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Earth Power Hardware Science

ITER Fusion Reactor Enters Existential Crisis 470 470

deglr6328 writes "The long beleaguered experimental magnetic confinement fusion reactor ITER is currently in what some are calling the worst crisis of its 25 year history. Still existing only on the paper of thousands of proposed design documents, the latest cost estimates for the superconducting behemoth are soaring to nearly 20 billion USD — roughly twice the estimates from as recently as a few years ago. Anti-nuclear environmentalist organizations have seized upon the moment as an opportunity to use the current global economic crisis as a means to push for permanently killing the project. If ITER is not built, the prospect of magnetic confinement fusion as a technique to reach thermonuclear breakeven and ignition in the laboratory would be in serious question. Meanwhile, the largest laser-driven inertial confinement fusion project, the National Ignition Facility, has demonstrated the ability to use self-generated plasma optical gratings to control capsule implosion symmetry with high finesse, and is on schedule to achieve ignition and potentially high gain before the end of the year."
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ITER Fusion Reactor Enters Existential Crisis

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  • by SomeJoel (1061138) on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:45PM (#32544276)
    That sounds terrifying. Then I read that it is just going to go unfunded. Not quite as interesting. Well played, headline writer, well played.
    • by by (1706743) (1706744) on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:51PM (#32544346)

      ITER Fusion Reactor Enters Existential Crisis

      Yeah, I read that and thought a fusion reactor had taken to wearing black clothes (from a thrift store), smoking (but only for affectation's sake) and contemplating existence in the face of this dark, heartless world.

      Who knew fusion reactors were so...emo?

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Frnknstn (663642)

        smoking (but only for affectation's sake)

        This may be a silly question, but is there any /other/ reason to start smoking?

    • by LaRainette (1739938) on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:58PM (#32544438)
      Don't be fooled it is frightening.
      Nuclear fusion is pretty much a potential infinite source of clean electrical energy and we have 2 options to try to master plasma confinement long enough to harvest that energy. One is investigated with ITER and the other is the inertial confinement. I don't think anyone has the authority to tell whether one or the other is more likely to be successful because it's very new and to test it you actually have to build huge tokamak reactors that cost billions and it has not been done before.
      So as Pascal I'll assume it's a 50/50 draw.
      Now put that piece of news back in context : humanity is maybe about to give up on half its chances to secure a clean source of energy for the forseable future.

      Does that make you scared ?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by maxume (22995)

        Not really. Energy unity is a big challenge, but fuel-in fuel-out is a bigger one.

        If we wanted to, we could start operating a bunch more of those fission reactors; they don't necessarily make economic sense given current market prices, but those markets probably don't accurately capture the consequences of other forms of energy production, and fission is certainly still energy positive (and it is probably energy positive to pull uranium out the sea).

        We have millions of hours of operational experience on fai

        • by Weezul (52464)

          I'm sure Morocco, Mexico, Bangladesh, Haiti, etc. will all be thrilled to hear your endorsement of their civilian nuclear power programs. Sure, they've absolutely no chance with fusion either. But.. Isn't that an endorsement of fusion?

          In any case, we'll obviously benefit more from 20 billion spent investigating fusion than from 20 billion spent on most other government funded activities, so kinda depends what else they'd spend the money on.

          • by maxume (22995) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:58PM (#32545040)

            You have out-obtused me, I have little idea what your localities share in common.

            Do you mean to insist that they lack the money or stability to operate nuclear plants? That isn't exactly entirely attributable to fission itself. And Toshiba wants to sell them safe, small scale, self contained nuclear generation. The U.S. could be tasked with providing the islands with power, the U.S. Navy has long experience safely operating floating reactors (money is an issue there, but if we want to 'continue living in a civilization', we might have to stop worrying about it so much).

            I'm about evenly split on governments spending $20 billion on new fission generation vs fusion research, but I'm not very optimistic about fusion, mostly based on the numbers in a recent Scientific American article:

            http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=fusions-false-dawn [scientificamerican.com]

            The engineering requirements for the jacket on a tritium consuming fusion reactor are 'hilarious'. There is no better word. The targets for laser ignition also present 'interesting' production challenges. Meanwhile, uranium reactors 'fucking work', with political problems preventing them from being built, not fundamental technical challenges.

          • by Dahamma (304068) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:33PM (#32545294)

            I'm not sure, were you picking those as examples of countries with no chance for a nuclear power program, or those with a promising start?

            Sure, Haiti is lucky to have ANY electricity these days, but Morocco and Bangladesh are actively pursuing nuclear power, and Mexico already has several nuclear reactors used both for research and power generation.

      • by KonoWatakushi (910213) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:43PM (#32545366)

        Two options? This isn't US politics; there are a number of methods by which we may achieve fusion, and no doubt, more will be imagined. The main problem, is that nothing outside of the two methods you mention have received serious funding.

        Here are a few other methods, all of which hold promise for solving the energy crises. We should know within a few years which are practical.

        Polywell [wikipedia.org]
        Magnetized Target Fusion [wikipedia.org] (General Fusion)
        Colliding Beam Fusion/FRC (Tri Alpha Energy)
        Dense Plasma Focus [wikipedia.org]

        Even if none work out, their combined cost is a pittance compared to the funds being poured into ITER.

        • by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Saturday June 12, 2010 @04:33AM (#32547792)
          I am a physicist. Out of that list the only one that doesn't need a pretty enormous piece of magic is option 2. In fact its the best bet for a fusion dark horse out there. It requires no magic, other than a stable plasma (harder than it looks).

          Polywell needs entropy to go away. The probability of scattering is *much* higher than fusing, hence you need to pump in more energy than you get out. You can arm wave all you like. There is a lot of *experimentally* verified theory to back up that it won't work. The assumption that it will, would require that a *lot* of different experiments to get completely different results (and to still be getting different results).

          The same experimentally verified theory that dooms polywell, also dooms colliding beam fusion. Again we would see vastly different results from many different experiments over the years if it would even be within an order of magnitude of working. The probability of scattering is still much higher than the probability of fusion. It is just a fact of nature. The probability of fusion is really low.

          Note that you don't even need to go into xray losses to show that the previous options can't work. But xray losses make the problem totally untenable. And if you want the device to be smaller than a planet, you are going to need elections around hot ions. The hot ions will heat the electrons and you will get xray losses. Run the numbers and it looks pretty bad for all currently proposed exotic fusion devices. Many people who like the exotic options just pretend that these results don't apply, without any justification or experimental data. It doesn't work that way.

          The Dense Plasma Focus is interesting. If they would stick with DT fusion or even DD fusion they have a fighting chance and no magic would be required. However he keeps pushed B-p fusion in a thermal plasma. And to suppress the xray losses you need mega-Tesla fields. That a bit of magic. However the issues is not just ignored or sweep under the carpet like proponents of other devices. He does know about it and is theoretically trying work the problem.

          The good news is that he is testing with DD first. If you can do B-p, DD fusion is easy by comparison, and would be the energy breakthrough of our age. If you can do DD fusion you can do DT even easier and with much higher power density. It would be all gold. This is dark horse option number 2.

          Personally its crazy that we rant on about the future with global warming and stuff. Talk about multi-billion dollar carbon credits, bail out failed banks to the tune of hundreds of billions, and then can't fund a 20 year project 20-40billion over the *lifetime* of the project.

          And yes, i propose we have serious money going into both fusion and fission research *now*, so we have options to choose from later.
          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by KonoWatakushi (910213)

            There has been a rather polarized set of opinions on the topic of the Polywell, or any P-b device for that matter, but as of yet, the experimental evidence seems to be promising, and the Navy continues to fund it. Rather than going into detail, I will point those interested to talk-polywell.org, where a lot of discussion on the various criticisms has taken place.

            In particular, rnebel's comments have been illuminating. Dr. Nebel is responsible for continuing Dr. Bussard's Polywell research, and has made it

            • by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Saturday June 12, 2010 @10:52AM (#32549552)

              ..but as of yet, the experimental evidence seems to be promising

              What evidence? The published results have been nonexistent to no positive results. In fact all the current results show that the rest of the physics community is correct. There is also quite a bit of data on this sort of thing, its not as new as some think.

              , and the Navy continues to fund it.

              They also funded cold fusion. The navy giving funding to something is not a vote of scientific merit.

              Dr. Nebel is responsible for continuing Dr. Bussard's Polywell research, and has made it clear that there are no show stoppers thus far.

              And is there any published data? Any published papers? Anything other than a media PR press release?

              Anyway, the electron scattering and xray losses turn out to be considerably less than one would expect in the Polywell.

              Well all the data on this i have seen does not suggest this at all. In fact the losses look about right from theory. Massively higher than the fusion yield.

              Furthermore, it is not a thermal system, so much of the conventional wisdom does not apply.

              Got anything other than an assertion to back that up. Because I have data, and some pretty well tested theory that says this is not the case.

              It isn't that entropy needs to go away, but it doesn't play a big part at the timescales in question. (ie. it doesn't thermalize quickly enough to matter, and there may even be a mechanism which prevents it from thermalizing.)

              Since fusion requires a *collision*, and thermalizing is via *collisions* this is quite false. You can't change the fact that the probability of scattering is *much* higher than the probability of fusion. This means that thermalization is the faster process.

              I'm not sure what experimental counter evidence you are referring to, as this is a rather unique system which has not been studied elsewhere. It is also a computationally intractable problem, so there are no shortcuts in this case.

              Both statements are incorrect in any practical sense. First the Russians have worked on this stuff. Buzzards original paper even cites them. They developed the idea of virtual electrodes in a plasma. Also the system is as far as collision process are concerned, similar to other electrostatic confinement methods. They get fusion easily, but fail at anything other than a neutron source.

              The polywell is quite tractable numerically in any practical sense. If its not, where are all the predictions coming from? We can simulate tokamaks with some degree of success. The plasma parameters of a polywell make it easier, not harder.

      • by Sizzlebeast (987883) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:48PM (#32545414)
        I work on a project related to ITER. and we had a discussion about this yesterday. The funding will very likely show up. Some of the countries are just complaining about the amount they must contribute, but the funds will show up. ITER is a long way out, but it should at least get the funding to make it happen.
      • Nuclear fusion is pretty much a potential infinite source of clean electrical energy and we have 2 options to try to master plasma confinement long enough to harvest that energy. One is investigated with ITER and the other is the inertial confinement.

        Third is inertial electrostatic confinement - Busard's polywell, Elmore-Tuck-Watson, Farnsworth-Hirsch, ...

        Fourth is dense plasma focus - Lerner, Mather, ...

  • Point proven (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Brett Buck (811747)

    "Anti-nuclear environmentalists"? Having them argue against a *fusion* project pretty much proves that these idiots are not qualified to remember to breathe, much less protect the environment.


    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:54PM (#32544384)

      Well, Brett, I see you didn't even bother to read the articles. The summary blatantly misrepresents the environmentalist groups.

      Based on the quotes in the articles, they're clearly not anti-nuclear. They're just asking for proper government regulation of any installations that are in fact built. Now, it's debatable whether the US government is capable of offering such regulation, especially after the BP disaster. But nevertheless, asking for regulation does not make them "anti-nuclear".

      • Still kinda dumb (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Chris Burke (6130) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:37PM (#32544836) Homepage

        Now, it's debatable whether the US government is capable of offering such regulation, especially after the BP disaster. But nevertheless, asking for regulation does not make them "anti-nuclear".

        Okay, but the problem is that if you think you need successful regulation to prevent a BP spill-like disaster, then you still kinda don't understand fusion power.

        The problem with the BP spill is that once a problem occurred and oil leaked, the oil does what it naturally does and continues to be pushed out by the pressure underground. The problem with fission reactors is that when the control rods fail, the enriched uranium does what it naturally does and continues to release neutrons in a chain reaction.

        When a fusion reactor fails, the fusion stops on a timescale that to human eyes would be called "instantly". The whole reason nuclear fusion is such a hard thing to make into a power source is that it takes so much damn effort to make the source material actually fuse because that is not it's natural state until you get enough of it in one place that you call it a star. It's inherent in the nature of the power source that it can't go out of control. "Out of control" means "stopped".

        I'm an environmentalist, but also pro-fission. Yet I do think concerns about regulation of fission reactors are valid. How worried am I about regulation of fusion reactors? None worried.

      • by khallow (566160)

        They're just asking for proper government regulation of any installations that are in fact built.

        Have they demonstrated the need for "proper government regulation"? Do they have a clue for "proper government regulation" of a fusion reactor? Of course not. It's just another burst of noise from a bunch of idiots.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      All you have to do is wipe out 90% of the human population and the whole energy-problem goes away... for a few decades at least

      Other than that... Most forms of energy generation besides nuclear are either too dirty, too expensive or too widely displaced to be of much use to our crowded population centers.

      As far as nuclear goes, the same people who argue that 'there is no safe place to store the waste' actually work to block the creation of a safe place to store the waste, and will continue to do everyting p

      • Re:Point proven (Score:4, Insightful)

        by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:39PM (#32544856)

        It's not waste that is perfectly good fuel in most cases. Build the right reactors people.

      • Re:Point proven (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Captain Splendid (673276) * <capsplendidNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:48PM (#32544946) Homepage Journal
        So, what's the deal with that? Irrational fear or nuclear energy, or just a general hatred for humanity?

        (Relatively) cheap oil. Give it another 5-10 years and those same clueless environmentalists will be the first ones calling for fission.

        That's right kids, Nuclear power plants are the next 'tech boom' so be sure to bone up on your physics and chemistry and math. There's money in them thar cooling towers!
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by martas (1439879)
        according to larry niven, there's a special place in hell for those kinds of "environmentalists" (see Inferno)
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        All you have to do is wipe out 90% of the human population and the whole energy-problem goes away.

        Unless you're volunteering to be one of the 90%, I think I'll pass on that "solution".

        I've always been fascinated by people who think we could solve all our problems by killing bunch of OTHER people....

    • "Anti-nuclear environmentalists"? Having them argue against a *fusion* project pretty much proves that these idiots are not qualified to remember to breathe, much less protect the environment.

      Perhaps they just distrust anyone who promises something that sounds too good to be true. It's not the most open-minded or logical response (although I don't know how many environmentalists that described anyway) but after the promises of things like "clean coal" it's somewhat understandable. Maybe it's just general anti-science paranoia. Environmentalists are hardly the only group to have those. I'd say anti-science politicians have had far more pernicious effects in other areas, like stem cell researc

      • Edit: "anti-science politicians have had far more pernicious effects in other areas, like stem cell research and education," was an overstatement. Continued dependence on coal rather than nuclear power has probably had worse real-world impacts than delays in stem cell funding and occasional lapses in teaching evolution. That's at least partially the fault of politicians.

  • Anti-nuclear environmentalist organizations . . .
    Do those actually exist? Why? How exactly is fusion bad for the environment? I can understand fission, but fusion? come on, people... I know there are issues with tritium and the structure becoming slightly radioactive, but consider the alternatives.

    • You're definitely right about fusion, but hell, even fission seems more efficient than mass burning of coal and oil.
      misguided priorities? cost/benefit analysis skewed by misperception of risk?

    • by SETIGuy (33768) on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:35PM (#32545772) Homepage

      Since I've been through 50 posts and haven't seen a reasonable answer....

      First let me say that I'm very much in favor of nuclear power generation, so even though I think fusion has an environmental cost, other options are often far worse.

      There is no such thing as clean energy. An environmental cost must always be paid.

      • Fusion reactors would be powered by a deuterium-tritium reaction. Deuterium is plentiful, and can be extracted from water for little more than the energy and facilities cost. Tritium is more problematic. It's radioactive with a 12 year half life. Most reactor designs are not entirely closed cycle, so some of that tritium will escape. Fortunately the escape rate will be small in normal operations. A larger problem is that currently most tritium is obtained from fission reactors. Maintaining enough fission reactors to generate enough tritium to fuel fusion reactors might be infeasible in a fusion only world so other sources have been suggested.
      • The first source is lithium, which, when bombarded with neutrons undergoes fission into tritium and helium. Since the D-T reaction generates neutrons, there are plenty of neutrons in a fusion reactor to support this reaction. Most designs suggest molten lithium as a coolant. The most likely disaster in a plant of that variety is a lithium fire. Lithium is very reactive, and hot molten lithium would burn upon exposure to air or water. Any breech in the cooling system would likely start a fire. The fire would release T2O, THO, LiOT and Li2O (which will decompose to lithium hydroxide from atmospheric water), so you've got nearby toxic effects from lithium and you've released radioactive water (in small amounts). Also, Lithium must be mined, refined, and processed, which required industrial processes that are not clean.
      • Because it would be continuously bombarded with neutrons, the structure of a fusion reactor would become as radioactive as the structure of a fusion reactor. Although because of the smaller atomic weights, the half lives of the elements involved are mostly shorter than those in a fusion reactor. So you're talking 500 years before its safe rather than 10,000 or more.

      Asked and answered.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:49PM (#32544330)

    Anti-nuclear environmentalist organizations...

    So let me get this right, despite the fact that nuclear is incredibly safe, low-polluting, we still can't do research on it to make it safer and to increase "green" energy? How do these people expect us to get electricity?

    Can't do coal because that pollutes, can't do oil/gas/diesel because that pollutes, can't use hydroelectric power because that can damage ecosystems, can't use wind power because it poses a risk to birds/bats, can't use biomass because if used at an industrial scale it still pollutes, and I'm sure if solar was halfway economical they would be protesting them because they were "ruining" the beauty/ecosystem of the desert.

    Really, if you want "green" energy in our lifetime, support nuclear power. If not we still have way more than enough coal/oil to use...

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      How do these people expect us to get electricity?

      You might be a little behind the curve here. The purpose of the Green movement isn't to create economical and sustainable energy; It's to allow the Boomers to purchase indulgences in the form of carbon credits and other non-sense to relieve their guilt over having cut investments in every major social institution from education to medicine, so that they could live the most hedonistic lifestyle possible.

      If they were serious about creating sustainable and renewable energy, they would invest more in physics to

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Darkness404 (1287218)
        But its pretty easy to desalinate water if need be, its non-trivial to make more oil.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by bheekling (976077)

          De-salination is also quite costly. It costs around $0.5/m to de-salinate in Israel, Saudi Arabia etc. On the other hand, as I learnt (and calculated) in my water treatment course last year, fresh water treatment costs Rs.~5/m which is around $0.1/m.

          So, it currently costs 3-5 times as much to de-salinate than to just treat underground/river water for human consumption. Of course, it'll get cheaper as the demand increases, but that will take time.

        • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:14PM (#32545166)

          But its pretty easy to desalinate water if need be, its non-trivial to make more oil.

          Easy? No. What follows is a lot of statistics I pulled from a lot of sources. I can't footnote them all here, because it would make the post hideously long and unintelligible.

          The largest desalination plant on the planet is the Jebel Ali Desalination Plant in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. It is scheduled to go online this month. The estimated cost construction cost is $550m USD and requires 2,000MW of power. It houses 8 desalination plants, each capable of producing 17.5m gallons of water. The power plant will cost another $1.7B USD. There was also a 400/132kW substation built for the project, at a cost of $60m USD.

          Operating costs for the project cannot yet be determined, however in the past about 45-50% of the operating costs of a desalination plant was energy costs. Right now, a coal-fired base plant costs about $1.6-2m per MW of output. For simplicity and to low-ball our estimate, we'll say that it costs $1.6 per MW. $1.6m x 2k = $3.2B USD, or a yearly operating cost estimate of $6.4B

          Total construction cost: $2.31B USD.
          Water purified daily: 140m gallons
          Operating costs: $6.4B/yr
          Cost per gallon per day: $0.13

          Now, let's assume that we had to switch to desalination and purification of potable water in this country. The per capita usage of water in the United States from 1996-1998 was 160.6 gallons per day. We'll ignore any adjustments or looking for more recent data in the interests of getting a ballpark estimate. The current estimated population in the US as of July is ~310.2m. That means our yearly use of water is somewhere around 49.82B gallons of water, per day. To purify that much water using desalination would cost us around $236.4B USD per year, just in maintenance costs.

          Still think desalination is "easy" ?

          • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:22PM (#32545694)

            Sorry, your numbers are orders of magnitude off. You concluded that UAE desalinated water costs $0.13/gallon ($34/meter^3) to make; when in fact production costs are 3 - 4 UAE Dirhams/m^3, or $0.82-$1.09/m^3.

            http://www.thenational.ae/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20090322/NATIONAL/684266544/1080 [thenational.ae]

            Your main error is here:

            Operating costs for the project cannot yet be determined, however in the past about 45-50% of the operating costs of a desalination plant was energy costs. Right now, a coal-fired base plant costs about $1.6-2m per MW of output. For simplicity and to low-ball our estimate, we'll say that it costs $1.6 per MW. $1.6m x 2k = $3.2B USD, or a yearly operating cost estimate of $6.4B

            You incorrectly conflated "$1.6M per megawatt" with "$1.6M per megawatt PER YEAR". The construction cost ($1.6M/MW) is only paid once.

      • by couchslug (175151)

        "how we're going to survive as a civilization when we run out of drinkable water."

        Who's "we"?

        There are areas without enough water where the lack thereof may affect human settlement, but I and millions of others don't live there and are not affected by the death of those who do.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Vellmont (569020)

        Or, of more immediate concern, how we're going to survive as a civilization when we run out of drinkable water.

        Huh. Where I live the stuff falls from the sky, quite regularly. If I really had to I could pretty easily collect the stuff and store it. Do you not have rain where you live?

        Also, if I'm not mistaken, I believe when the water goes down the drain, it's not actually destroyed. I've heard from good sources that it winds up somewhere downstream, and not as some people believe sucked into a black ho

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by tenco (773732)
          There's a reason why the air smells so fresh after it rained. The rain literally cleans the air by collecting particles on the way down. Rain is far from being clean like the stuff that springs from your water tab.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by dondelelcaro (81997)

      if solar was halfway economical they would be protesting them because they were "ruining" the beauty/ecosystem of the desert

      Actually, there already are groups who are concerned about solar in the desert, precisely because of the harm the vehicles and associated traffic can cause to desert tortoises and other fauna which are relatively fragile.

    • You are thinking of the best nuclear power in theory and conveniently forgetting the steps required to make the fuel and they are thinking of the worst nuclear power ever in practice and forgetting that Chenobyl scared everyone into taking more care.
      Both views are extreme, both, unfortunately for your optimism, are wrong.
      Reality is between the two until we actually put in some R&D to bring your view closer to reality. Instead there is some stupid blinkered view that we got it all right in 1970, which m
    • by hey! (33014) on Friday June 11, 2010 @11:27PM (#32546062) Homepage Journal

      "Anti-nuclear environmentalist organizations" is just hand waving propaganda. *Which* organizations took *what* positions?

      Insofar as fusion power is concerned, its certainly a myth that environmental organizations are holding us back. Nobody knows what a commercially viable fusion plant would look like, so how could those mean old environmentalists be spoiling everything again?

      Now as an environmentalist myself, when we get to the point of building the first fusion power plant, I'd like to see a proper environmental impact analysis done, just because we've never built one. Surely we'll have to deal with the issue of plant decommissioning. Also, before we decide that fusion power is going to replace everything, we should think through the consequences to see if we've missed anything. But insofar as fusion will be replacing fossil fuels, the bar for "do no harm" is pretty low.

      Insofar as fission is concerned, I'm not against further research and a conservative program of new plant building. What I'm against is jumping to the conclusion that a crash program building the kind of plants we built thirty years ago is going to magically solve all our problems. There's be a lot of problems with uranium dependency, and we'd be storing up problems for the future.

      What I'd really like to see if more investments in the electricity distribution grid. This will prepare us for a future in which we have more diverse energy sources. That would be good for the country, good for humanity and good for the environment. Combined with greater energy efficiency and conservation, that would help us face declining global oil production without resorting to rash and desperate measures.

  • Terrible summary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by John Whitley (6067) on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:51PM (#32544352) Homepage

    Anti-nuclear environmentalist organizations

    The above statement appears to be ad-hominem nonsense. Quoth TFA:

    green parliamentarians who believe that ITER is too costly and too speculative to warrant support. Rather than spending money on nuclear fusion, the greens would like to see ITER's funding spent on near-term renewable energy sources.

    ITER is terribly expensive. Combined with a substantial risk that the project could fail to produce valuable results, it seems that asking hard questions and investigating alternatives for that investment is a wise move.

    • Re:Terrible summary (Score:5, Informative)

      by deglr6328 (150198) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:09PM (#32544558)

      I dispute your assertion that my phrasing was ad-hominem. Greenpeace's current stance on the matter is thus: "Governments should not waste our money on a dangerous toy which will never deliver any useful energy" Sortir du nucleaire's stance is that ITER is a hazard "because scientists do not yet know how to control DT reactions", a statement so laughably stupid I don't even know where to begin with it. There's a whole website devoted to trying to use scare tactics to shut it down at http://www.stop-iter.org/ [stop-iter.org] These people are dangerous and calling them out on their dogmatic bullshit ideology isn't ad-hominem, it's an urgent necessity.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by NeutronCowboy (896098)

        Yes, and there are some environmentalists who think the LHC is going to destroy the earth. That doesn't mean that anyone who supports the environment thinks that the LHC will destroy the earth. Similarly, "Sortir du nucleaire" opposing ITER does not mean that everybody who falls under the same umbrella denomination of environmentalist is a science wacko. Not to mention that I find Greenpeace's stance fairly reasonable: so far, ITER is indeed a massive boondoggle where even the scientists who are involved ar

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by quanminoan (812306)
        Greenpeace's stance on anything is mostly sensationalist rubbish.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by linzeal (197905)
        Greenpeace is a fringe group at best, the Green Party in Germany has nearly 200x the claimed membership of Germany's Greenpeace chapter.
    • What I read in that article is that the Greens would love to get their hands on that budget to spend it on their own pet projects. All of which have so far failed to produce sustainable results that we can apply on a large scale, I might add.

      That doesn't mean we shouldn't do those Green projects, since we are leanring from them. The same goes for ITER or laser confinement. ITER seems terribly expensive so asking hard questions is ok, but in this case I do call the Greens' motives into question as well.
    • by Vellmont (569020) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:10PM (#32544582) Homepage

      ITER is terribly expensive.

      Compared to what? The LHC cost around 9 billion and isn't expected to have any real tangible benefit to anyone other than the knowledge. The cost of a couple nuclear reactors is about 10-14 billion.

      Compared to that, this thing sounds CHEAP. These "anti-nuclear activists" need to start asking themselves what we're going to replace base-load power generation with. Sorry, but wind just isn't going to do it since the wind doesn't blow all the time. Unless they like fission, coal, or natural gas, I don't see what else is going to substitute for generating a base load power. This is really a long term investment, and even though it's not guaranteed, we need to pursue multiple different strategies. Betting on one horse is just stupid.

      • by h4rr4r (612664)

        Not saying it would work everywhere but covering a nice piece of Nevada with solar might be an idea, the Sahara is another place for this.

        • by Vellmont (569020)

          Not saying it would work everywhere but covering a nice piece of Nevada with solar might be an idea, the Sahara is another place for this.

          And what happens at night, or when it's cloudy? And how do you get this enormous amount of power out of Nevada and into somewhere like Los Angeles, where people actually live?

          This isn't a magic bullet scenario. Solar will solve some of the problems, but it brings up its own problems as well. We don't have a super-grid capable of transmitting the power across the country

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by Burdell (228580)

            And how do you get this enormous amount of power out of Nevada and into somewhere like Los Angeles

            I don't know, maybe the same way you get power out of the Hoover Dam in Nevada into Los Angeles. We have this thing call "the power grid" and "long distance transmission lines".

    • ITER is terribly expensive.

      Europe's combined military budget for one year is 20 times the total cost of this project. Which has a better chance of creating lasting utility?

  • ITER is/was a white elephant for inertial confinement physicists.

    Laser confinement is basically weapons research (refinement of bomb codes, never going to break even in sustained fusion).

    Bussard-esq electo-static confinement is cool, but unconfirmed in terms of a possible break-even.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Zobeid (314469)

      Yes, Polywell is "unconfirmed" as to whether it can really work. Just like Focus Fusion, and Cold Fusion (which probably isn't even fusion as such, but some kind of effect seems to be happening), and all the other alternatives that are struggling to scrape together a shoestring budget -- they're all going to be "unconfirmed" until somebody spends some money to confirm or refute them. Now we see the folly of pouring tens of billions into one experiment while letting all the others starve.

  • by Alarindris (1253418) on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:55PM (#32544408)
    All progress must stop so we can, um, stay in the financial crisis forever?
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by bill_mcgonigle (4333) *

      All progress must stop so we can, um, stay in the financial crisis forever?

      Don't worry - the greens are trying their damnest to slow the economy to a point where it will never have enough surplus to support the creation of clean energy. To "save the planet".

      The problem is politicians who won't say, "go take economics 101 and come back with a revised sob-story".

      • Come on now (Score:5, Insightful)

        by dbIII (701233) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:53PM (#32544986)
        It's the "blame the smelly hippies" thing all over again, and once again the people you are blaming do not have the political power to do anything but make a mostly ignored noise as they complain.
        Some would like to do exactly what you say, but that doesn't matter - how the hell are they going to?
        They are insignificant and politically weak, so blaming them is just kicking a cat.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Trepidity (597)

        Isn't proposing a reduction in government spending that would slow the economy actually primarily a thing conservatives are doing?

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:56PM (#32544414)

    ITER, Europe -- Physicists at the ITER Fusion Reactor announce new physics particle, known as the Existention. Previously only observed being emitted by cats placed in trap boxes filled with deadly acid, the creation of synthetic Existentions will open up a whole new line of research in quantum bogodynamics. An anonymous source close to the research team said it happened when the tight jeans worn by one of the research assistants distracted the operator of the reactor, causing what she loosely termed a "man event".

  • by by (1706743) (1706744) on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:58PM (#32544444)
    Let me just say that fusion power is aweful; we should be using solar power instead.

    I'll just wait for the irony to sink in. Yeah.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Gulf of Mexico oil spill units?

  • use self generated plasma optical gratings to control capsule implosion symmetry

    Wow. That's a lot of jargon for one sentence...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Is the Polywell, which uses inertial electrostatic and magnetic confinement. And if physicists cared about actually giving the world nuclear fusion power they would cease work on the futile ITER project, which at this point is little more than a jobs program for some nuclear physicists, and start work on the Polywell fusion device, which only needs millions of dollars to be proven correct, not the countless billions that have been squandered on the ITER.

    • Electrostatic fusors spend all their input energy just getting the nuclei to collide. There's very little room for improvement, of which the Polywell stands the best chance of the entire class. But the Navy would have it in every boiler room if it already worked.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      If the costs are that low, and the prospects that rosy, how is ITER stopping them? I would think that they'd be fending off the VCs with baseball bats, just to avoid being crushed by the piles of investment money...
  • by Required Snark (1702878) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:04PM (#32545078)
    "Anti-fusion environmentalist organizations" I wonder who that is exactly? Care to name one? I took a quick look at the referenced article, and all it said was "the greens", which I assume means the Green Parties in Europe. If that is the case then why didn't they say so? Note that they did not say explicitly any Green Party member or refer to any specific Green Party platform.

    So now we have a mysterious un-named evil anti-intellectual, anti-rational, anti-scientific pressure group. How much power do these evil mysterious trouble makers have? Are they completely in control of whatever organization that they are in? Are there any other people in these groups that are in favor of fusion research? Is there any debate about the relative merits of fusion vs. other non-fossil energy sources among the "anti-fusion environmentalist organizations"?

    The article referred to is in Nature, the prestigious British science journal. Do you think that they have any self interest in this debate? What are the chances that they would support the ending of a major scientific research effort in Europe in any circumstances? It's not that they are corrupt, but there is no question what side of the issue they will support.

    And look how the Slashdot hoards start barking like a bunch of dogs who just caught a cat when they have a chance to trash "environmentalists". Some quotes:

    "Having them argue against a *fusion* project pretty much proves that these idiots are not qualified to remember to breathe, much less protect the environment."

    "The hard greens don't like what we do with power."

    "All progress must stop so we can, um, stay in the financial crisis forever?"

    Yes, according to the Slashdot Pundits, all environmentalists are the same: irrational anti-scientific scum who want to drive the planet into a new dark ages because of their ill founded personal vendetta against rational thought. No shades of gray here. No possibility that environmentalists can have various opinions. No possibility that there might be people in the environmental movement who are pro-fusion.

    For all the pretense that Slashdot readers are rationalist who use there intellect to examine all sides of an issue, all I see here is a bunch of prejudiced morons who are more interested in thumping their chests and screaming insults at a perceived enemy then actually thinking about issues. You are exactly the same as the people who you construe as your opposition: irrational pigheads who cling to their preconceived notions and would rather make baseless charges then engage in meaningful discussion.

  • by XiaoMing (1574363) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:35PM (#32545322)

    Sigh, I normally don't want to bother commenting on articles that have to do with fusion, but given the traffic that /. receives, it seems almost irresponsible to let such bullcrap have its way every time it rears its head.

    First off, even from the getgo, ITER is arguably more pointless than it is purposeful. It's nowhere near a stepping stone towards an actual powerplant, even if this sucker proves to be able to do pulsed Q>10 fusion, the technology required for heating won't be economically or thermodynamically feasible for energy production for decades to come. While it's politically a great way to blow a large sum of money (we pulled out of this program at first, but went back in because Bush needed to kiss France's ass for the Iraq war), the most useful science coming out of it will be materials science in trying to deal with high TC superconductors and blanket materials constantly suffering neutron damage; blanket materials we won't need until a real fusion powerplant comes along (once again, decades). That aside, since its original proposal of sustained thermonuc. fusion has been thrown out in favor of hour-long pulses, probably 90% of the physics it will undergo is either known predictable. (In other words, this is NOT the plasma physics equivalent of the LHC, which is actually necessary to set boundary conditions on many physical models).

    Now that's all a big clusterF* of he-said she-said that political spin gets to amplify 100-fold, but what really gets me is the comparison to NIF. Read the next few sentences very carefully:

    1. NIF requires its tiny fuel pellets to be perfectly symmetrical, encased in a gold hohlraum, and perfectly centered, then shot at by the most powerful laser system ever created in earth.

    2. NIF is a giant weapons research project, funded mostly by the DOD (Department, of, Defense) because we want to play nice and not test full blown warheads, and are instead simulating their fusion reactions in a laboratory (Go google NIF's funding, or enjoy the tid-bit that hohlraum was a classified word less than 30 years ago, the mention of which could get you interrogated by the FBI)

    3. The laser system used to beat the crap out of the carefully assembled perfect heavy-water pellet has less than 1% efficiency. I don't care how big your Q is, the technology to fix THAT problem is way more than decades away.

    4. Finally, a real powerplant, using the current studies NIF is undergoing, would require over ~60 perfectly frozen pellets (purpose is for yield, either of turbine-driving energy or more realistically better warhead modeling) per second fusion rate, lasers with a hundred times better efficiency (putting it at, oh say 10%? hah), and quite a bit of gold, that or another mechanism which they aren't studying.

    The next time someone talks NIF like we're not trying to figure out a better way to irradiate large plots of people or land, please just look at them like the idiots they are.
    I'm sorry fusion power is taking so long, we're working on it, and we're working pretty hard. But hey, and near-infinite supply of power from just centrifuged seawater is worth the wait, right? =P

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