's time to relocate somewhere where the temperature is not high enough to boil oceans.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Ihlosi (895663)
        If your fusion powerplants are eating a significant portion of Earth's hydrogen, then it's time to relocate somewhere where the temperature is not high enough to boil oceans.

        Boil oceans? If fusion powerplants are eating a significant portion of Earths hydrogen, then it's time to apply SPF 10^50 ASAP and get off this fscking ball of plasma as fast as you can.

    • Re:Fusion (Score:5, Informative)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Friday May 29, 2009 @07:38AM (#28136843) Journal

      I think you have some difficulties understanding scale. Let's take a look at an example fusion reaction, combining two deuterium atoms into tritium and a proton (note: This only occurs in 50% of deuterium-deuterium fusion reactions, but the numbers are similar for the other outcome, helium and a neutron). Deuterium has a molar mass of 2.01410178, trituim has 3.0160492, and a proton has 1.00727646677. That means, fusing two moles of deuterium gives a net mass change of 0.00487789323g. You can get the energy released from this directly by plugging it into e=mc^2 (ignoring momentum for this back-of-an-envelope calculation). The output is around 4.4e11 J. The current global energy consumption is around 5e20 J. To get this amount of energy from deuterium fusion, you would need to burn around 2e9 moles of deuterium per year.

      2e9 moles sounds like a lot, but it's only around 1.1e9g, or 1.1e3 tonnes. It's around Deuterium is a naturally-occurring isotope of Hydrogen, and accounts for around 0.015% of all hydrogen. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe, accounting for about 75% of the total mass. 76% of the Earth's surface is covered with water. How much water would you need to get this much deuterium?

      The molar mass of water is 18.0153, so you need 18.0153g for one mole, which contains two moles of hydrogen. We need just under 6667 moles of hydrogen to get one mole of deuterium, so we need about 1e13 moles of water. Now we're at some big numbers, around 2.4e11 kg of water. Because the density of water is roughly 1g:1cm^3, that's around 2.4e8m^3.

      Still sounds like a lot? The volume of Earth's oceans is around 1.4e18m^3. At our current energy consumption rate, it would take around 5.7e9 years to burn it all. Note that this is longer than the current age of the Earth. Note also that this would only have a tiny effect on the oceans even after using all of the deuterium, since we would only be removing 0.015% of the hydrogen.

      Of course, these are just rough figures. Fusion efficiency is likely to be low enough that we've only got enough readily-accessible deuterium for a few tens or hundreds of millions of years. It's a short-term solution, but only in as far as staying living on a single planet around a single star is.

      Or possibly when the helium concentration will become high enough to be a concern.

      This is even more funny. The reason helium is so expensive is because it floats to the top of the atmosphere and is lost to space if you release it. Having helium as a by-product of fusion would be nice, as it's currently in relatively short supply. Unlike other wastes, it's trivial to dispose of. Just let it into the atmosphere, and a short while later the solar winds will scatter it into interstellar space. It's sufficiently valuable that you probably don't want to do that, however.

      • by Lifyre (960576)

        So even if we double (projected to happen from 1980 to 2030) or triple our energy demands the answer is a damn long time.

        While I knew helium floated to the top of the atmosphere and thats why it's expensive I was unaware it was lost to space so thank you for that tidbit.

    • Well, many thousands of years from now, when we start to run out of hydrogen (oceans are big) for our fusion plants, we might just start fusing helium. Think of "hydrogen" as being the first easiest stepping stone... but everything upto Iron can be fused :-)

      By the time hydrogen runs out, we'd likely be burning through the gasses of Jupiter, and looking for other solar systems to colonise.

  • This is why America needs to re-build the IFR. It may be very important.
    • We should be building IFR style plants even if Polywell fusion works out in the next couple of years.

      For no other reason than to have somewhere to dispose of the enormous amount of nuclear waste that has been and continues to be generated from conventional nuclear plants. Almost the entirety of that "waste" can be used as fuel in these reactors, rather than sitting in ponds where it will inevitably bite us in the ass.

      The true waste from an IFR is very minimal and easily managed, the plants are passively sa

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      My God, yes, imagine if Jacques Foreigner were the first to produce cheap abundant power. What a nightmare world that would be for our children to live in; better to drown them at birth.
      • ????? eh? My post is about the fact that fusion appears to be taking long and longer. Far better to build a known item and continue the research into Fusion (that all major countries currently participate in). So, you have an issue that consider those working on iter to be foreigners? Obviously, you are not from Canada, Australia, EU, USA, South Korea, China, or Russia. SO where are you from?
  • I think this super expensive design is the wrong approach to fusion and that this guy [popsci.com] is on the right track. This is assuming, of course, that fusion can work as a power source.
    • by jamesh (87723)

      Gah!!! My eyes!!!

      If I wanted to read stuff like that I'd sit in a waiting room at a doctors surgery and browse the Readers Digests.

  • gaps in the original design

    I read this as "nobody has any idea how the fusion power technology is supposed to work yet."

    • by jamesh (87723)

      gaps in the original design

      I read this as "nobody has any idea how the fusion power technology is supposed to work yet."

      1. Invest Money
      2. ????
      3. Fusion / Profit

      Sure there are gaps, but we're already 2/3 of the way there and I'm sure that someone around here knows what step 2 is.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mako1138 (837520)

        The main issues for ITER are in the realm of plasma physics and materials science.

        Currently, ITER is predicted to work based on arguments from "wind-tunnel scaling": make it bigger and certain figures of merit improve. This scaling is based on magnetohydrodynamics (MHD), but until the darn thing is built there's no way to know for sure whether the predictions are correct. Furthermore, there are "advanced modes" that aren't fully understood from a theoretical standpoint.

        The "first wall", the inside wall of t

  • probably an optimistic start year anyway.

    DEMO [wikipedia.org]

    Might give some time for development of the superior stellarator [wikipedia.org] design to catch up to tokamaks, but perhaps time-scale of decades lend themselves to development hell.
  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Friday May 29, 2009 @08:28AM (#28137183)
    Fusion power was expected to have replaced nuclear by the year 2000. It's now 2009, and it's still more than 30 years in the future. A slippage of one year per year consistently for the last 40 years does not bode well.

    Also when I was in my teens, those of us doing physics and chemistry at our school were encouraged to do the radiation physics and radiation chemistry options because this would career proof us. It was just so obvious that nuclear power would completely replace coal. Unfortunately all those other kids planning to do arts degrees regressed into NIMBYs.

    Personally I think we should stop pissing about, build a new generation of standardised U/Pu reactors and put the development effort into thorium reactors. That will buy us time, lots of time, since thorium is plentiful, in which we may be able to have an advanced society while we sort out fusion. Spending billions on a lot of "ifs" looks like engineer willy-waggling, especially when we have other technologies that actually work.

    Meanwhile the Russians are talking about 70MW floating conventional reactors based on their icebreaker technology to open up the Arctic. At this rate, they'll be selling power on demand to the world while the West is still trying to get a net energy gain from fusion. Being sexy does not make a technology valid or useful.

  • Guess which industry has given a nice big check to someone on that team to keep things from happening....yes you have 3 guesses but the first 2 don't count, take your time.....need a clue...it's the same industry that as soon as they heard any type of new engine coming out that could run on compressed water and get more miles to the gallon, bought up the copyright and placed that engine in storage until the day we would never use ..... for our cars again......yes you guessed it!

  • Time to move on (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Maury Markowitz (452832) on Friday May 29, 2009 @10:07AM (#28138351) Homepage

    There's really no point in continuing with this experiment now.

    I have strong confidence in the technical side of this project, meaning that I believe that ITER will work, and generate net energy. Unfortunately it's not clear to me how much we'll actually learn in that process; this is an engineering project more than a scientific one.

    I have zero confidence that the ITER path (and related approaches) is one that will ever result in commercial power generation. The energy density of ITER is far too low to be useful, and the only way to improve that is to make more expensive machines. There's no evidence that the technology scales down in cost, and that any approach along this "big dumb" line is useful. Very smart people at the power companies have already given it a big thumbs-down.

    This money needs to be turned to other projects. For the price of ITER we can fund a whole bunch of smaller science projects, projects that at least have some hope of being actually useful. HiPER is one that cries out for funding, but so does magnetized target fusion and the polywell. Unlike ITER, the physics of these experiments is not yet understood, but IF they do work then they are FAR less expensive to build. That is a much better way to spend research money IMHO.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mako1138 (837520)

      If there's one thing I learned from taking classes about nuclear fusion, it's this: generating net fusion power is difficult. This goes for magnetic as well as inertial confinement schemes. So I caution you against being too enthusiastic about any particular initiative. The history of fusion research is a pattern of "oh this is a great idea, we'll have it in 10 years", followed by "uhh there are all sorts of unexpected issues". Progress is slow and painstaking, and TANSTAAFL is the rule. Don't be surprised

  • by Animats (122034) on Friday May 29, 2009 @12:02PM (#28139723) Homepage

    I'm surprised that Japan doesn't have a more aggressive fusion program. Japan has almost no oil, little coal, and small natural gas reserves. Japan imports over 97% of its energy. If anybody needs fusion, it's Japan. Japan is a participant in ITER, but that's not enough.

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