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New Review Slams Fusion Project's Management 109

Posted by Soulskill
from the doing-great-except-for-the-fusion-stuff dept.
sciencehabit writes "ITER, the international fusion reactor project in France, is reeling from an assessment that found serious problems with the project's leadership, management, and governance. The report is so damning that after a 13 February special session that reviewed and accepted the report's conclusions and recommendations, the ITER Council — the project's governing body — restricted its readership to a small number of senior managers and council members. 'We feared that if [the assessment] leaked to people who don't know about the ITER agreement, the project could be interpreted as a major failure, which is not what the management assessor intended,' says nuclear engineer Bob Iotti of the consulting firm CH2M HILL, who chairs that council."
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New Review Slams Fusion Project's Management

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  • ...to fix it.

  • I've worked with CH2M HILL before, and frankly I wold trust anything they say without a serious double check..

    • by Anonymous Coward

      See CH2M Hill - Fraud_prosecutions [wikipedia.org]

    • I worked for a lab that occasionally did work for them. I have no impression of them at all other than they were a client with a weird name. They sent samples, we analyzed said samples, sent them results, they paid, rinse, repeat. If they wanted interpretation, that'd be handled by the forensics division but I doubt they ever did.

    • by Dishevel (1105119)

      I've worked with CH2M HILL before, and frankly I wold trust anything they say without a serious double check..

      Agreed. They hire tons of people who can not spell!

      • by geekoid (135745)

        HA, good one. The older I get the worse my hands get and the harder it is for me to find spelling errors.
        Double whammy, my apologies.

        Interestingly wold does not trigger a spelling error indicator. so, triple Whammy.

        • by vux984 (928602)

          Interestingly wold does not trigger a spelling error indicator.

          Because its not a spelling error. 'wold' is a word.

          • by sysrammer (446839)
            I am the mornin' DJ on W O L D
          • > Because its not a spelling error. 'wold' is a word.

            Which demonstrates that *smaller* spelling dictionaries are normally better. Yet every word pro bragged about how many words were in it.

        • by Dishevel (1105119)
          I think this is mostly due to us old people not really giving a shit anymore. :)
  • by WillAffleckUW (858324) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @07:51PM (#46340375) Homepage Journal

    And whenever you think it will get closer, they come up with another reason why it will take another 20 years to be commercially viable.

    Been that way since Expo 63.

    Will be that way in 2099.

    • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @08:01PM (#46340427)

      And if the Apollo program had been budgeted in the same way as fusion in this country, we would be looking forward to the first man to land on the moon a few decades from now.

      • Why are only Americans capable of doing fusion research?

        • Why are only Americans capable of doing fusion research?

          Because only Americans live and work in France.

      • > And if the Apollo program had been budgeted in the same way as fusion in this country

        This is *not* a budget problem, don't let the people justifying their existent fool you into believing that.

        Let me illustrate the actual problem with the best example I can think of. In 1972 John Nuckolls published this paper:

        http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v239/n5368/pdf/239139a0.pdf

        Unfortunately, you can't read it without paying, but here's a paper that reviews it:

        http://www.osti.gov/scitech/servlets/purl/101263

    • by geekoid (135745)

      They have made significant progress.

    • by phantomfive (622387) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @10:12PM (#46341573) Journal
      Here is the graph, projecting how long it will take to create fusion [imgur.com].

      If you are criticizing fusion predictions, and aren't aware of that graph, then you are basically criticizing things you don't understand. Stop it. Understand first, then criticize.
  • From TFA:

    "Because all the partners want to gain experience from building ITER for what could be a lucrative future industry, the ITER agreement carves up the construction of reactor components among partners, each of which has created a “domestic agency” to handle the contracts. The result is far from efficient: Superconducting cable for the reactor’s magnets is manufactured in six different nations and the 5000-tonne vacuum vessel is being built partly in Korea and partly in Europe."

    Remin

    • by sysrammer (446839)
      Spreading the wealth pleases the folks on the left, and enhancing the military pleases the folks on the right. A win-win situation, as far as politics in the US is concerned.

      I suppose that another way of dealing with the politics of a complex project is the way Putin financed the Olympics. He spread the wealth too.
    • Exactly the same with the Apollo Space program James Web then head of NASA spread the construction out in the same way. It's a tried and trusted way of avoiding being cancelled by congress because it creates jobs in most congressmen's constituencies.
    • The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is way over budget and behind schedule.

      And here is the big joke.

      The projected cost of the F35 is US$857 billion (it will cost more).

      ITER is estitmatated to cost a bloated EUR 16 billion.

      So, which should we worry about?

  • ITER is a all the proof anyone should need that the Tokamak is not the way to economical fusion power generation. Of course neither is inertial confinement fusion, while we're on the topic. It would be one thing if these projects were sold as basic science, but instead they are sold as being practical approaches to fusion power generation. It's a lie.

    • ITER is a all the proof anyone should need that the Tokamak is not the way to economical fusion power generation. Of course neither is inertial confinement fusion, while we're on the topic. It would be one thing if these projects were sold as basic science, but instead they are sold as being practical approaches to fusion power generation. It's a lie.

      All the report has shown is that humans are greedy and the bureaucracy expands to fill the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.

      Nothing in the report implies the engineering and science is impractical and uneconomical. This is a research reactor, not the final commercial product.

      Unfortunately, your post is very light on "why" it is a "lie" or why it is uneconomical, so one must assume you are either lazy, or are trolling.

      • by geekoid (135745)

        "All the report has shown is that humans are greedy and the bureaucracy expands to fill the needs of the expanding bureaucracy."
        that has been shown to be false over and over again, as a rule.
        It happens, but nothing here, or anywhere, is proof its a universal rule, or even a natural by product of a bureaucracy.

        Remember , humans invented bureaucracy so we can do complex things well.

        • Well the saying is more a rule of thumb for how one should be aggressive in avoiding creating too many subdivisions in an organization, or trying to implement management and oversight where you should be trusting your existing delegates and granting them some organizational flexibility to achieve their goals.

          • by sysrammer (446839)
            I hate bureaucracy as much as the next person, but it does seem to be the best way humans have found to institutionalize advanced knowledge to the point where very complex procedures can be handled by mere mortals.
    • Actually, ITER is supposed to be a proof-of-concept. That is, ITER is designed to show that a controlled and burning plasma can be created and sustained over a long period of time with a net power out (like any baseload power plant should). It's a toroidal tokamak simply because it is one of the most well-understood fusion reactor designs; spherical tokamaks, inertial confinement, electrostatic confinement, and (my personal favorite) stellarators being less so.

      DEMO, another experiment, is the next step
      • by cheesybagel (670288) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @08:52PM (#46340847)

        I remember the original ITER propaganda. Originally it did not have DEMO on it as a successor. It was supposed to be the direct precursor to an actual power plant. They added that afterwards. It has been nearly two decades since that and they still haven't built it. While some things did happen to improve tokamaks, like the superconducting magnets used in JT-60 and Tore Supra, or the improved plasma control and stability they demonstrated in D-III, the same problems still exist. You can only generate net energy with D-T fusion and the reactor walls can't survive the neutron flux of D-T fusion long enough for a viable reactor to exist. Until THAT gets solved you are not going to see any commercial fusion reactor. Even if they solved that it is going to be huge and expensive. A lot more expensive than a fission nuclear reactor. Unless they manage to make the plasma more dense or something.

        • by Yergle143 (848772)

          I loved that propaganda. However having followed fusion progress across my entire lifetime I think it utterly dubious that it will ever be an economically competitive power source -- on earth.
          We should become an electric civilization. The answer is wind wave solar and nuke (yes to Th -- why not).
          However what I wish we could do is stop the pretense of affordability and build towards bold understanding of principles. This machine is vastly expensive and we should do it anyway not only for the sheer thrill of

        • You can only generate net energy with D-T fusion and the reactor walls can't survive the neutron flux of D-T fusion long enough for a viable reactor to exist. Until THAT gets solved you are not going to see any commercial fusion reactor. Even if they solved that it is going to be huge and expensive. A lot more expensive than a fission nuclear reactor. Unless they manage to make the plasma more dense or something.

          From the ITER FAQ:
          "How often will the ITER first wall need to be replaced during operation?

          The current operation schedule does not include the replacement of the ITER first wall. However, provisions have been made for the possibility of changing it once during the lifetime of ITER, if necessary. The component which receives most of the power load from the plasma (the "divertor") will need to be replaced more than once during the lifetime of the machine. It has been designed specifically to allow this operat

    • General Fusion's approach seems to be the way to go. I'm saying this from a position of ignorance, and gut feeling.

      http://www.generalfusion.com/ [generalfusion.com]

      • I know I like to base my decisions of fundamental science on how flashy a website looks.

        The issue with all the alternatives to ITER is that they are even less well understood, and less proven, then Tokamak reactors. Tokamak's have achieved Q > 1 - the plasma has generated more energy then was needed to heat it, and drive the machine. This is reality today in a reactor like JET, its just not practically sustainable on their sort of scale.

        Things like the Polywell on the other hand? 13 neutrons in some iter

        • by Cyberax (705495)
          Correction: for Polywell it's 13 registered neutrons. I've been following them and it _looks_ like scaling laws seem to work for Polywell, but it's also becoming more and more complex to build them.
  • by Virtucon (127420) on Tuesday February 25, 2014 @08:10PM (#46340495)

    I honestly can't imagine why people try to "manage" something like this especially when you have all of these international partners each with their own agendas running the show. It's a subcontractors dream really, get a nice fat contract and have a big charge for changes/delays... I'm sure the subs are getting very, very rich right now off of ITER.

    You can't build something this complex under the model that's being used and unfortunately ITER is an epic fail. Even back in 2009, people were warning of the problems with it [bbc.co.uk] and still those haven't been corrected apparently. Given that we're 8 years in, I think it's time to throw in the towel considering it was supposed to be a 10 year build.

    For comparison, the closest model I can think of, the LHC and the international cooperation that built it, despite it's few successes has had numerous hiccups and failures despite taking decades to plan and build. If the International community really wants Fusion power they just need to pony up to one prime contractor to build it based on the input from a team of scientists and get rid of the carved up mentality of the construction.

    • by geekoid (135745)

      Yes, lets thrown in the towel because something that has never been done, something using well into bleeding edge technology is behind budget. All based on a report from a contractor who makes more money if the report finds problems. This is why it's complaining mostly about intangibles.

    • You mean the LHC which was doing cutting edge science for the past year, and discovered the Higgs boson? That LHC?

      • Re:No surprise (Score:4, Insightful)

        by noobermin (1950642) on Wednesday February 26, 2014 @12:46AM (#46342569) Journal

        Slashdot has become so anti-science these days. I don't disagree that ITER has some problems, but calling the Higgs Boson one of the LHC's "few successes" is such a fucking understatement, I don't know what else could be.

        That was half of the point of the damn thing, to verify the standard model. Finding the Higgs was no small accomplishment.

        • by Virtucon (127420)

          So who exactly are you saying is anti-science? I'm just anti-international cooperation especially where it really isn't in any nation's best interest. ITER has laudable goals but look at the players and ask yourselves if it will seriously be successful. Nope, it'll be a run into the ground project that won't produce anything.

          Higgs Boson was a race and if the Feds had funded Fermilab's tevatron accelerator [discovery.com] a bit more [fnal.gov] you may have seen it discover Higgs Boson before the LHC.

        • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

          It's also worth point out that both of these are experimental devices, so you expect problems. The point of doing them is to work the problems out.

      • by Virtucon (127420)

        Really, explosions, delays and long shutdown periods due to problems constitutes great uptime? I didn't say that the LHC wasn't doing good work but since 2009 it's had its share of severe problems.

        • It's an experimental particle accelerator, not the server you keep under your desk. It's shutdown at the moment because it's the only opportunity CERN get to actually upgrade the accelerator and it's components - you can't very well go in and expect it when it's running, because it's cryo-contained, somewhat radioactive and highly magnetized.

          The shutdown is multi-purpose - there's components at CERN which haven't been replaced since the 1970s partly because they were state-of-the-art then and no one had any

          • explosions, delays and long shutdown periods

            Sounds like the server I keep under my desk!

          • by Virtucon (127420)

            Good points but when you say "no one knows how they'll perform" I'd have to take a step back and say that with all the intellect involved in building it, it sure seems there's been more downtime than uptime. Sure, it's cutting edge in terms of science/technology but I wouldn't want to rely on it if my career depended upon it. The Tevatron at Fermilab was something that although not as powerful as the LHC, was able to conduct science on a routine basis and we've now lost that in the US and have to wait alo

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I worked on fusion for years but no longer consider it relevant for near to intermediate term energy needs. The reasons are

    1) natural gas -- enough for several lifetimes
    2) renewables -- already becoming useful/relevant and if energy storage problems can be solved, a long term solution,
    3) conventional nuclear -- in a crisis in which society's real needs exceeded its largely irrational fears, much safer new generation fission reactors could be brought on line in a couple of years.

  • Bureaucrat the world round fear being found out as being the useless tools they usually are. Spending lots of other people's money is fun. So the ITER is a dream come true. With a 20 year plus delay before they hit the on switch an established technocrat can basically turn a project such as the ITER into a MBA amusement park. With a budget that bit, nobody should notice all the conferences that are attended, officials wined and dined, and other expense account shenanigans that are possible.

    But maybe my r
  • Thorium LFTR is was fusion pretended to be.
    Cheap, safe, efficient, clean.
    Without costing a trillion dollars to develop.
    Like not even 10 billion, perhaps 5 billion to having a LFTR production line fully operational.
    When are we going to start to be outraged that we don't have the money to spend on money pits. Stop all fusion research now.
    The problem with fission isn't fission in general, no corporations are interested in doing major, risky investment, quite the opposite, corporations are risk adverse, so we g

  • ITER is at the wrong end of the scale - we need to get fusion working in a nanoscale device first, then refine it for printed arrays. Not this nonsense.

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