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ITER Fusion Reactor Enters Existential Crisis 470

Posted by timothy
from the sartre-says-it's-meaningless dept.
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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  • Point proven (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Brett Buck (811747) on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:47PM (#32544304)

    "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.

          Brett

  • by HornWumpus (783565) on Friday June 11, 2010 @07:49PM (#32544332)

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

    They are undoubtedly morons who have never done any stoop work in their pampered lives.

  • 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.

  • 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".

  • 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 ?
  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:02PM (#32544474)

    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 prevent the eventual heat death of the universe. Or, of more immediate concern, how we're going to survive as a civilization when we run out of drinkable water. Because of all the resources we have on the planet, oil is not the one I'm worried about: I can live without oil. I can't live without water. And guess which one's disappearing faster? /sarcasm

  • Re:bull (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Zobeid (314469) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:06PM (#32544524)

    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.

  • Re:ITER is too big (Score:3, Insightful)

    by garyisabusyguy (732330) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:09PM (#32544560)

    Right... I have NEVER seen commercial products made from experiments where the resulting product was smaller than the experimental rig...

  • Re:figures (Score:4, Insightful)

    by OrangeTide (124937) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:10PM (#32544574) Homepage Journal

    Maybe they just like burning coal and oil? Or perhaps they think it's fun to dramatically alter a region's environment with dams and reservoirs for hydroelectric.
    Solar and wind is great but the sun doesn't shine 24 hours a day, and the wind doesn't blow every day. And I bet if you look hard enough you can find an environmentalist that is against geothermal power.

  • by Vellmont (569020) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:10PM (#32544582)


    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 Anonymous Coward on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:12PM (#32544596)

    NIF is not a fusion energy experiment. It was developed because of the Nuclear test ban treaties. The main goal of NIF is validation of simulation codes that model thermal nuclear detonations. Only a small portion of experimental time will be dedicated non classified energy research.

    But perhaps more importantly it is extremely questionable if you can build one into a power plant. To get power out of an inertial confinement device you need to implode the full at least 10 times per second. That means positioning the full firing the driver and removing the byproducts in 0.1s. By comparison NIF will be lucky to get 10 shots per day.

    The problem ITER has is that the design was never finalized and keeps evolving as new results from Plasma Physics community come in everyday.

  • Re:Point proven (Score:2, Insightful)

    by garyisabusyguy (732330) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:16PM (#32544636)

    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 possible to prevent the use of (provenly) safe nuclear energy.

    So, what's the deal with that? Irrational fear or nuclear energy, or just a general hatred for humanity?

  • Re:figures (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:17PM (#32544648)

    "but the sun doesn't shine 24 hours a day"

    Actually its pretty good, the odd eclipse every now and then but sure seems to shine a awful lot after that.

    At least I've never heard about the sun going out at anytime.

  • by Darkness404 (1287218) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:19PM (#32544670)
    But its pretty easy to desalinate water if need be, its non-trivial to make more oil.
  • Re:Secret motives? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by HornWumpus (783565) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:21PM (#32544686)

    Not an argument a fact.

    Here's a cite: http://www.energybulletin.net/51797 [energybulletin.net]

    I was looking for another specific example. Google returned this.

    I consider my position supported.

    Including the 'hard greens are undoubtedly morons...' part. (read some of that blither on the link)

    Finally fuck you moderator, Flamebait my ass. Hit too close to home.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:26PM (#32544746)

    If by appears to work you mean has no scientific evidence what so ever then yes.

  • by maxume (22995) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:28PM (#32544768)

    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 fail-crazy plant designs resulting in 2 major safety incidents, 1 of which was a medium sized disaster and 1 of which was successfully contained, and we can move on to building actual fail-safe designs.

    The waste is certainly a significant issue, but it is entirely manageable, at least from a technical perspective.

  • by NeutronCowboy (896098) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:33PM (#32544804)

    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 aren't sure that it is the best way to achieve commercial fusion.

    Your phrasing was an ad hominem because it didn't identify the groups who made that claim,and instead preferred to make an unsubstantiated generalization.

  • by Vellmont (569020) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:34PM (#32544812)


    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 hole and destroyed. I'm not quite sure about the water that goes on the lawn... some people say that's not destroyed either, but I don't believe them.

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • Well, you have three groups inside all those we refer to as "greens":

    1st) People that defend the interests behind everything oil-related, and therefore are against nuclear power and other sources that can mostly replace oil-based power today. This includes most of the people that is against hydroelectric, atomic, etc.
    2nd) Tree-huggers, hippies, snobs, etc. They just either feel guilty, or want to look cool, or just want to belong to a group and be against something. They just like the idea of solar/wind power. "ah, mother earth and father sun gives us all we need". That kind of crap. They don't really understand anything about power production. They are against anything nuclear
    3rd) People truly concerned about the environment, that understand that humans are part of the environment, and that we can't stop progress.

    Sadly, the 3rd group is a minority.

  • by Krahar (1655029) on Friday June 11, 2010 @08:58PM (#32545038)
    If you have enough energy at your disposal, both oil and water are non-issues. Water is H20 and there is H and O2 floating about in the air. All it takes to make it into H20 is energy. Oil is also made of H and O, and all it takes to turn air into oil is energy. Hell, if you have enough energy, you can make the H and O from scratch if you really want to due to E=MC2. Energy is all you need.
  • Re:Point proven (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:01PM (#32545054)

    That is just another tool used by the all-powerful oil overlords.

    There are two major power sources available today: Hydraulic and Nuclear. Hydraulic is actually awesome. It holds virtually no risks except for the occasional flood, and that only affects a small area around the facility. Nuclear has to be handled with care, but it's been proven that all nuclear accidents so far have been the cause of lack of maintenance and safety measures, basically, if operated properly, nuclear can be perfectly safe. And I'd rather have a small amount of liquid and solid waste coming from specific locations that can be properly contained, rather than huge amounts of gaseous waste coming from all over the planet with no way whatsoever of containing it.

    Neither is perfect, but both are far better than oil and both are renewable. They should provide humanity with all the power it needs until we reach the next paradigm shift and come up with a real solution to the energy problem. Anyone against them is not pro-planet, or anti-progress, or anything like that. They are just sock puppets of the oil overlords.

  • 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.

  • Re:ITER is too big (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:11PM (#32545138) Journal
    Obviously, an ideal power generation technology would be one that neatly scales from "smart dust" to "dyson sphere" and everything in between; but we are still waiting for the magic pony to deliver that one.

    I think, though, that you underestimate the potential utility of technologies that can't easily be scaled down. Assuming an ITER-like fusion system actually works(obviously, if it doesn't, or is absurdly uneconomic, all bets are off), it isn't going to replace the legions of tiny, little, fast-spin-up gas turbine units; but there are still things you can do with it.

    In areas of very high population density, you can just run power lines. That won't work for the boonies; but much of the world population doesn't live in the boonies(they wouldn't be the boonies if they did).

    Of broader use, though, is the fact that a fair number of industrial and chemical processes are extremely energy intensive; but create a product that can be fairly easily transported, thus effectively "shipping electricity". Things like aluminum refining. Were some sort of very-large-scale fusion widget to work, one would expect to see a relatively small number of installations worldwide, each surrounded either by extremely dense populations, or by massive industrial hubs, shipping things in and out by (presumably electric) rail.
  • by h4rr4r (612664) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:25PM (#32545240)

    I highly suggest you remove 1 human right away. Practice what you preach.

  • by deglr6328 (150198) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:33PM (#32545314)

    "'Anti-fusion environmentalist organizations' I wonder who that is exactly? Care to name one?"

    Well here ya go Einstein: http://www.stop-iter.org/ [stop-iter.org]
    here's another: http://www.sierraclub.ca/national/programs/atmosphere-energy/nuclear-free/reactors/index.shtml [sierraclub.ca]
    and oh look, another: http://www.greenpeace.org/international/press/releases/ITERprojectFrance/ [greenpeace.org]

    Pro tip: before launching into a wildly hyperbolic rants, maybe do a 2 second search first.

    I find that virtually all anti-nuclear organizations (who, to a person, will consider themselves to be environmentalists) will, upon being asked of their opinion, gush forth an endless stream of FUD bullshit about fusion research so ridiculously stupid it would make a cat laugh. Notice how I qualified the word "environmentalist" in the story with the term "anti-nuclear" and never said anywhere that ALL environmentalists are thus inclined. I made this qualification because I CONSIDER MYSELF and environmentalist. By all means though, don't let any of this keep you from your fatuous ramblings about "pigheaded morons" though.

  • Re:Point proven (Score:3, Insightful)

    by martas (1439879) on Friday June 11, 2010 @09:57PM (#32545494)
    according to larry niven, there's a special place in hell for those kinds of "environmentalists" (see Inferno)
  • by Krahar (1655029) on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:16PM (#32545640)
    That someone was wrong once somewhere does not invalidate all of human knowledge.
  • Re:Point proven (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CrimsonAvenger (580665) on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:18PM (#32545664)

    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....

  • by khallow (566160) on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:28PM (#32545736)

    You know it's quite interesting that both the US energy lobby and Aleister Crowley espouse the same fundamental philosophy.

    The US energy lobby might, but in practice the US energy industry obeys a rather large number of regulations, concerning worker safety and the environment. I see no evidence that anyone has come up with a new problem of fusion reactors that isn't already incorporated into the law of most, if not all, developed world countries. Radioactivity? Plenty of laws on that covering worker exposure, release into the environment, even the handling of slightly radioactive gear and garb. Toxic chemicals? Ditto. Dangerous electrical equipment? Ditto. Every dangerous component of a fusion reactor is already covered. So why do we need discuss "proper government regulation"? These things will be regulated as a matter of course. If regulation is failing, for some reason, then there will be more urgent targets to focus on than a fusion prototype reactor.

  • by girlintraining (1395911) on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:36PM (#32545776)

    Well, I tried. :\ Thanks.

  • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:37PM (#32545786)

    It's also 8 light-minutes away and has an average power density on the order of 1 kW/m2. Who wants to cover the land in PV cells as far as the eye can see when you can build a few miniature stars with a few tonnes of superconducter and a vacuum chamber and have done with it?*

    *Go Polywell! It'd be nice if Dr. B. turned out to be right.

  • Re:figures (Score:3, Insightful)

    by newcastlejon (1483695) on Friday June 11, 2010 @10:43PM (#32545822)
    Where are these convenient, pre-formed, barren valleys? In all of Europe? I doubt it, not everyone here has the space for solar, or enough sunshine to make it worthwhile.
  • by quanminoan (812306) on Saturday June 12, 2010 @12:02AM (#32546268)
    Greenpeace's stance on anything is mostly sensationalist rubbish.
  • by Vellmont (569020) on Saturday June 12, 2010 @12:19AM (#32546380)


    Potable water supplies are a big issue in many parts of the world, and to "run out" can easily mean to have insufficient capacity to fulfill the needs of a growing population.

    Absolutely true. The OP however was trying to push some bizarre story about water suddenly being the new doomsday scenario, which is just utterly ridiculous. Water has always been an issue for humans, and we're used to dealing with it. If things REALLY get bad, there's always filtration and recycling, or just plain move to where the water is. The comparison to our reliance on nonrenewable fossil fuels is completely laughable.


    It's, in short, a big deal.

    Meh. In some places I'm sure it is. Trying to act like it's a big deal everywhere, or that suddenly we're all going to start dying of dehydration is stupid.

  • by TheTurtlesMoves (1442727) on Saturday June 12, 2010 @04:44AM (#32547846)
    Because it illustrates the problem perfectly. One *person* claims that the worlds problems are caused by all the people. When in reality they believe the worlds problems are caused by all the *other people*.

    If someone really thinks genocide is the solution, you better be first in line. Otherwise you are a hypocrite.
  • by Frnknstn (663642) on Saturday June 12, 2010 @05:36AM (#32548032) Homepage

    smoking (but only for affectation's sake)

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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 12, 2010 @07:17AM (#32548424)

    Not having kids has the same end result on a personal level and is a lot more sane option than expecting someone to off themselves for ecological reasons. In fact, the human population can be drastically reduced if 50 % of people have at most one kid and 50 % have two kids. That would make the next generation 75 % of the size of the previous one.

  • by DavidTC (10147) <slas45dxsvadiv...vadiv@@@neverbox...com> on Saturday June 12, 2010 @11:04AM (#32549632) Homepage

    Also, coal mines themselves release a lot of radon, a naturally occurring underground radioactive gas. It's not just the burning that's radioactive...the actual mining releases more radioactivity than the equivalent in nuclear power. (And then, as you said, burning releases a lot more.)

    Of course, any mine does that, (In fact, any sort of digging can...don't forget to have your basement checked for radon.) but coal mines dwarf all other sorts of mining put together.

    Obviously with nuclear the dangerous stuff is kept contained and in solid form.

    Whereas with coal even more dangerous stuff, fly ash, ends up in giant containment units, which then spill repeatedly and poisons rivers and groundwater.

  • by Bigjeff5 (1143585) on Saturday June 12, 2010 @07:03PM (#32553068)

    All the brilliant engineering in the world won't fix laziness, apathy, or corruption.

    Blowout Preventors of the type installed on the DeepWater rig are proven fail safe when properly tested and installed. However, when the company testing and installing the fail-safe equipment doesn't bother to finish all the tests or properly install the fail-safe and the Federal agency responsible for ensuring that all equipment was properly tested and installed signs off on the equipment even though the tests have not been completed and the installations haven't been verified, well, it's just a matter of time before a disaster happens. What's worse is there is no telling how many other BOP's are in exactly the same shape as the ones on the DeepWater rig.

    The GoM spill is 100% the fault of TransOcean (the rig operator) and Haliburton (who installed the BOP), and BP and Anadarko (the two owners) are ultimately responsible, but if the MMS had been doing its job instead of whatever the hell they were doing there would not have been a spill at all. In fact, more than likely the 11 people who died would not have, and the rig would still be operational - there would simply be a cut pipe at that particular well and a small slick of residual oil.

    I'll say that again in clearer terms: the Federal government was in a position to completely prevent the Gulf spill in its entirety, but due to laziness, apathy, corruption, or all three they failed to do so. The required tests were not completed, yet the equipment was signed off on by the Federal agency responsible. All of the corporations were also in a position to prevent this spill, don't mistake me, but it required laziness, apathy, and/or corruption from all parties involved to create the spill.

    The technology itself is foolproof when properly installed.

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