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Cost Skyrockets For United States' Share of ITER Fusion Project 174

Posted by Soulskill
from the burning-plasma-and-benjamins dept.
sciencehabit writes: "ITER, the international fusion experiment under construction in Cadarache, France, aims to prove that nuclear fusion is a viable power source by creating a 'burning plasma' that produces more energy than the machine itself consumes. Although that goal is at least 20 years away, ITER is already burning through money at a prodigious pace. The United States is only a minor partner in the project, which began construction in 2008. But the U.S. contribution to ITER will total $3.9 billion — roughly four times as much as originally estimated — according to a new cost estimate released yesterday. That is about $1.4 billion higher than a 2011 cost estimate, and the numbers are likely to intensify doubts among some members of Congress about continuing the U.S. involvement in the project."
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Cost Skyrockets For United States' Share of ITER Fusion Project

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  • Stop Now (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:02PM (#46729767)

    End all involvement. This is a massive and pointless waste of money. It will never lead to any practical source of energy.

  • $3.9 billion? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Tailhook (98486) on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:04PM (#46729785)

    $3.9E+09.... about four days of Fed money printing.

    Perhaps we could forego half a weeks worth of bubble inflation and fund it that way.

  • Re:Stop Now (Score:4, Insightful)

    by bob_super (3391281) on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:13PM (#46729845)

    I'm so glad you're smarter than all the scientists working on it.

    On the other hand, how does $3.9B over 6 years compare to the annual cost of securing US fossil energy sources?

  • by mwvdlee (775178) on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:32PM (#46729971) Homepage

    Reality of projects budgets 101:
    If you give the correct high estimate, they won't give you the money.
    If you give the fake low estimate, they will give you the money and pay extra later on because they're already invested.
    Especially if budgets have to compete, they will most likely be too low.
    When budgets are that high, nobody controlling investments really has a grasp of the value of the money.

  • by Tailhook (98486) on Friday April 11, 2014 @07:01PM (#46730163)

    the government will never give you more than what was agreed on

    Contractors routinely soak [politico.com] the federal government for billions in overruns. You happen work for a peon outfit that lacks the leverage to get away with it. France et al. have a little more pull.

  • Re:Stop Now (Score:2, Insightful)

    by backslashdot (95548) on Friday April 11, 2014 @10:19PM (#46731327)

    Huh? That is so wrong and your understanding of physics so little that I can't even begin to frame a rebuttal within your intelligence level. But maybe there is another way to tell you .. ever heard of the Hydrogen bomb? That's proof right there that fusion can release net energy. Up to 50 MEGATONS of proof courtesy of the Tsar Bomba.

    We are making steady progress towards net energy in a controlled setting .. now if there was a stall .. maybe you have a point but we have made steady progress towards achieving controlled fusion. Progress may be 3 or 4 times slower than initially anticipated, but the fact is that we are progressing towards it.

  • Re:Stop Now (Score:5, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor (664417) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @04:49AM (#46732365) Journal

    You're compring the drive-away cost of a car to the entire R&D program here.

    ITER is the R&D program.

  • by nojayuk (567177) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @06:09AM (#46732487)

    Like I said, nobody's ever run a thorium-cycle liquid-salt reactor and there is no Santa Claus. As for a "thorium breeder blanket" add-on to the Oak Ridge reactor, huh? The LFTR concept mixes thorium into the molten-salt stream, breeds it up to U-233 and then fissions it within a moderator to slow down the neutron flux. There is no separate blanket, it's all in one stream, salt, kickstarter fuel (U-233 or U-235/Pu-239), thorium and waste products all at 700 deg C and more, mindbogglingly radioactive, radiochemically very complex and being continuously moved around lots of piping and heat exchangers and chemical processing plant and it has to generate electricity at about 5 cents per kWh to be competitive.

    Any such reactor is going to require a neutron flux way higher than the ORNL reactor ever experienced, a mix of fast neutrons to do the breeding and slower neutrons to fission the resulting U-233. This isn't a problem for existing well-tested light-water and heavy-water reactors delivering about 15% of the world's electricity demand right now, of course. In their case the ceramic fuel sits in zirconium tubes and water circulates around them to transfer heat and in some cases moderate the neutron flux, no fast neutrons specifically required for breeding purposes (although some breeding does happen anyway). Much simpler and more reliable, no explosives required.

    I agree that uranium will not be scarce for decades, at least one conventional and proven light-water/heavy-water reactor operation cycle of about 60 years. It's possible it would never be scarce at all if the process to extract from seawater can be operated commercially -- it's been tested, its cost is estimated at about three or four times the price of conventionally mined uranium today. Some countries don't have much uranium within their boundaries so ongoing supply is not guaranteed. India is one such country hence their interest in developing a fuel cycle involving thorium for their heavy-water reactors. They're still building and operating conventionally-fueled reactors too though.

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