Wednesday, December 19, 2007

ITER Budget Cut

Science Magazine reports that the Federal Science budget has cut ITER funds to zero.

The bill set the budget at DOE's Office of Science at $4.055 billion--$342 million short of the requested amount--and the shortfall comes mainly out of two programs: fusion sciences and high-energy physics. Congress realized some savings by allotting nothing for U.S. participation in the international fusion reactor experiment, ITER, which is set to begin construction next year in Cadarache, France (ScienceNOW, 21 November 2006). Although appropriators expressly forbid DOE to shuffle money from other programs to satisfy its planned $149 million contribution in 2008, Marburger predicts that the prohibition will not stand. "I can't see DOE not living up to its obligations," he says. "The department will have to use its money to stay in the project, so [the language] really just amounts to another earmark."
I have heard rumors that Congress is interested in the Bussard Fusion Reactor. If it works out (Bussard Fusion Reactor Funded) ITER (a tokamak design) would be a waste. Or as Plasma Physicist Dr. Nicholas Krall said, "We spent $15 billion dollars studying tokamaks and what we learned about them is that they are no damn good."

We will know the answer in 3 to 6 months. At that point in time if Bussard IEC Fusion Reactors look like a dead end the budget for ITER can always be restored. Or the money could be put into other IEC devices. The advantage of IEC is that the budgets required for confirming experiments are small and the time frame for proof or disproof is short. Years, not decades or centuries.

13 comments:

Chatterton said...

I have heard rumors that Congress is interested in the Bussard Fusion Reactor.

Really? Enough with your cloak and dagger crap. Name your sources and provide some legitimacy to your mindless blogging. On the contrary, all evidence thus far indicates that IEC isn't even a microscopic blip on the Federal radar. There isn't a whisper in the physics community about it. Nothing. Prove me wrong Msimon -- support your claims with some actual facts for once.

Here's a sobering fact about the invisibility of IEC fusion research: The only recent paper published on IEC fusion (i.e. the 2005 Physical Review Letters POPS paper that you keep heralding so much) has been cited precisely zero times by other authors. That's over two years without a single mention of that "pioneering" research in any reputable scientific journal. You are vastly overinflating the importance of IEC to a level that is now positively comical. No wonder Google politely showed Dr. Bussard the door after his $200M pitch based on mere anecdotal evidence and instead funded something they deemed to have far greater potential for success -- the Google Lunar X-Prize!

Let us know when the big check arrives in support of IEC "garage science" -- or should that be "garbage science"?

Anonymous said...

@chatterton

The truth is simple ... we need new energy within 10 years (at best). So 50 years for confirmation, another 30 for demonstration is just ... sorry, not interested.

Go spend someone else's money.

Even if IEC is a long shot. It's a hell of a lot cheaper.

Sorry but if we can't do it in 10 years, we have other priorities. Create a project that demos in 5 years and has a working design in 10. Even if it takes 10x as much money as iter, I'm sure people will be interested.

Chatterton said...


Sorry but if we can't do it in 10 years, we have other priorities. Create a project that demos in 5 years and has a working design in 10. Even if it takes 10x as much money as iter, I'm sure people will be interested.


Anon -- you obviously don't work in the real world of science or engineering. Do you really think it is reasonable to demo a revolutionary energy source in just 5 years and have a working design in 10??????! Are you insane? To put this perspective, consider that our nation been building manned rockets for over 50 years and even with all that knowledge it still requires a minimum of 10 years to specify, design, manufacture, test, validate, verify, and qualify new designs. And you think coming up with a revolutionary new energy source will be less complex than that???

Tell you what: I've got a very promising, alternative approach called Magic Bean Technology (available at a discount price of $200M) that when planted I promise will solve all your energy problems as well as revolutionize space flight. Trust me, I've spent my life on this technology and have seen the results! We have finally solved the last remaining hurdle to harnessing limitless energy from Magic Bean Technology. Unfortunately during our final, hastily constructed "growth campaign" my magic beans were destroyed by an unforseen experimental failure! While I can't provide you with any evidence (or an actual demonstration) that my magic beans are capable of doing what I say they can, you should realize I'm an expert -- in fact, as I stated in my Google Talk, there's only perhaps FIVE people in the world who understand how Magic Bean Technology really works. Thus, I don't expect that any of the younger scientists in today's generation really know what is going on. I pity the thousands of shortsighted physicists who just can't seem to think outside the toroid and see the Magic Bean Technology for what it really is.

Oh well, I can always count on the Navy or DARPA to pony up some more money to support this extremely valuable research effort. I can only hope that the funding won't be re-directed towards equally unproven yet very promising Hafnium Isomer Triggering research or Ballistic Missile Defense.

M. Simon said...

Chat,

It will all come out in due course. Be patient my man.

If ITER is the way putting the Euros in charge is the wrong way to go.

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Plasma Physicist Dr. Nicholas Krall said, "We spent $15 billion dollars studying tokamaks and what we learned about them is that they are no damn good."

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If you look at ITER plasma science you will note that they depend on a Maxwellian plasma. Of course unlike a neutral gas any fluctuation in the Maxwellian distribution will mean a current flow. The current flow will multiply the instability. i.e. maintaining a Maxwellian distribution will be very difficult.

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The Bussard design exploits such instabilities rather than fighting them.

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Why would any researcher in the Maxwellian fusion world have any use for POPS? POPS multiplies "instabilities" it does not damp them.

Note that the MIT work confirms with a simulation what the POPS guys found by experiment.

===

I'd also like to see other IEC ideas get funded. As anon points out 80 years to fusion is too long. We need a short cut. If ITER is going to take 80 years putting it off a few years to study faster approaches is a good idea. Even if all the other approaches fail what is a few years delay in 80?

===

As to getting working power delivering fusion reactors in 5 years - I see no problem with that if the project is funded sufficiently to build 5 or 15 test reactors (similar to what was done in the Manhattan project) and staffing the experiments sufficiently to work on them 24/7.

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Re: my secret sources. If WB-7 experiments are successful you will hear about it from Congress. If WB-7 is a failure it won't matter.

LarryD said...

3 to 6 months. Not that long a time to wait. Then the crow will be served, and we'll see who will be eating it.

The Navy has found the research worthwhile enough to fund, I'm patient enough to wait for the results.

I admit, I'll have my fingers crossed, 'cause I'd really like to see fusion stop being vaporware technology.

dt said...

The $15 Billion number being thrown around is about the TOTAL fusion energy budget since the inception of the program in the 1950s in US2000$. Only a fraction of that was spent on tokamaks (probably about a third roughly). The tokamak was introduced in the 1970s after about $4billion was spent on other promising (at the time) concepts. I truly hope polywell is more successful than they were. DoE continues to fund concepts other than the tokamak, which takes up about half of the current ~$300 million a year domestic fusion/plasma budget. As a poster on another thread said, we don't know how these things will scale and what problems will come up. That applies to EVERY fusion concept. History is littered with concepts that didn't scale. Maybe the tokamak will join them. And maybe polywell will too. Or maybe not. Keep it civil. Calling people shills and insulting the honesty of other researchers has never been shown to lead to success, quite the contrary usually.

M. Simon said...

DOE never spent a penny on Polywell.

It is a Navy Program.

The IEC Fusion program at MIT is in the Astrophysics Dept not the Plasma Physics Dept. The Plasma Physics Dept does ITER.

Same for the U Wisconsin IEC program whose Plasma Physics Dept. does ITER.

Do you see a pattern there?

Bussard explained it. It is not nefarious. Just human nature. If Polywell works a lot of people will be out of jobs and budgets will get slashed.

They are still shills.

dt said...

I never said DoE funded polywell. It is well known that the Navy is funding it. I was only pointing out where the 15 Billion number comes from and the fact that it is not all tokamaks.

There is no plasma physics department at MIT. The Plasma Center is multi departmental with faculty from electrical engineering, physics and nuclear engineering.

The plasma physics department at UW does not do ITER research. They do plasma astrophysics and study the RFP fusion concept - Dr. Nebel worked closely with that group for a number of years.

So yes, I see a pattern but perhaps not the one you were implying.

If all DoE fusion researchers were shills refusing to consider new concepts for the sake of protecting their own jobs, they'd all still be doing magnetic mirror configurations.

I was trying to be civil, but those who accuse others of being shills are usually known as quacks. At least I know that Park and Nebel are scientists with integrity. I will gladly go by their results, will you?

M. Simon said...

dt,

Now you have to ask yourself, why doesn't DoE fund IEC Fusion? Why do the IEC folks have to hide out in astrophysics depts? (BTW thanks for the corrections - my reading had led me to a different impression)

As to Dr. Nebel - I am in personal contact with him.

We shall see soon what he finds out.

M. Simon said...

As to cranks.

Is George Miley a crank?

If nothing else we could learn a lot from small fusion devices about plasma physics. Where are the funds?

As to ITER. They seem to be having an ELM problem.

dt said...

Depending on how you count it, about 1/2 of the domestic (ie not counting ITER) $280 budget is spent on small plasma experiments like the RFP, ultra low aspect ratio tokamaks, stellerators (though some big ones are being built here and abroad now), levitated dipoles, pure electron plasmas, spheromaks, etc. All supported by DoE. Now why haven't they funded IEC? I can't say for sure. Perhaps it is because IEC is best known as an easy way to generate neutrons and not as a promising energy source.

I speculate that that is the actual interest of the Navy for IEC - as a neutron source, and not a new way to power their aircraft carriers.

And no, I don't think Prof. Miley is a crank, but then I've never heard him accuse tokamak researchers of being shills either.

And for what its worth, the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab in which 1/2 of the US ITER program is headquartered hides out in the Princeton Astrophysics Department. In general, plasma physics programs at universities happen to be in what ever department the original researcher who decided to get into plasma physics in the mid 20th century happened to be in.

As for ELMs, that is nothing new. It got a lot of press because of a press release by General Atomics on some experiments they did on ways to stabilize them. It is an active area of research on many tokamaks and will be studied on ITER as well. It is certainly an issue for a steady state fusion plant, but it won't ruin ITER. Hopefully, ITER will help us solve it.

Good luck to the WB-7x experiment. I'm sure nature will have surprises in store for them as it has for other fusion efforts.

M. Simon said...

Perhaps it is because IEC is best known as an easy way to generate neutrons and not as a promising energy source.

I speculate that that is the actual interest of the Navy for IEC - as a neutron source, and not a new way to power their aircraft carriers.


Dr. Bussard when he was alive said otherwise. I haven't queried Dr. Nebel.

However he thinks tokamaks are just as much a boondoggle as Dr. B did.

Are you aware that the ELM problem has been known for 20 years and a solution was not even included in ITER design? They are just now designing a retrofit.

It is a boondoggle.

You can read what Dr. Nebel thinks in this thread: Details on the ELM problem

M. Simon said...

A number of us interested in fusion research think that 20 small experiments now will gain us ground faster than one big one later.

It is all in the ELM problem link.

BTW if you sign up for an account you can ask Dr. Nebel what he thinks. Provided the Navy has not closed off certain avenues of inquiry.

It takes about a day to complete registration, since that aspect is tightly moderated. Otherwise you can post at will.