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The Almighty Buck Science Politics

ITER Fusion Project Struggles To Put the Pieces Together 138

Posted by timothy
from the failure-to-fuse dept.
ananyo writes "The world's largest scientific project is threatened with further delays, as agencies struggle to complete the design and sign contracts worth hundred of millions of euros with industrial partners. Sources familiar with the project warn that the complex system for buying ITER's many pieces could put the fusion reactor project even further behind schedule. Rather than providing cash, ITER's partners have pledged 'in kind' contributions of pieces of the machine. Magnets, instruments and reactor sections will arrive from around the world to be cobbled together at the central site in St-Paul-lès-Durance in southern France. Because no one body holds the purse strings, designs for the machine's components face a tortuous back-and-forth between the central ITER Organization and national 'domestic agencies', which ensure that local companies secure contracts for ITER's components. Managers say the project remains on schedule. But it would hardly be the first time that ITER had been delayed or faced budgetary difficulties."
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ITER Fusion Project Struggles To Put the Pieces Together

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @01:01PM (#41819577)

    There are no known materials that can withstand the radiation and temperatures anywhere nearly long enough; even a second's operation permanently damages and contaminates huge parts of the reactor vessel.

    No, a second of exposure is easily handled and we have materials that we are pretty sure will get into the hours regime. The work that needs to be done is to bridge the gap between something that runs for a day to something that runs for a year.

    The highest power levels obtained even after half a decade's research was 65% of the input power and lasted for half a second

    That has been improved to about pretty close to equivalent 100-120% for 10s based on D-D reactions in a machine that didn't want to use tritium. Getting this up to a Q a few times that is should not be an issue. Getting the efficiency up to commercial viable levels may be much more difficult though.

  • by MozeeToby (1163751) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @01:25PM (#41819913)

    Actually, for 60 years fusion scientists have been saying "with current funding, it's probably impossible" which isn't the same thing as saying "almost got it". This [wikimedia.org] graph shows what leading scientists in 1970 thought they could deliver with different levels of funding. Do note the 'actual funding' line at the bottom, the one that is well below the 'fusion never' line that would never produce the equipment, expertise, and practical knowledge that would be required to build an economical fusion reactor. Quite frankly, given that this is what actual scientists in the field were saying 45 years ago, it's remarkable they've made as much progress as they have.

  • by elfprince13 (1521333) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @01:44PM (#41820125) Homepage
    Distressingly, ITER is actually on schedule per dollar with its original plan. It's the amount of dollars falling behind per unit time, rather than the science and engineering per dollar.

    On the material science front, there's two issues - normal operation, and disruptions. With normal operation, there are materials that ought to be able to do a pretty good job of withstanding the environment inside the reactor, but the trick is finding ones that will do so without poisoning the plasma. Right now, there's some really cool work being done with liquid-lithium walled reactors to try and ameliorate those problems. As far as disruptions go, that's a confinement issue, there probably aren't materials that can deal with it. But almost all of the research being done with the computational plasma physicists I was working with this summer was going into understanding the magnetic reconnection events that lead to instability and disruptions. There are also reactor designs other than tokamaks which ought to be inherently more stable, but which have had tremendous difficulty getting funding due to the politicized nature of the work on ITER. NCSX, for example [wikipedia.org] would have had some very interesting results had it not been cancelled, but thankfully other stellarator experiments are under way (HSX, LHD, and the Wendelstein 7-X).

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