Nuclear fusion project hails halfway construction milestone

December 6, 2017 by Frank Jordans
Nuclear fusion project hails halfway construction milestone
In this Sept. 15, 2016 file photo, cranes stand at the construction site of the ITER ( the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) in Cadarache, southern France. A vast international experiment designed to demonstrate that nuclear fusion can be a viable source of clean and cheap energy is halfway toward completion. The organization behind the ITER announced the milestone Wednesday Dec. 6, 2017 and confirmed it's aiming to conduct a first test run in 2025. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)

A vast international experiment designed to demonstrate that nuclear fusion can be a viable source of energy is halfway toward completion, the organization behind the project said Wednesday.

Construction of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, in southern France has been dogged by delays and a surge in costs to about 20 billion euros ($23.7 billion).

ITER's director-general, Bernard Bigot, said the project is on track to begin superheating hydrogen atoms in 2025, a milestone known as "first plasma."

"We have no contingency plan," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Paris.

Scientists have long sought to mimic the process of that occurs inside the sun, arguing that it could provide an almost limitless source of cheap, safe and clean electricity. Unlike in existing fission reactors, which split plutonium or uranium atoms, there's no risk of an uncontrolled chain reaction with and it doesn't produce long-lived radioactive waste.

A joint project to explore the technology was first proposed at a summit between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985, with the aim of "utilizing controlled thermonuclear fusion for peaceful purposes ... for the benefit for all mankind."

It took more than two decades for work to begin at the site in Saint-Paul-les-Durance, about 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Marseille. The project's members—China, the European Union, India, Japan, South Korea, Russia and the United States—settled on a design that uses a doughnut-shaped device called a tokamak to trap hydrogen that's been heated to 150 million degrees Celsius (270 million Fahrenheit) for long enough to allow atoms to fuse together.

The process results in the release of large amounts of heat. While ITER won't generate electricity, scientists hope it will demonstrate that such a fusion reactor can produce more energy than it consumes.

There are other fusion experiments, but ITER's design is widely considered the most advanced and practical. Scientists won't know until 2035, following a decade of testing and upgrades, whether the device actually works as intended.

Still, fusion experts said Wednesday's milestone was noteworthy.

Nuclear fusion project hails halfway construction milestone
In this Sept. 15, 2016 file photo, cranes stand at the construction site of the ITER ( the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) in Cadarache, southern France. A vast international experiment designed to demonstrate that nuclear fusion can be a viable source of clean and cheap energy is halfway toward completion. The organization behind the ITER announced the milestone Wednesday Dec. 6, 2017 and confirmed it's aiming to conduct a first test run in 2025. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)

"The glass is half full, rather than half empty," said Tony Donne of EUROfusion, a consortium of European research organizations and universities that provide scientific advice for ITER.

Donne said the appointment of Bigot had helped the project overcome what he called a "very difficult period" during which political considerations had hampered construction of what some consider the most complicated machine ever built.

Cost remains an issue, though, and Bigot was visiting Washington on Wednesday to drum up support from the United States, which contributes about 9 percent of the budget. Much of the funding goes to suppliers in the member states—in the case of the U.S. that includes General Atomics, which is building the central solenoid, an 18-meter (59-foot) electromagnet that's powerful enough to lift an aircraft carrier.

Bigot said most other members, including the European Union which pays 45 percent of the budget, had pledged their financial support for years to come and he was hopeful the Trump administration would see the benefits of staying on board.

"All countries including the United States know that their energy supply is not sustainable beyond this century," said Bigot, who was previously France's nuclear energy chief.

Should Washington cut its funding, the project won't collapse, he said. "It's too important for the other members. But there would be some delay."

Gerald Navratil, a professor of applied physics at Columbia University, said fusion could help solve the problem of how to reliably produce large amounts of electricity without emitting greenhouse gases, noting ITER's current cost is comparable to that of developing a large passenger aircraft.

"Energy is such an important part of our technological society that expenditure of 20 billion to develop a new energy source is really not out of line," he said.

Explore further: Star power: Troubled ITER nuclear fusion project seeks new path

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Electromagnetic water cloak eliminates drag and wake

December 11, 2017

Researchers have developed a water cloaking concept based on electromagnetic forces that could eliminate an object's wake, greatly reducing its drag while simultaneously helping it avoid detection.

Three kinds of information from a single X-ray measurement

December 11, 2017

Whatever the size of mobile phones or computers are, the way in which such electronic devices operate relies on the interactions between materials. For this reason, engineers as well as researchers need to know exactly how ...

43 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

gkam
2 / 5 (8) Dec 06, 2017
Meanwhile, my house and two automobiles are powered by the sun.
mackita
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 06, 2017
Nuclear fusion project hails halfway construction milestone
Nuclear fusion projects are always halfway before their completing - their resemblance to nuclear fission is uncanny...
BTW Is the BigOil lobby really the greatest enemy of fusion research?
cantdrive85
1.8 / 5 (10) Dec 06, 2017
Half way to nowhere and half way to a multi-billion dollar boondoggle.

Meanwhile with a few million dollars someone with an understanding of real plasma physics has made actual progress towards a non-polluting fusion of the future with no radioactive waste.
https://lppfusion.com
mackita
4 / 5 (4) Dec 06, 2017
@cantdrive85 IMO not actually. The LPPF fusion is even more distant from its target than ITER, requiring one hundred-times higher temperature to work (Proton-Boron/Berrylium fusion). It's true that LPPF enables to achieve ten-times higher temperatures than ITER, but just for fraction of nanoseconds in impulse regime, whereas tokamaks already work for seconds.
mackita
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 06, 2017
PTTG
3 / 5 (2) Dec 06, 2017
Also worth considering:

https://upload.wi...plan.png
Bart_A
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2017
Funny. The related link below to an article 2 years ago states that it will be 4 years until the first experiment. Now, today's articles says no experiment until 8 more years! Maybe in another 2 years an article will come out and state, "16 more years until the first experiement"

Definitely a boondoggle!
NoStrings
1 / 5 (1) Dec 07, 2017
So, why the place looks like an abandoned construction site in a third world country? Because it is?
NoStrings
3 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2017
Also, how they measure half way? Because they say so? Because 'glass half full'? Because they spent half the money? Half way from 1985 to 2017? Another 32 years?
cantdrive85
3 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2017
Why Lawrenceville Plasma Physics Results are Not Even Wrong; a Detailed Analysis.

I have read the "criticism" put forth, problem with it is it total misses the point of the paper. It's little more than a red herring. Lerrner dismantled the claims and showed this guy is just another plasma ignoramus who doesn't even understand how he is wrong from the get go. When I find the rebuttal I'll post.
I expected more from you Zephir.
Da Schneib
4.5 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2017
Meh, having watched the installation of special director general's special assistant secretary's special assistants for twenty years, pardon my skepticism. That's a great deal of why it cost US$25 billion.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2017
Meh, having watched the installation of special director general's special assistant secretary's special assistants for twenty years, pardon my skepticism. That's a great deal of why it cost US$25 billion.


That's still chump change, because the cost is spread over 20 years. The smaller the yearly budget, the lower the efficiency and the less they are getting done, because it costs money just to keep the organization going and the lights on.

ITER has been going since 1988.

Meanwhile, countries like Germany alone are dumping over $20 billion a year in renewable energy subsidies to support an unprofitable industry that wouldn't work without the continuous transfusion of money from the taxpayers to the corporations - which is largely why renewable energy gets all the attention.
Eikka
5 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2017
Also, how they measure half way? Because they say so? Because 'glass half full'? Because they spent half the money? Half way from 1985 to 2017? Another 32 years?


Because they've met planned project milestones. The assembly hall is now ready for the equipment, and the next project milestone is assembling the tokamak inside it, planned for completion in 2021.

Then the next phase is pumping it down to vacuum and validating all the equipment, then firing it up for first plasma in 2025.
Eikka
4.5 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2017
Meanwhile, my house and two automobiles are powered by the sun.


And natural gas, mostly, since you admitted you cook and heat with gas and sell your power to the grid. The power you get back at night is again made by natural gas.

That is, if you weren't lying about owning the solar panels and the electric car, gkam.
sirdumpalot
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2017
It's ridiculous really. When you think that China is spending $350bn on renewable tech in about 4 years, fusion gets around $1-2bn/year from the whole world! Of course it takes 100 years to get the tech right. We'll get there, but this tech shouldn't be on the back-burner.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2017
That's a great deal of why it cost US$25 billion.

For a potentially game changing technology (on a global scale) I think 25bn is pretty cheap. Particularly since this isn't some pipe dream without any kind of evidence to back it up but based on rounds of previous experiments and very solid physics.

(Heck, we spent 7.5bn on the LHC...and that is 'just out of curiosity' without any short term technological payoff)

At this stage it's not so much research as it's engineering (though there is certainly some more science to be done in the details). The difference is: With research you don't know if it will even work. With engineering you can be fairly sure that it will eventually work - it's just a matter of time.

TheGhostofOtto1923
3.8 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2017
The purpose of this facility is primarily to learn how to create, contain, and store plasma at ever greater densities and temperatures. The public is supporting it because one of the outcomes of this research could be a way to produce usable power.

Using materials in plasma form will become increasingly important in the future, in manufacturing, propulsion, medicine, and so forth. Materials such as antimatter for instance cannot be stored and used in any other practical way. And so learning how to store and manipulate it in bulk is extremely important. Important enough to create the possible fantasy of free energy in the near future for the tax-paying public.

I find it interesting that of all the places that were considered, a location near CERN and the LHC was chosen. The LHC or a successor machine could conceivably be configured to produce antimatter in bulk, and this could conceivably be beamed to ITER for storage.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2017
Here's the LHC successor
https://www.scien...lacement

-To the south, 60 mi in diameter. ITER is 300 mi directly south. It is not unrealistic to imagine that a future collider/antimatter production facility would reach all the way to this fusion facility.

Antimatter is the most concentrated source of power we can produce. As fuel it would make colonization of the solar system as easy as was the colonization of the world by Europeans in the 1500s, as soon as ocean navigation and shipbuilding crossed that technological threshold.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.3 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2017
"... for near-future application the utility of antimatter would be not as a fuel per se but as a catalyst of nuclear reaction.

"The energy density of proton antiproton annihilation is 1.8×1014J/g1.8×1014J/g of antiproton is hundreds times that of fusion or fission reactions.

"One field where antimatter could be of use is space where enormous cost of its production is offset by the small mass of the product and relative small size of devices utilizing this energy. Therefore most of concepts for utilizing such energy (at least in the context of near future technology) is for propulsion purposes."
https://physics.s...reactors

- This would mesh well with the 10,000 tons of fissiles we currently have laying about, wouldn't it?

Establishing independent colonies elsewhere might be a far more urgent priority than we know, and if so we would fully expect to see preparations of this magnitude.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2017
We could even say that most of the technology produced since the world wars, has been in direct support of such an effort... the worldwide proliferation of nuke reactors, their use in undersea pressurized vehicles as a result of a phoney cold war, the various energy crises which prompted the development of other alternative energy sources and related materials, the massive effort to create the shuttle fleet in order to construct the ISS, the massive proliferation of satellite-based tech, even the R&D to produce artificial foods from base plants easily grown in space, or cancer research enabled by all the carcinogens we cannot avoid ingesting and inhaling; all could have been undertaken in direct support of efforts to enable us to get off this planet as quickly and as capably as possible.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2017
I am reminded of Vonneguts character in Sirens of Titan...

"We learn that the purpose of human history was to communicate to the stranded Tralfamadorian on Titan. Monuments such as The Great Wall of China and Stonehenge were built by civilisations being controlled by messengers from Tralfamadore. They were reassuring Salo – letting him know that help was on the way. He just needed to be patient."

-and all of human technology existed for the purpose of delivering that one widget Salo needed to fix his ship.
Blakut
5 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2017
But doesn't it require more energy to produce anti-matter in an accelerator than you get from the annihilation? You know, since losses and stuff.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2017
Concentrated fuel sources always waste energy in production. It is the ability to use the material in that form that is important. Antimatter can be put on a ship, combined with fissiles, and used to accelerate it to relativistic speeds.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2017
With antimatter catalyzed fission you can build huge colony ships transporting 1000s of passengers and 1000s of tons of machinery and materials, accelerating and decelerating continuously at 1g.

The entire solar system could be traversed in weeks or months.

You could transport and operate huge robotic tunnel borers that could carve out entire cities on planets and moons, just waiting to be inhabited.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2 / 5 (2) Dec 07, 2017
And the propellant could be produced and stored in France, a country where 50% of its power is generated by nuclear reactors. Additional power could be supplied by 1000s of square miles of solar farms in Spain and the Sahara.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Dec 07, 2017
We need none of this.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2017
Meanwhile, my house and two automobiles are powered by the sun
Like I say nobody ever cares do they boohoo

George the insignificant
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Dec 07, 2017
Nuclear fusion seems to be like a Trump distraction, another fantasy, a diversion from reality.

Da Schneib
3.7 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2017
I'm hearing "fusion in ten years" again.

I don't think the problem is the tech. I think it's the bureaucracy.
gkam
1 / 5 (3) Dec 07, 2017
"I don't think the problem is the tech. I think it's the bureaucracy.

Good point. It takes so many folk and interests for such a costly project, it moves very slowly.

But now we do not need it. And I do not trust centralized power, but thanks anyway.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Dec 07, 2017
Psychopath opines
But now we do not need it. And I do not trust centralized power, but thanks anyway
Just because it won't fit on your roof doesnt mean we don't need it georgie.
Mark Thomas
4 / 5 (4) Dec 07, 2017
gkam: "We need none of this."

One more time . . . solar power is great here on Earth, but it is not practical in most of the universe because its intensity drops with the square of the distance from the source. Even at Jupiter, sunlight is only 4% as strong as on Earth. At Saturn it drops to 1%. Furthermore, photovoltaics work by converting sunlight into electricity. That sunlight comes from fusion energy released by the sun. So solar power is simply a derivative of fusion power anyway.

Otto: "The purpose of this facility is primarily to learn how to create, contain, and store plasma at ever greater densities and temperatures."

Maybe the purpose of ITER is enable the oil industry to continue to profit by delaying the introduction of practical fusion power for decades. Otherwise, one might expect they would actually believe their own marketing info about how desperately the world needs fusion power and start making it happen instead of wasting soooooo much time and money.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2017
Maybe the purpose of ITER is enable the oil industry to continue to profit by delaying the introduction of practical fusion power for decades
- And maybe the continued consumption of oil is vital for maintaining influence over foreign regimes who support western interests and who are actively engaged in suppressing jihad and the caliphate.

And maybe consuming all the easily-accessible supplies of this dangerous commodity is also vital to western interests... because if we didnt, wholly independent oil-based economies with huge oil-fueled militaries could arise overnight to threaten us.

"No tech before it's time."

NOTHING will be developed that will critically destabilize the world and threaten either its infrastructure or the vast store of knowledge we have been able to accrue.

THAT is the most vital of Interests.

In the meantime, plasma physics is enormously important for our future and we can appreciate all efforts to support IT.
CubicAdjunct747
5 / 5 (2) Dec 08, 2017
another really expensive water boiler!
gkam
2 / 5 (4) Dec 08, 2017
Well, go ahead, . . it's only 20 years away, . . forever.
Edenlegaia
not rated yet Dec 08, 2017
Well, go ahead, . . it's only 20 years away, . . forever.


Are you sure about that? You're playing prophet again, gkam, guessing the future as if it was some kind of article in a magic newspaper you love to read and claiming its absolute truth..
You're no time traveler, gkam. You can learn millions of lessons for the past, but that won't make the future your personal bible noone should ever doubt.
It's probably 20 years away. Maybe more. Forever? You know nothing of that.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 08, 2017
Eden,it was snark, . . an old canard about fusion. The joke is as old as I can remember and I'm 73 years old.

Maybe they can do it in our lifetime. Would it be worth the cost in funding which could have gone to other technologies?

Because of efficiency improvements, we are using less electricity, not more. We don't need those specialists, we can do it ourselves now. And we are learning how be more intelligent, employing technologies easier to construct and operate by normal folk, not PhDs.
Mark Thomas
5 / 5 (4) Dec 08, 2017
gkam, I hope you understand I meant no disrespect. I love solar power and I am working towards the day I can run my vehicle off of sunshine from the roof of my house. To me that would be a thing of beauty. However, I am still a huge fan of fusion power because we NEED it for so many other reasons, both as a supplement on Earth and hopefully in space for both power and propulsion. It kills me its development schedule keeps slipping and slipping.
Mark Thomas
5 / 5 (4) Dec 08, 2017
Otto, I disagree that keeping us on an oil-based economy is in the best interests of the U.S. as a whole. It would be nice if somebody actually considered what was in the best in the country for a change, but the real world does not work that way at all any more. If you have enough money, the Republicans will give you whatever you want in the U.S. Huge tax breaks for the rich, no privacy for your internet searches, drop out of the Paris Convention, guns for all, including people who should not be allowed near one. None of those things, and I mean NONE of them, are in the best interests of the U.S. as a whole.
gkam
3 / 5 (4) Dec 08, 2017
mark, I not only understand but agree with much of your goals. It is that just now, I question whether it is worth the quest. Are central powerplants better than distributed ones? We are finding their limitations, and adjusting to distributed systems as technologies permit.. These can easily be household PV/battery systems, or PV connected to the grid which runs the meter backwards and erases what you used the night before.

All are simple, efficient, and efficacious. They are also practical and commercially available.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) Dec 08, 2017
Otto, I disagree that keeping us on an oil-based economy is in the best interests of the U.S. as a whole
The US is part of a larger construct. Oil is a strategic commodity. If not exploited by the West it would have been exploited by others and used against us.
Republicans will give you whatever you want in the U.S. Huge tax breaks
You think way too small. What good is money if the govts and economies that give it value collapse?

This has happened many times throughout history. The west will do all it can to keep it from happening to it.
Mark Thomas
5 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2017
"You think way too small."

LOL. it is a rare day that I am accused of that! In the comments here alone I advocated for fusion power for crewed exploration of the outer solar system and beyond. Not exactly thinking small. I also noticed that while you denigrated what I wrote as small thinking, you did not disagree about the Republicans being for sale, which they are.

Fracking has given oil new life in the U.S., but it is doing a lot of environmental damage and may not last as long as traditional oil sources. It would be better to rely on cleaner and complicated technology like fusion power, unless you believe the U.S. cannot compete that way. Frankly you argue as if some evil cabal is carefully controlling everything, when in fact it is rich and powerful simply trying to get more riches and power for themselves.
mackita
5 / 5 (2) Dec 09, 2017
A shale gas well's production may decline by more than half in the first year -- this is a much faster drop than conventional oil wells, because shale has very low permeability. What's worse, the methane leaking and emission rise accordingly..

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.