In an effort to put the world's largest scientific experiment back on track after delays and cost overruns, Europe is shaking up the agency overseeing its portion of the multinational ITER reactor.It seems the shake up is due in part to unhappy customers. You know - the people putting up the money.
On 16 February, Frank Briscoe, a British fusion scientist, will take the reins as interim director of Fusion for Energy (F4E), the agency in Barcelona, Spain, that manages Europe's ITER contribution — the largest of any partner's. Briscoe replaces Didier Gambier, a French physicist who joined the F4E as director when it formed in 2007. Gambier was originally appointed for a five-year term.
The European Union (EU) is also formulating a plan to complete construction on the multibillion-dollar machine in 2019, a year after currently scheduled, Nature has learned.
ITER aims to prove the viability of fusion power by using superconducting magnets to squeeze a plasma of heavy hydrogen isotopes to temperatures above 150 million °C. When full-scale experiments begin in 2026, the machine should produce ten times the power it consumes.
Europe has faced increasing criticism from ITER's six other international partners: Japan, South Korea, Russia, India, China and the United States. A budget proposed last week by US president Barack Obama would slash America's funding for ITER in 2011 by 40%, to US$80 million; it cited "the slow rate of progress by the [ITER Organization] and some Members' Domestic Agencies". And on 2 February, Evgeny Velikhov, a Russian fusion researcher and head of ITER's council, called Europe a "weak link". "Unfortunately, their organizational structure is very poor," he told Russian President Vladimir Putin in an interview that appeared on a Russian government website.In a recent post, Spiraling Out Of Control, I discussed some of the financial problems at ITER. And for those of you interested in the technical problems may I suggest (actually highly recommend) the Talk Polywell link at the end of that article.
Finishing ITER in 2019, a goal that the F4E is now working towards with industrial contractors, would involve risks such as producing components in parallel, but scientists think that those risks can be managed. "There should be no doubt that Europe is trying hard to get ITER ready in the shortest time that is realistic," says one senior European scientist. The new schedule will be presented to other ITER partners at a meeting on 23–24 February in Paris.
And let me leave you with a few words from a Polywell Fusion fan who is no fan of Tokamak designs (ITER and similar devices): Plasma Physicist and author of Principles of Plasma Physics Dr. Nicholas Krall said, "We spent $15 billion dollars studying tokamaks and what we learned about them is that they are no damn good."
And the best thing about Polywell is what Physicist Rick Nebel, who is now herding the project, has to say about it: We Will Know In Two Years or less.