Friday, May 29, 2009

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?

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