ITER Delayed, Scaled Back

Nature News is reporting that the ITER fusion experiment is in big trouble. Very big trouble. It is way over budget, way behind time, and the experimental efforts are being scaled back.

ITER -- a multi-billion-euro international experiment boldly aiming to prove atomic fusion as a power source -- will initially be far less ambitious than physicists had hoped, Nature has learned.

Faced with ballooning costs and growing delays, ITER's seven partners are likely to build only a skeletal version of the device at first. The project's governing council said last June that the machine should turn on in 2018; the stripped-down version could allow that to happen (see Nature 453, 829; 2008). But the first experiments capable of validating fusion for power would not come until the end of 2025, five years later than the date set when the ITER agreement was signed in 2006.

The new scheme, known as 'Scenario 1' to ITER insiders, will be discussed on 17-18 June in Mito, Japan, at a council meeting that will include representatives from all seven members: the European Union (EU), Japan, South Korea, Russia, the United States, China and India. It is expected to be approved at a council meeting in November.

Indeed, the plan is perhaps the only way forward. Construction costs are likely to double from the €5-billion (US$7-billion) estimate provided by the project in 2006, as a result of rises in the price of raw materials, gaps in the original design, and an unanticipated increase in staffing to manage procurement. The cost of ITER's operations phase, another €5 billion over 20 years, may also rise.

All the while a five man team in New Mexico that is actually getting results and is expected to solve the fundamental problems of their fusion method in two years or less is being starved for funds. I'm referring to the Polywell Fusion experiments being done by EMC2. Now it is true that Polywell might not work. But it is also true that at the level of funding they are getting they may be unable to do the all the experiments and tests that would speed the project along. All this for a project whose funding is in the millions per year vs ITER at billions per year. I don't get it. Well maybe I do. ITER has loads of political support. Lots of engineers scientists, and government labs have their thumbs in the pie. The support for Polywell is a grass roots rag tag effort. That effort has done some good. It has gotten the US Navy to restart the efforts in August of 2007 after the project was considered dead in 2006. So there is that.

One year of the USA contribution to the cost overruns on the ITER project could fully fund Polywell to a working 100 Mega Watt demonstration reactor (if that is feasible) in four to six years. What are we waiting for?

I will leave you with the usual message I leave at the end of posts on fusion:

You can learn the basics of fusion energy by reading Principles of Fusion Energy: An Introduction to Fusion Energy for Students of Science and Engineering

Polywell is a little more complicated. You can learn more about Polywell and its potential at: Bussard's IEC Fusion Technology (Polywell Fusion) Explained

Why hasn't Polywell Fusion been fully funded by the Obama administration?

Cross Posted at Power and Control

Welcome Instapundit readers. For something different you might like how to fix Social Security.

posted by Simon on 05.29.09 at 06:58 AM










Comments

Sounds like ITER suffers from the "design by government committee" syndrome.

If Polywell Fusion ever does get full funding, I'd be on the lookout for the government committees!

Eric Scheie   ·  May 29, 2009 8:02 AM

Ever since the articles in Science in 1978, it has been well-known that a tokamak machine would be so big and cost so much (10xnuclear) that it would have no conceivable civilian or military use. It would be a toy even if it worked.

But it doesn't and can't work. We now have 40 years of failure in tokamak design and construction. There has be absolutely zero progress towards a self-sustaining reaction, and the prospect of net positive power production is no closer now than in 1978.

We have wasted billions of dollars and the professional careers of two generations of physicists, literally thousands of our best and brightest. Where would physics be if that effort had been spend on the GUT?

ITER and its predecessors constitute the most egregious example of scientific and criminal fraud in history. The people pushing it should be sent to Gitmo.

Bob Sykes   ·  May 29, 2009 8:25 AM

Why hasn't Polywell Fusion been fully funded by the Obama administration?

Because government-funded research isn't about results, it's an channel for pork. Sometimes, you get results as a by-product.

Other times, not.

Malvolio   ·  May 29, 2009 1:07 PM

Big Physics has been claiming "breakeven in 10 years" for
at least 50 years. I fully expect they will be saying the same in another 50. But it does supply lifetime employment for a lot of physicists.

Anonymous   ·  May 29, 2009 1:17 PM

Big Physics has been claiming "breakeven in 10 years" for
at least 50 years. I fully expect they will be saying the same in another 50. But it does supply lifetime employment for a lot of physicists.

ManekiNeko   ·  May 29, 2009 1:18 PM

"ITER and its predecessors constitute the most egregious example of scientific and criminal fraud in history."

No, that would be all those scientists that pushed global warming.

Jerry Horton   ·  May 29, 2009 1:31 PM

Jerry -

Not really. "global warming" isn't really science. At least ITER is falsifiable.

I'll give the same answer to Simon's question that I always do.

Liberals will not fund research into any energy generation system that will actually work because it is not compatible with their goals.

brian   ·  May 29, 2009 1:52 PM

Brian,

You will absolutely love the Socialist solution to Social Security.

M. Simon   ·  May 29, 2009 2:44 PM

Reminds me of grad school when my advisor proposed an experiment that would have generated pulsed magnetic fields capable of containing plasma to verify some of the theoretical plasma regimes. The whole experiment would have cost as much as one ITER development sub-project but it was rejected for spurious reasons.

Bolie Williams IV   ·  May 29, 2009 2:48 PM

Magnetic fusion results have been lacking to date...the closest thing we have to fusion to date is Lawrence Livermore's National Ignition Facility where they hope to demonstrate ignition using 180+ lasers focused on a duterium containing target in the next year or so. Even then, the obstacles to creating a laser based power plant are planned to take over 10-20 more years to solve and demonstrate...

Does anyone think magnetic fusion is within a year of demonstating the basic principles of fusion? I don't think so. I'm skeptical of demonstrating it in the laser system as well, but they have been making continual process and the lasers actually work.

Matt   ·  May 29, 2009 3:14 PM

Magnetic fusion results have been lacking to date...the closest thing we have to fusion to date is Lawrence Livermore's National Ignition Facility where they hope to demonstrate ignition using 180+ lasers focused on a duterium containing target in the next year or so. Even then, the obstacles to creating a laser based power plant are planned to take over 10-20 more years to solve and demonstrate...

Does anyone think magnetic fusion is within a year of demonstating the basic principles of fusion? I don't think so. I'm skeptical of demonstrating it in the laser system as well, but they have been making continual process and the lasers actually work.

Matt   ·  May 29, 2009 3:15 PM

Maybe if EMC2 would come up with a way for interested private parties to invest small money... but apparently keeping the potential monetary profit of their results held tightly is more important than tapping the grass roots in order to actually, you know, get some results.

Idiot politiciians raise hundreds of millions from webroots donations, and deliver nothing.

Doesn't this however make them smarter than scientists that can't be bothered to garner funding except in million-dollar gulps?

Sarge   ·  May 29, 2009 3:23 PM

Relax. If the US keeps Mr Obama as President for Life, you can count on getting cheap reliable renewable energy sometime before the year 2100, as long as sea levels don't rise 200 metres or more above the Statue of Liberty.

It's a cinch!

Jerzy Pandit   ·  May 29, 2009 3:36 PM

I did a quick check of the EMC2 site to see, as Matt suggested, if there was any way for a person to make a small investment. There is a way to donate, which I will consider, but if there was a way to invest I would definitely be interested. That and some creative marketing (sell shares at SF cons?) would raise quite a bit of money I think.

Cromert   ·  May 29, 2009 8:09 PM

Matt & Cromert, You've hit the nail on the head. I'd definitely invest on a small scale if there were a way to do it, but there doesn't appear to be one. Perhaps there are investment restrictions due to the Navy contracts, but I suspect there's enough grassroots interest to generate significant support if it were possible for individuals of modest means to invest.

How about selling $1000 shares via PayPal? Find a couple thousand people (one Instapundit post could do that) and you've just doubled the Navy contract award.

Jim   ·  May 29, 2009 9:55 PM

Yes, fusion has produced no energy.

But it has produced a great lesson which few will heed.

Directed science and technology can sometimes produce. And sometimes not. What cannot be done will not get done. Failures in science are inevitable.

But projects with a lot of money, no firm schedules, and indifferent discipline tend to become employment projects. (notice that perfectly describes bureaucracy.)

That is what happened to Big Fusion.

I highly recommend Rhodes book "The Making Of The Atomic Bomb."

It tells us the atomic scientists were getting little done until General Groves organized their efforts and put Oppenheimer in charge.

Telling scientists they were Employees who had a "Boss" - note the capital B - was not good form. But they were very bright people who figured it out.

Without firm direction those scientists would have taken decades to produce a test explosion. For them it would have all been quite congenial with endless discussions and conjectures and countless niches in physics to explore.

And some top scientists and good men didn't fit. The project wasn't a social club. More got done when less was discussed.

K   ·  May 30, 2009 2:54 PM

I am dismayed at the huge amount of wishful thinkng swirling around Polywell. There's no good reason for you all to think it will work, an excellent reasons (published in peer-reviewed papers) to think it will not and cannot work, at least with advanced fuels.

Paul F. Dietz   ·  June 2, 2009 11:22 AM

Paul,

The good thing about Polywell is that even if it doesn't work with Hydrogen-Boron it will probably work with Deuterium-Deuterium. And almost for sure with Deuterium-Tritium.

If ITER doesn't work with with Deuterium-Tritium it is a big pile of scrap metal. Fortunately for ITER we will not have an answer for 40 or 60 years. For Polywell we will know in two years or less.

On top of that if ITER works no utility can afford to build it and you won't be able to afford the electricity. You can read about that here:

http://iecfusiontech.blogspot.com/2007/07/fusion-symposia.html

M. Simon   ·  June 2, 2009 1:06 PM

The good thing about Polywell is that even if it doesn't work with Hydrogen-Boron it will probably work with Deuterium-Deuterium. And almost for sure with Deuterium-Tritium.

You can't say that. What you can say is that the theoretical no-go result that applies to fuel combinations with protons (p-11B, p-6Li) doesn't apply to DD or DT. But this doesn't mean the idea will "probably work", just that it avoids that particular death sentence.

Paul F. Dietz   ·  June 2, 2009 1:24 PM

I concede your point Paul re: Polywell.

Thing is we can't say ITER will work either. The divertor problem is horrendous. The Tritium generation problem is right on the edge of feasibility. Of course Tritium generation will be a serious problem no matter what reactor type uses it.

And the fact that Polywell looks good for D-D and is an impossibility (in so far as we know) for ITER is a very good reason for the continuing Polywell experiments.

And the nice thing about Polywell is that a couple of more years of work and a few more millions of dollars will give an answer. Now aren't you glad I pushed for Polywell experiments against your previous advice?

ITER is what? Another 25 years and tens of billions of $$ down the road to an answer given the cut backs in scope.

M. Simon   ·  June 2, 2009 2:47 PM

Ok, I agree ITER is a boondoggle with a capital doggle. Even tokamaks "worked", they'd be so expensive they'd be, at best, marginally competitive with alternatives.

ITER sucking, though, is not an argument FOR Polywell. False dichotomy is false. Many of the issues with Tokamaks are actually generic to DT fusion reactors of any kind, as the late Lawrence Lidsky pointed out. Polywell burning DT (assuming that worked) would have the same engineering problems of the first wall and blankets.

And no, I'm not particularly glad Polywell has been pushed. The proper thing to have done was deep theoretical analysis of the concept. Usually in fusion (and this has been demonstrated for decades) this will reveal showstoppers the optimists had not thought of. But -- gosh! -- these folks seem to be allergic to theory. It has my BS detector lighting up.

Paul F. Dietz   ·  June 4, 2009 12:28 PM

But Polywell will probably be able to burn D-D as well as D-T. In any case the experiments will be done with D-D because there are no restrictions on it.

And then you have the possibility of pB11. Very difficult but there is an outside chance.

And yes - simulation is nice. But exceedingly difficult for Polywell due to having an E field and a B field and then Wiffle Ball formation. From my studies I have come to the conclusion that the cheapest way to simulate a Polywell (due to the Wiffle Ball Effect among other complications) is to build one. You can simulate 1E30 (more or less) particles in real time.

A physicist interested in simulation thought a second or two real time equivalent run of the Polywell Reactor would take about 1E34 double or quad precision calculations. That is rather expensive - if it can be done.

The cost of the next year or two's operation and testing will come in around $10 million - probably less. And the data will be real.

M. Simon   ·  June 4, 2009 1:03 PM

But Polywell will probably be able to burn D-D as well as D-T.

DD actually produces more neutrons per unit of energy output than DT does (although a lower fraction of the energy is in neutrons, since the neutrons produced are at lower energy). The practical difficulties will not be qualitatively different. In particular, the reactor becomes inaccessible to hands-on maintenance after a short period.

Theory doesn't necessarily mean detailed simulation. A lot of concepts can be killed with blackboard reasoning -- if they are allowed to be subjected to skeptical examination. You typically see an extended series of publications dealing with the theoretical justification for new concepts before they get their chance at experiment. Look, for example, at the papers at the LDX site at MIT.

Paul F. Dietz   ·  June 4, 2009 1:17 PM

Paul,

Inaccessible is not true from neutron activation standpoint. I have stood beside a US Navy ship reactor of about 100 to 300 MWth within 10 days of shutdown. The allowed time in the reactor compartment was 15 minutes. Since we were doing a general inspection we spent a leisurely ten minutes strolling around and then left.

Given that construction materials can be chosen better than radionuclides I believe the maintenance problem is over rated (except when burning tritium).

If you can do 15 minutes after 10 days (worst case) you can use jumpers for maintenance. Or best case: robots. Besides a good dose of radiation (under 1 REM or whatever they are calling it these days) can build the immune system.

M. Simon   ·  June 5, 2009 3:56 AM

BTW I'm not suggesting scrapping simulation. What I think is the best course is that it be done the old fashioned way: tied to experiments.

M. Simon   ·  June 5, 2009 3:59 AM

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