Nuclear fusion power project to start in slimmed-down version

A multi-billion-dollar project to prove whether nuclear fusion, the power that fuels the Sun, can be a practicable energy source is to be scaled down in its early stages, sources said on Monday.

The test reactor, to be built at a site in southern France, will start its experiments in 2018 as scheduled but will initially be built in a slimmed-down form, they said.

"Discussions are underway about the best timetable," Catherine Cesarsky of France's Atomic Energy Commission (CEA) told journalists on the sidelines of a science conference here.

"There is a new commissioning strategy, a detailed discussion about the machine's deployment."

A decision approving the change will be put next week to the partners in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), she said.

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

Its seven backers are the European Union (EU), China, India, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States. Kazakhstan is poised to become the eighth member.

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.

The process, 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.

Cesarsky said the first experiments would begin on schedule in 2018 "but with a machine that will be less complete than initially thought."

"Technically, it is far more valuable to do the first plasma with an ITER that is not completely finished, because if there is a simple problem it can be detected."

A spokesman for ITER told AFP that the scaled-down version would entail using hydrogen initially.

Key experiments using tritium and deuterium, designed to validate fusion as a producer of large amounts of power, would not take place until 2026, the spokesman said.

This would be around five years later than previously scheduled.

The planned changes will be submitted to the ITER council, meeting in Mito, Japan, on June 17 and 18, he said.

The council will meet again in November to make a new assessment of costs, the official said.

Four years ago, ITER was priced at around 10 billion euros (13.8 billion dollars today), spread among its stakeholders, led by the EU, which has a 45-percent share.

Five billion euros (6.9 billion dollars) would go to constructing the tokamak and other facilities, and five billion euros to the 20-year operations phase.

Last month, the British science journal Nature said construction costs "are likely to double" and the cost of operations "may also rise."

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

(c) 2009 AFP

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Jun 08, 2009
What a total waste of time and money.
Seems like all the eggs have been put into the wrong basket.
Time to look at new approaches, of which there are several, all underfunded while this monster gobbles up billions with nothing of consequence to show for it. Except employment of engineers and bureaucrats.

Jun 09, 2009
waste of time. With only two hundred million, its possible to build a full scale working version of Bussard´s incredible POLYWELL fusion reactor. Much more elegant, simple, efficient and smaller than all these idiocies that spend billions every year.

Jun 09, 2009
Fusion is the only true sustainable energy source. It will change everything.

Jun 09, 2009
"Fusion is the only true sustainable energy source. It will change everything."

Yeah, electricity will be too cheap to be metered.

Jun 09, 2009
If the test reactor takes 10 years to start imagine how long it will take to build the first commercial reactor: probably 20 years. This is unacceptable and unintelligent. Aren't they able to get results faster? I do not realy want to wait 20 years for a failure.

Jun 09, 2009
The delay will be due to industry level holdups to get as much out of the cash cow as possible. The companies that will do the construction and manufacturing of the core parts are owned and operated by the biggest names in the energy sector so they have a vested interest in making sure the process takes as long as possible and is as expensive as possible.

Jun 09, 2009
well 20 yrs for a commercial reactor is a lot optimistic -- looking at closer to 40 to fifty year before commercial power generation --- in contrast fission was theorized in 1933 and the first commercial reactor was in 56 23 years later but this is a bit more complicated and requires a sustaining a reaction versus controlling a self sustaining reaction. fission is easy fusion is hard. the a bomb was used in 1945 but the first fusion bomb was not realized until 66.

It is a difference in power and energy management. I am all for Fusion -- but i doubt i will see it in my life time -- but when we do realize it, it will change the world ecomonies -- just like if we made but loads of superconducting fiber would totally change our economies we have the technology but not the money - and time - to back them

Jun 09, 2009
It depends on how many people are put to work on the project. If they "wanted" to fund it they could have it built in two to five years by allocating enough labor, resources and cash.

There is a massive resource in all the people who are currently out of work who could be given jobs to help fast track the project. Let alone all the unemployed people from the third world who would love a salary for a few years.

They certainly don't have any problems with cash flow as they are prepared to take on massive amounts of debt at the moment anyway.

Fusion and highly efficient energy sources are a total threat to the establishment so that is why they will not let the technology progress faster.

Jun 12, 2009
Trantor is right, if they allocated to researching Bussard's Polywell reactor just 1% of what's been thrown away so far on those inefficient tokamak monstrosities like the ITER, we'd see some fracking results. And much sooner too.

As for links:
- for a long explanation by Bussard himself, search for "should google go nuclear" on YouTube (it helps to know some nuclear physics, but it's watchable if you skip the really hardcore stuff)
- for a few indications about the history of the research, see
- and for the latest discussions about what's being done (at present only with limited funding from the U.S. Navy), go to the Polywell reactor forum at

Jun 13, 2009

Hydrogen is "smoke", not "fuel", for the nuclear engine that powers the Sun.

Each year the Sun discards 50,000 billion metric tons of Hydrogen (a neutron-decay product) in the solar wind. See "The Sun is a plasma diffuser that sorts atoms by mass," Physics of Atomic Nuclei 69 (2006) pages 1847-1856; Yadernaya Fizika (Russian) 69 number 11, (Nov 2006); PAC: 96.20.Dt DOI: 10.1134/S106377880611007X

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel

Jul 27, 2009
Transparent Smoke: Someone call GM immediately, someone in marketing should take a look at this! ;-)

donjoe0, trantor, et al ...

Perhaps letting the reat of the world fund this experiment makes sence for America at this time. Obviously the whole 'tokamak' idea is not going to be popular with the American taxpayer for a few decades to come, and the Navy have had the disappointing results from Polywell that they can not use a nice safe reactor in their submarines, (according the the final results, this power source has claustrophobia).

On the other hand, the Europeans also appear to have read the Polywell results and (perhaps) 'downsized' the original experiment as a result - just to check that the next steps are truly feasible: technically, fiscally and politically.

Just in case you fellows have any doubts, you might e-mail those 'stupid' Europeans and make sure they have read the Polywell reports, and are not wasting money better spent on greenhouse gas monitoring and control.

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