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ITER Fusion Reactor On Track To Generating Power By 2028 232

Posted by Soulskill
from the iterative-process dept.
ananyo writes "ITER, the multibillion-euro international nuclear-fusion experiment, is on track to generate power by 2028. But some of the science that was supposed to happen along the way is going to be dropped to keep the vision alive. The plans form the main thrust of recommendations by a 21-strong expert panel of international plasma scientists and ITER staff, convened to reassess the project's research plan in the light of the construction delays. The plans were discussed this week at a meeting of ITER's Science and Technology Advisory Committee. The meeting is the start of a year-long review by ITER to try to keep the experiment on track to generate 500 MW of power from an input of 50 MW by 2028, and so hit its target of attaining the so-called Q10, where power output is ten times input or more. ITER initially aims to produce a Q10 for a few seconds, and then for pulses of 300–500 seconds, and work up over the following decade to output ratios of 30 times more power out than in, with pulses lasting almost an hour. Eventually the aim is to develop steady-state plasmas, which will yield information relevant to industrial-scale fusion-power generation. It is experiments relating to the understanding of longer-pulse and steady-state ITER plasmas that are most likely to be delayed beyond 2028."
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ITER Fusion Reactor On Track To Generating Power By 2028

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  • Improvement (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jandrese (485) <kensama@vt.edu> on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @01:41PM (#45134225) Homepage Journal
    Fusion power has been 20 years away for something like 60 years now. It is progress that we're down to only 15 years away. Hopefully by 2053 we'll be down to just 10 years away.
    • by bobbied (2522392)

      You are sooo right. I've been reading "fusion power is coming soon!" for decades. Hopefully they are actually making progress and not just being more optimistic in their projections. With any luck, we won't run out of fossil fuels before they manage it.

      Reminds me of an axiom of getting the status of software development tasks. "If a developer *says* they are 90% done," they are really only half way there. Or the one that says "The last 10% takes more than half the effort."

      • Re:Improvement (Score:5, Informative)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @02:20PM (#45134653)

        You are sooo right. I've been reading "fusion power is coming soon!" for decades.

        When the first projection was made back in the 70s about fusion in next 50 years, it assumed that funding would remain constant or would increase. But what happened was funding kept getting slashed, over and over again. It would be like saying we'll get to the moon in a decade in 1960, and then proceeding to gut NASA of any resources. Then in 1970s bitching they are not much further along as they only had money for 1 sounding rocket and 3 slide rules.

        To be even more frank, fusion *requires* that physical sciences and material sciences advance to a certain point. Cutting funding to such research makes fusion further away. And physical science research has been severely cut since 1970s. If it wasn't for the EU, Japan and China, ITER would not have existed in the first place. US has only shut down funding.

        • Sorry for incorrect moderation. I'm posting this so that my moderation is cancelled.

          By the way, do you have any sources for the claims regarding connection between time estimates & funding? I'm not saying I don't believe you, but it would be interesting to see more details regarding this issue.

          --Coder
          • by X0563511 (793323)

            Have you been under a rock for the last 30 years? The only place it seems funding hasn't been slashed is pork and Defense.

        • by necro81 (917438)

          It would be like saying we'll get to the moon in a decade in 1960, and then proceeding to gut NASA of any resources. Then in 1970s bitching they are not much further along as they only had money for 1 sounding rocket and 3 slide rules

          That just about sums up the history of manned space flight ever since we got to the Moon; certainly since the Shuttle.

        • Also, even with all the perpetually shifting estimates, it really does appear to be getting closer. It's not a case of "always 50 years away": 50 years ago, it was "50 years away"; 20 years ago, it was "25 years away"; now, it's "15 years away". That is actual progress -- not as fast as we'd like, or as was once expected, but progress.

        • by mdsolar (1045926)
          There has been pretty steady effort on this. It takes generations of PhDs to get this job done and it does not really scale up once the funding profile has been set. The main goal was to have fusion ready for when the coal ran out. We seem to be on track. There is a potential tritium bottle neck which may suffer from scarce uranium resources. But renewables seem to be putting fission out of business so perhaps that shortage may never come to pass. But the weakening of fission's prospects suggests that
    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Indeed. Pretty soon we'll have an entire generation of scientists and engineers retiring after spending their entire life NOT generating power from fusion.

      We should have scrapped the whole thing long ago.

      • We should have scrapped the whole thing long ago.

        Personally I'm very glad Lockheed-Martin don't share [fusenet.eu] your defeatist attitude.

        A fully operational commercial reactor by 2027? Sounds like progress to me.

        • by lgw (121541)

          They claim they'll have a 100 MW reactor ready in 4 years. Fundamental research kept secret from everyone else in the field, or utter bullshit - which do you think is more likely?

          • They claim they'll have a 100 MW reactor ready in 4 years. Fundamental research kept secret from everyone else in the field, or utter bullshit - which do you think is more likely?

            Your scepticism is the product of a healthy mind. Were it anyone other than Skunkworks or one of the NASA labs I think my own bullshit-detector would be have squealed.

            I do take comfort in their relatively conservative estimate that another full decade of development will be needed to achieve commercialisation following a successful proof-of-concept in 2017. At least it won't be long before we'll know if this is fact or unicorn farts.

        • It wont be a full scale operating commercial reactor.
          It will still be a PULSED research reactor with no generators for electric power generation attached.

          • It wont be a full scale operating commercial reactor. It will still be a PULSED research reactor with no generators for electric power generation attached.

            Err, sorry - I was referring to the LM experimental reactor I linked to, not ITER's tokamak.

            Although I used to be a big fan of the work, I'm pretty sure I'll never see a commercial reactor born of the ITER project in my lifetime.

            • by X0563511 (793323)

              Although I used to be a big fan of the work, I'm pretty sure I'll never see a commercial reactor born of the ITER project in my lifetime.

              That's no reason to abandon it.

              • Although I used to be a big fan of the work, I'm pretty sure I'll never see a commercial reactor born of the ITER project in my lifetime.

                That's no reason to abandon it.

                I'm not sure why my conclusion read that way to you, perhaps I should have worded it differently.

                I believe we need to pursue all reasonable avenues as far as fusion research goes. ITER has already taught us much, has a great deal more to teach us yet and the money spent on the various fusion programmes is peanuts next to the cash pissed away on the War On Some Drugs and the War On Terr'sm amongst others.

      • by Zalbik (308903)

        Pretty soon we'll have an entire generation of scientists and engineers retiring after spending their entire life NOT generating power from fusion.

        Your parents spent at least a couple of decades of their lives NOT producing you.

        They should have stopped while they were ahead.

    • by Inzkeeper (767071)
      I agree that fusion power has been 20 years off for at least 60 years now.
      We have known the basic principles for a long time so how hard can it be, right?
      You just mash some atoms together until they fuse. After lunch we will tackle time travel.

      What makes this different is the international consortium of government funding of the project to the tune of $30 BILLION.
      Call me naive, but I believe this is going to happen. On time and on budget, well, that is a different question.
      • by 0123456 (636235)

        What makes this different is the international consortium of government funding of the project to the tune of $30 BILLION.

        I'm sure usable fusion reactors will be built at some point this century. I'm equally sure that they won't be developed by governments throwing money at people with a decades-long record of failure.

        • by necro81 (917438)

          I'm equally sure that they won't be developed by governments throwing money at people with a decades-long record of failure.

          And I am equally sure that whoever does figure out commercially viable fusion will owe a great debt to the cost-overridden, government-funded nuclear and plasma research that preceded it. Whether it is actually acknowledged ... well ... I'll settle for being able to keep the lights on without melting the planet.

        • It is not a project with a decades-long record in failure. Actually they are very successful. However the public mind always thaught a commercial (working) version would just be around the next corner.

          • by 0123456 (636235)

            It is not a project with a decades-long record in failure. Actually they are very successful.

            At what?

            • by holmstar (1388267)
              At making forward progress despite the tiny budget (the original project completion estimates were based on a much higher level of funding)
      • by mlts (1038732) *

        Look at what it took with the US to make nuclear fission with the Manhattan Project. Sometimes the only way to get something to work is to throw enough money at it, that just sheer force of capital, it gets done.

        Call me naive as well, but look at the payoff: Global warming slowed (manufacturing goods still will spew CO2, but burning coal and other stuff would be stopped.) Desalination would become easy so field would be irrigated regardless of how fickle the weather gets. Oil and gas still have a use (p

        • by 0123456 (636235)

          Look at what it took with the US to make nuclear fission with the Manhattan Project. Sometimes the only way to get something to work is to throw enough money at it, that just sheer force of capital, it gets done.

          That wasn't 'making nuclear fission work'. That was making nuclear bombs work.

          Fission reactors were essentially trivial: pile up enough moderately enriched uranium and it starts fissioning on its own.

          • by necro81 (917438)

            Fission reactors were essentially trivial: pile up enough moderately enriched uranium and it starts fissioning on its own.

            Which, although perhaps technically easier, wasn't exactly cheap, either. It was also heavily funded and subsidized by governments. If left solely to the private sector to be developed and proven, it probably still would have happened, but who knows when and in what form.

            • by 0123456 (636235)

              Which, although perhaps technically easier, wasn't exactly cheap, either. It was also heavily funded and subsidized by governments.

              Which merely brought it ahead by a few years.

              If left solely to the private sector to be developed and proven, it probably still would have happened, but who knows when and in what form.

              Almost certainly not the form which produced Chernobyl and Fukupishima.

              There are much better and safer reactor designs, but only if you don't want to use them to make plutonium for nuclear bombs.

        • "sheer force of capital" - nice, I will have to steal that and use it sometime.
        • by Isaac-1 (233099)

          It is not just willingness to through money at the problem, but to cut through the red tape. At one point in the Manhattan project they needed the use of a large amount of silver (6,000 tons) to build the magnets for one of the Uranium processing plants at Oak Ridge TN (There was a war time shortage of Copper) So they "borrowed it from the U.S. Treasury, a mid level procurement officer went to Washington with a a letter saying a AAA priority war project needed it,...

      • Re:Improvement (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @03:23PM (#45135395)

        $30 billion. How about some perspective [usdebtclock.org]. Or the $160 billion spent each year looking for new oil sources. $30 billion is like a bad joke. Let's go for that much per year for a while and move the test dates of ITER up from 2028 to at least 2018. It's past time to get this done, we're really dragging our feet. And while I'm ranting, where's the full size polywell [wikipedia.org]? We can do several things at the same time.
        One thing is for sure, fusion will never work unless we actually try to make it work.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by DerekLyons (302214)

        We have known the basic principles for a long time so how hard can it be, right? You just mash some atoms together until they fuse.

        Unfortunately, the real world is rather more complex than elementary school level description - and the devil is in the details. A scientist friend of mine who studies high energy plasmas (but over on the astrophysics side of the house) says that "the history of fusion research is the history of finding ever more maddening and subtle ways that plasma can misbehave".

    • Re:Improvement (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @02:26PM (#45134751) Homepage Journal

      Those were my thoughts as well, but it's worth pointing out that if the US had poured $1T into fusion research instead of an Iraq War, we might be looking at 5 years out instead.

      The false assumption there was that the Middle East oil was the primary motivation for the war (rather than the pricing of that oil), so it doesn't really make direct sense, but if we had better people running the society, better things would happen.

      • by lgw (121541)

        It's not like we couldn't do both - US government spending is in no way limited by funding these days. And, heck, maybe the Iraq war did some little good: Iraq is still holding itself together as a democracy, however tenuously. What good did handing $1T to bankers in "bailouts" do us?

        But as a nation we seem incapable of spending on infrastructure these days. I think we've passed our peak.

    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      Even this one does not say we will be using electricity generated by fusion power in 15 years

      Eventually the aim is to develop steady-state plasmas, which will yield information relevant to industrial-scale fusion-power generation. It is experiments relating to the understanding of longer-pulse and steady-state ITER plasmas that are most likely to be delayed beyond 2028.

      Basically they say they can generate power by 2028 but not at a scale that can be used industrially. Even the research on industrial scale will have to wait till after that and there is no estimate on how long it will take. They didn't shorten th time; they just changed the target. There is a big difference between "generate power" and "generate power in an industrial scale and decrease reliance on fossil fuels".

    • Re:Improvement (Score:5, Interesting)

      by tp1024 (2409684) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @04:14PM (#45136073)

      Plans to build ITER started in 1983. That's 30 years ago. It was planned as a cooperation with the Soviet Union. Failure of the USSR to exist (and be solvent) when it neared realization delayed it. After new plans were made in 1996 or so, it took another decade just to agree on which country would have the honour of building it.

      There has been little progress towards fusion in the meantime, because you need better fusion reactors - better hardware - to do that. As it is, the best hardware so far was build in 1983, the Joint European Torus(JET). There are some other reactors that are roughly on par with it (perhaps slightly better), but nothing that would mark serious progress.

      When it comes to fusion reactors, size matters. When you build a reactor twice as big in every dimension, you will get roughly 8 times the fusion yield. When you double the magnetic field strength, it doubles too. ITER is more than twice as big as JET and has just over four times the magnetic field strength. The lack of progress stems from the deplorable fact that nobody has build anything in-between over the last 30 years. This makes the problems for ITER even worse, since there is now no experience in that realm and extrapolation of physical characteristics may break down at some point.

    • Fusion power has been 20 years away for something like 60 years now. It is progress that we're down to only 15 years away. Hopefully by 2053 we'll be down to just 10 years away.

      No, you misunderstand. ITER is not predicting fusion power in 15 years. They are predicting a gigantic laboratory experiment that will: Not. Produce. Any. Electricity. Whatsoever.

      ITER declares itself to be a model for a far more expensive fusion prototype power plant called DEMO [iter.org] for which even the conceptual design will not be seen for years, and could not produce grid electricity before the 2040s, which is, wait for it, still more than 25 years away!

      Once DEMO has been built and has been put into operation

  • Oh boy (Score:5, Interesting)

    by fiannaFailMan (702447) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @01:45PM (#45134267) Journal

    Here's an actual bit of steady progress in nuclear fusion which I happen to think is quite exciting, but cue the standard /. "it's not going to work because progress has been slow" armchair experts and smartass cunts in 5-4-3-2-1...

    • by symes (835608)

      A bit of skepticism isn't a bad thing when a lot of science gets hyped beyond belief. Or worse, poorly reported. Nuclear fusion could be one of the holy grails of science right now - it might transform our world unimaginably. I like /. because of this skepticism, it tempers my excitement... in more ways than one

    • The funny thing is, the people who used to say "fusion power is 20 years away" always ended it "with appropriate funding". The same people saying that said that it was 50+ years away with funding at then current levels. Actual funding levels have been below what was current when those estimates were made and significant progress has still been made. So in reality, their estimates were if anything conservative.

  • According to wikipedia [wikipedia.org] they are planning to use Deuterium-Tritium fusion reaction which makes the majority of energy through high speed neutrons: D-T reaction [wikipedia.org], which are notoriously difficult to extract energy from. Letting the neutrons bombard a stainless steel shell, which gets hot, heats water, turns a turbine, is the standard way to do things, but the steel shell becomes brittle and radioactive pretty quickly. I hope this actually solves something rather than simply being another method to use mor
    • by Valdrax (32670)

      Letting the neutrons bombard a stainless steel shell, which gets hot, heats water, turns a turbine, is the standard way to do things, but the steel shell becomes brittle and radioactive pretty quickly. I hope this actually solves something rather than simply being another method to use more exotic fuel, and reactor equipment, to produce radioactive results along with power.

      Figuring that out a minor goal of ITER and the primary purpose of IFMIF, the International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility. [wikipedia.org]

    • by lgw (121541)

      I find that the most disappointing part of all this boondoggle. Fast neutron power is just a non-starter now - we'll never have public buy-in to "more radioactive waste" power systems. Plus DT can never scale down to Mr Fusion, so really what problem does it solve?

  • While on the subject it's worth mentioning the article [slashdot.org] from Ask Slashdot which nicely and detailed answers most of the questions you may have.

    Actually, this is one of the best content articles I can remember on Slashdot... The graph in the middle is simultaneously funny and sad. :-/

  • From wikipedia:

    The power production density of the core [of the Sun] overall is similar to the metabolic production density of a reptile.
    ...
    At 19% of the solar radius, near the edge of the core, temperatures are about 10 million kelvin and fusion power density is 6.9 watts/m3

    If even fusion inside the Sun does not produce any useful power output per volume, how are they going to get useful power outputs here on earth?

    Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_core [wikipedia.org]

    • by jo_ham (604554)

      You know how some cars use diesel, and some cars use gasoline?

      Yeah.

      But good question! I'm sure no one in the many, many, many years this has been studied by legions of engineers and scientists has ever thought to ask that question. I'll pass it on!

  • Base don this I fully expect to see the first fully developed commercial fusion power plant come online by 2130 given the track record for fusion research.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      In 2130 it'll only be 20 years away!

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Base don this I fully expect to see the first fully developed commercial fusion power plant come online by 2130 given the track record for fusion research.

      I think it's far more likely that, in 2030, Elon Musk will announce that Telsa have finally produced a usable electric car, powered by a Mr Fusion pack, at the same time as the government announces a new $100,000,000,000 project that will build a working fusion reactor by 2050.

    • by jklovanc (1603149)

      How is that going to happen when the research into industrial scale fusion will be delayed till after 2028?

      Eventually the aim is to develop steady-state plasmas, which will yield information relevant to industrial-scale fusion-power generation. It is experiments relating to the understanding of longer-pulse and steady-state ITER plasmas that are most likely to be delayed beyond 2028.

      • by Sollord (888521)

        Well around 100 years of research to get to steady-state plasma so another 100 years to develop a commercially viable power plant

  • So, the fusion reactor will generate 450MW energy bottom line as hot plasma.
    I assume transforming that 450MW thermal energy into roughly 200MW electric energy is left as an brain excercise for the readers here?

    • by tp1024 (2409684)

      No, it won't happen. It is an experimental facility and the planners didn't see fit to put some high temperature components into it. Very similar to the first fission reactors, power will be removed at low temperature to keep the engineering effort under control.

      It's about the fusion process first, the power generation is easy enough and will come once the physics of the reactor is sufficiently understood to turn it into an engineering and financing excercise.

  • Forty years ago, I was a big proponent of fusion. My enthusiasm has petered out, sorry. I'm sure that science will be advanced by this project, but I've lost hope of seeing practical fusion power generation.

  • Nothing is "on track". Only foundation has been build so far. Sure, all is on schedule, but the most difficult stuff is still ahead. CERN managed to accumulate some 15 years of delays, and ITER is 100x more complex.
  • FTFA: "Crucial to that is getting to the point, scheduled for 2027, when the first nuclear fuel would be injected into the reactor. "

    So... the first *actual attempt at fusion* is some FOURTEEN YEARS AWAY, but the scientists are confident they're on track...

    Yeah, I don't think I'll get excited quite yet., Check back in fourteen years and we'll see.

    • by hAckz0r (989977)
      Its nice that they have such confidence in their design. Think about it. They will be switching on enough power to be equivalent to the gravitational pull of a star, and they expect no problems? Even the LHC had problems with cooling their magnets, and we _know_ how to make magnets. That was just scaling up what we already knew how to do.

      Confining that kind of containment energy in an enclosed space has got to present problems unforeseen by any mathematical formulas. Its not like we have actually sent sp

  • by WittyName (615844) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @03:49PM (#45135731)

    Great if you can build one, but can you build one that produces power that is cheaper than nuclear fission, solar, wind, etc?

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Tuesday October 15, 2013 @04:40PM (#45136391)

    I mean, fusion power, when and if it ever works, will be beyond nifty, however, the world has quite a bit of inexpensive thorium, working plants have already been built in the USA and are currently being build in China and India. Moreover, thorium fission, since it won't continue unless actively driven by a fissile material, is inherently safer. Meltdowns are essentially impossible.

    Could someone please tell me what I'm missing here? It's not that I'm against R&D or fusion power, per se. I'm just not sure what the point of emphasizing fusion power technology is compared to thorium.

  • Research is by definition: learning about the unknown, so the time frame will be unknown too.
    This belief that progress of fusion can be predicted, or that development time can be predicted, is just a religious dogma of the ruling bureaucratic class.

  • It takes more than science to make a power plant. It takes engineering too.

    I heard that one must deal with temperature gradients as high as 1 million degrees C per meter to extract the power from a tokamak.

    500 MW electric means 1000-1500 MW thermal. That's a lot of power. If it is radiated in a small volume, the power density is sky high.

      Is anyone at ITER even working on that problem? There is no guarantee that it is solvable.

  • ITER is about as bad an example of big science as you can find. Long delayed, far greater costs. I realize they need to set long term goals but given that getting the plant to run at all in the first place is not 100% certain, maybe they should keep focusing on that for now?

  • That's only fifteen years away, not twenty.

    This is happening!

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