Nuclear experts seek to advance ITER fusion project

Jul 26, 2010 by Eloi Rouyer
Tractors working on the future International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) site in Cadarache, southern France, in 2008. An explosion in costs has cast a cloud over a multi-billion-dollar nuclear fusion project aiming to make the power that fuels the Sun a practical energy source on Earth.

An explosion in costs has cast a cloud over a multi-billion-dollar nuclear fusion project aiming to make the power that fuels the sun a practical energy source on Earth.

Delays, rocketing costs and financing problems have hit the (ITER) whose consortium members start a meeting on Tuesday aiming to get the project back on course.

ITER was set up by the European Union, which has a 45-percent share, China, India, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States to research a clean and limitless alternative to dwindling fossil fuel reserves by testing .

Work is to start at the test reactor site at Cadarache in southern France next month, but the cost now worries many members.

The total estimated bill for the EU, the main backer, has doubled to 7.2 billion euros (9.2 billion dollars), with the overall cost now reckoned to be around 15 billion euros.

The meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday in Cadarche of ITER's council members marks the start of the construction phase and comes after the EU pledged to pump in extra funds to keep the project going.

The European Commission, the EU executive arm, this month offered to fork out an extra 1.4 billion euros to fulfil Europe's commitment to the project, but this needs the approval of EU member states.

ITER's administrative headquarters and two buildings housing equipment will be the first to be started.

This week's meeting is also expected to name Japanese physicist Osamu Motojima as ITER's new boss, to replace his compatriot Kaname Ikeda.

Launched in 2006 after years of debate, the scheme aims to build a testbed to see whether fusion, so far achieved in a handful of labs at great cost, can be a feasible power source.

Nuclear fusion entails forcing together the nuclei of light atomic elements in a super-heated plasma, held in a doughnut-shaped chamber called a tokamak, so that they make heavier elements and in so doing release energy.

ITER's council decided last November to abandon its goal of 2018 to obtain the first plasma, and in March it said November 2019 was its new target.

ITER is designed to produce 500 megawatts of power for extended periods, 10 times the energy needed to keep the energy-generating plasma -- a form of radioactive gas -- at extremely high temperatures.

It will also test a number of key technologies for fusion including the heating, control and remote maintenance that will be needed for a full-scale fusion power station.

Preliminary trials would use only hydrogen. Key experiments using tritium and deuterium that can validate fusion as a producer of large amounts of power would not take place until 2026.

The process of nuclear , used by the sun and other stars, would be safe and have negligible problems of waste, say its defenders.

In contrast, nuclear fission, which entails splitting the nucleus of an atom to release energy, remains dogged by concerns about safety and dangerously radioactive long-term waste.

If is a success, the next step would be to build a commercial reactor, a goal likely to be further decades away.

Explore further: Ultrafast imaging of complex systems in 3D at near atomic resolution nears

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kevinrtrs
3 / 5 (6) Jul 26, 2010
Though it's an outright scandal, it's interesting to see that the eU is getting it's own back - their suppliers are fleecing them as well!!!!

I hope they settle on some nice pile of cash for the contractors and get going with this program. We certainly need another source of energy.
degojoey
1.7 / 5 (6) Jul 26, 2010
this energy can technically supply the world with free energy, I mean if ITER is to put out 10x the energy put in, what will future reactors do, and with that much excess energy, there is no profit. Same reason why cancer isn't cured, why big oil still runs our cars, why marijuana isn't legal. Money! And there is no money in supplying free energy so everyone might as well give up on this one.
vivcollins
5 / 5 (4) Jul 26, 2010
I wonder who these people are that are so worried, and why they thought it would not cost more than they thought possible, and take much longer to do than they were told.

It is after all how all of these big projects turn out, you would have thought by now the politicians would just automatically double what ever they were told and then add another 20% to that to get the real figure ;-)
MaxwellsDemon
4.3 / 5 (4) Jul 26, 2010
A working fusion power plant in the next quarter of a century could really pull our chestnuts out of the fire, but the ITER project seems to be an extremely expensive and wildly optimistic idea at this point. There’s no reason to think this thing will even work, right? Has anyone, ever, managed to confine a high-temp plasma like this for any appreciable length of time? Perhaps Bussard’s Polywell reactor concept will prove to be a better way to go, for a fraction of the cost http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell

I think we should walk before we try to run, spend some more millions on R&D before we flush billions down the toilet.
MaxwellsDemon
3.5 / 5 (2) Jul 26, 2010
A working fusion power plant in the next quarter of a century could really pull our chestnuts out of the fire, but the ITER project seems to be an extremely expensive and wildly optimistic idea at this point. There’s no reason to think this thing will even work, right? Has anyone, ever, managed to confine a high-temp plasma like this for any appreciable length of time? Perhaps Bussard’s Polywell reactor concept will prove to be a better way to go, for a fraction of the cost

http://en.wikiped...Polywell

I think we should walk before we try to run, spend some more millions on R&D before we flush billions down the toilet.
muddy
5 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2010
+1 for Bussard's work getting more funding. It's too bad there are so few people that can take up his mantle now that he is gone.
Ulg
5 / 5 (6) Jul 26, 2010
"with that much excess energy, there is no profit" If one thing is certain there is never too much energy for a human civilization. Titanium for example is more abundant then iron- so why do we not drive around in titanium cars and work in titanium buildings? Uses too much energy to refine, funny how all the really neat stuff requires immense amounts of energy to either understand or utilize. That trend has gone on since the dawn of humanity- no matter how you cut it, energy output defines a civilization.
MaxwellsDemon
1 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2010
A working fusion power plant in the next quarter of a century could really pull our chestnuts out of the fire, but the ITER project seems to be an extremely expensive and wildly optimistic idea at this point. There is no reason to think this thing will even work, right? Has anyone, ever, managed to confine a high-temp plasma like this for any appreciable length of time? Perhaps Bussard’s Polywell reactor concept will prove to be a better way to go, for a fraction of the cost

http://en.wikiped...Polywell

I think we should walk before we try to run, spend some more millions on R&D before we flush billions down the toilet.
MaxwellsDemon
not rated yet Jul 26, 2010
+1 for Bussard's work getting more funding. It's too bad there are so few people that can take up his mantle now that he is gone.


Well, the good news is that the development is proceeding (under a US Navy contract iirc), and it appears that he left behind a capable team to continue the R&D. It's encouraging that they seem to have reached their projections at every step so far.
jselin
4 / 5 (1) Jul 26, 2010
Cheaper power would also protect against the possibility of clean water shortages... There is plenty of water after all, you just need cheap power to distill it in utility quantities.
trekgeek1
4.8 / 5 (6) Jul 26, 2010
ITER? I barely knew her!

But seriously, 9 billion dollars? That's chump change when you consider how much cash is thrown around for this and that. If the world would re-prioritize itself and put science higher on the list, we'd have fusion, or at least a better energy source than we do now. We'd have amazing medical tech, and be on Mars. considering how much science actually gets in funding, it's amazing how much is achieved.

Here's the best situation-
World: "here science, here's 500 billion dollars we've collected among us."
Science: "Thank you, all major problems will be solved soon. War, hunger, disease, etc. "
World: "Really?"
Science:"Yes, we can find the answers, we always could've, we just never had the support we needed"
Jigga
1.6 / 5 (7) Jul 26, 2010
ITER is based on fringe concept - today we know about more modern and effective designs of inertial fusion, then the tokamak. Even if it could work, after few hours it will change into pile of radioactive scrap due the absorption of neutrons.
Noumenon
5 / 5 (46) Jul 26, 2010
Controlling nuclear fusion is probably more realistic and less expensive than controlling global temperature.
Isochroma
1 / 5 (9) Jul 26, 2010
ITER is big alright. ITER is a big fatass theft of taxpayer dollars, just like every single other publicly-funded fusion 'program'.

Each one is a huge fatass black hole sucking down taxpayer dollars that could have been spent on better things than giant corporate welfare programs. Like housing for the people, like guaranteed annual income, like environmental protection. The list goes on and on. End it now before riots do.
otto1923
3.8 / 5 (4) Jul 27, 2010
ITER is based on fringe concept - today we know about more modern and effective designs of inertial fusion, then the tokamak. Even if it could work, after few hours it will change into pile of radioactive scrap due the absorption of neutrons.
Uh, no it won't. And it's 'thAn' not 'thEn'. Look it up. Team jigga doesn't even listen to constructive criticism.

Magnetic confinement rings are the only known way of storing large amounts of plasma. Tokamak research is refining the methods of doing this.
otto1923
3.3 / 5 (6) Jul 27, 2010
Tokamak is an obsolete concept, which suffers with wall erosion by plasma particles.
You only think that because you dont know what youre talking about.

As was pointed out above, tokamaks are the most appropriate testbed for many related technologies including materials, shielding, energy extraction, cryogenics; and they do generate a large supply base and provide employment for a large number of people, which is a good thing.

The international community has more experience with tokamaks, and they offer the best alternative for storing large amounts of plasma for extended periods of time. Stellerators are too complex and difficult to fabricate; spheromak or levitating dipole designs are too sloppy and do not effectively and efficiently contain the plasma without contamination.
otto1923
4.2 / 5 (5) Jul 27, 2010
Yes, we have more experience with steam engines and nuclear plants are more difficult to fabricate - but it doesn't mean, we should invest billions of dollars into development of giant plant based on steam engine.
Steam plants wouldnt generate the sort of technological development that tokamaks can. Now can they.

Developing the tech and the expertise by building a space station are far more important than anything we might actually do with it once its built.
atomicdragon
4.3 / 5 (6) Jul 27, 2010
There is no reason to think this thing will even work, right? Has anyone, ever, managed to confine a high-temp plasma like this for any appreciable length of time?


There has been a long line of research tokamaks that lead up to ITER that demonstrate various principles. While there is a long list of problems or shortcomings ITER could have, it is far from saying there are 'no reasons' it should work. ITER would be an incremental improvement, not a revolutionary new project out of nowhere.
atomicdragon
4.3 / 5 (6) Jul 27, 2010
ITER is based on fringe concept - today we know about more modern and effective designs of inertial fusion, then the tokamak. Even if it could work, after few hours it will change into pile of radioactive scrap due the absorption of neutrons.

As someone who works on an alternative confinement project, I still think tokamaks are currently the most promising option we have and not fringe. While I think there should be more research of alternative concepts, they need a lot more small scale work before moving to something the scale of ITER. It is real easy for something that works well on the benchtop to develop problems and instabilities when made larger. So such projects need to justify that things will scale up to an incrementally bigger project with data, the same path tokamaks took, otherwise we would burn money much faster than ITER possibly could.

Also, ITER community is well aware of the neutron output and it will take much longer than hours to become radioactive scrap.
sender
1 / 5 (1) Jul 27, 2010
Adding an optical confinement trap to increase the fusor's potential would really make for a feasible system at a fraction of the costs. Energy can be tapped out by quantum radiovoltaic nuclear charge convertors.
satellitejam
not rated yet Jul 27, 2010
If you think that the n-bombardment inside a fusion reactor doesn't present a real problem, you should read this:
Dust in fusion devices
R.D. Smirnov, S.I. Krasheninnikov, A.Yu. Pigarov, D.L. Rudakov, J.H. Yu, M. Rosenberg, A. Mendis, D. Benson (UCSD)
W.P. West, R.L. Boivin, B.D. Bray, N.H. Brooks,
A.W. Hyatt, C.P.C. Wong (GA)
A.L. Roquemore, D.K. Mansfield, C.H. Skinner (PPPL)
J.L. Terry, B. Lipschultz, A. Bader, R.S. Granetz (MIT)
T.D. Rognlien (LLNL), Y. Tanaka (Kanazawa Univ.)
J. Nichols (Cornell Univ.)
19thConference on Plasma Surface Interactions
May 25th2010, San Diego, CA USA
otto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Jul 27, 2010
If you think that the n-bombardment inside a fusion reactor doesn't present a real problem, you should read this
That's not the only real 'problem' to be overcome with the whole program. They're better referred to as challenges, and that's why we build these things and run experiments with them; to address these challenges and see if they can't be overcome. Chances are that they can; and the discoveries generated during the whole process will be directly applicable in other fields.
rbrtwjohnson
3 / 5 (2) Jul 28, 2010
ITER has an out-dated confinement concept, and nobody knows if it will surpass the break-even point producing competitive kWh prices due to its size, complexity, and tritium breeding dependence. I still believe money can be better invested on electrostatic fusion devices.
http://www.crossf...iew.html
yyz
not rated yet Jul 28, 2010
satellitejam:

Thanks for the heads up. I found the presentation quite interesting. Here's a link to it: https://fusion.ga.../Session 6/PSI19_presentation_Smirnov.pdf
Jigga
1 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2010
If you think that the n-bombardment inside a fusion reactor doesn't present a real problem, you should read this:
I'm not talking about dust inside of reactor from plasma, but about activation of material of reactor and its neighborhood by fast neutrons. They will make radioactive every piece of heavy metal at the proximity of reactor.
atomicdragon
5 / 5 (3) Jul 28, 2010
They will make radioactive every piece of heavy metal at the proximity of reactor.

Which is why they are working on designing parts and materials that will not become radioactive waste when exposed to neutrons (e.g. lithium). Or at least be made of materials that are easy to be replaced and will be activated to isotopes with a short halflife, such that radioactivity goes away after a few years in storage. There are whole research programs, like IFMIF, to studying just the materials to be used in plasma facing components in addition to the work at ITER itself.

The main downside is that I think a large factor in ITER's cost is designing it to be remotely assembled and maintained. That way so they can deal with activated materials that have not had time to cool down without exposing workers. They want to test out such technology from the start, long before D-T fusion and potential activation issues.

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