Tuesday, June 10, 2008

ITER Is The Fusion Reactor Of The Future

In fact from the look of things it may always be the Fusion Reactor of The Future.

A massive international nuclear fusion experiment planned for Cadarache, France, is set to cost up to 30% more than anticipated and be delayed by as much as three years, governments will learn next week.

Construction has not even begun on the ITER fusion reactor, which has been beset by political wrangling since its inception. Now its seven international backers are to be told they will have to come up with an extra €1.2 billion–1.6 billion (US$1.9 billion–2.5 billion) on top of its current €5-billion construction budget if the project is to be realized.

A report from a group of scientific advisers says the additional money is needed for critical design changes and for coordinating between the participant nations. And the experiment, already delayed, will not be completed until anywhere from one to three years after its current 2018 due date.

Critics expect more cost hikes. “Personally, I think the price will double before it’s done,” says Stephen Dean, president of Fusion Power Associates, a research and educational foundation based in Gaithersburg, Maryland.
Let me see if I can guess a little about the problems. This phrase "coordinating between the participant nations" particularly stood out. Usually what that means in government speak is lavish parties disguised as conferences at exotic destinations.

And the redesign? Some of the problems were known for twenty years. They were only addressed after the initial design was completed. First you sell the sizzle. Then, when the customer has bought in, you advise that the steak will cost extra.

I hinted at this in my piece The Secret Of The Tokamak.
Here is the dirty little tokamak secret - "The last one didn't work, shows no promise of working, and new difficulties have been encountered. I have a plan. We will make the next one 3X bigger." For 40 years.

Eventually the marks wise up.
The US cut ITER out of the Federal Budget earlier this year. Maybe it was not just a move by Congress to PO Bush. Maybe it had something to do with Congress actually paying attention to the real experts.
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."
I think the problem with the Euros is that they are slow learners. Stephen Dean nails it at the end of the piece quoted above:
Dean anticipates that the new budget will ultimately be approved. “This thing has gotten a life of its own — it’s almost irrelevant how much it costs or what it’s for.”
At least it is on their dime. Mostly.

Cross Posted at Classical Values


J Carlton said...

I think I have posted about my little back and forth with the head of the Princeton Plamsa Physics about Tokamaks and actually producing energy rather than employing scientists. Short story is that Tokes will never work. This from the horses mouth!!!
I think that when the dust finally settles, fusion energy will have turned out to be relatively simple and easy if we had not gone so far down the magnetic confinement heating the plasma path. Its better to use vacuum tube accelerator techniques to place the ions at the energy level you need than to try to heat everything up and introduce all that excess chaotic energy.

M. Simon said...

I remember seeing the post but I don't remember where.

Do you have a link? I'd like to do a post on it.

J Carlton said...

Its the first comment in secrets of the tokamak. To say that I was disappointed that day does not begin to describe how I felt. Like most of us I believed what we were being told, that fusion was just a matter of work and time. That little discussion opened my eyes. The inly reason I take Dr Bussard's work seriously is his track record and sense of practicality.

M. Simon said...

OK I found it.

Not quite enough for a post.

If you would like to expand it with more details from your discussion I'd love to publish it. e-mail me copy and a url (if you want some traffic) and I'll post it.