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

    by Tailhook (98486) on Friday April 11, 2014 @05:04PM (#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.

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

      Unless they've slowed the presses down while I wasn't looking, more like two days worth....

  • How hard can it be to make a budget plan and stick to it?
    Why are things costing more than estimated? Estimating costs is much easier than the science at work here.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Tailhook (98486)

      How hard can it be to make a budget plan and stick to it?

      I'm afraid that is naive. In the real world the figures are low-balled to get signatures knowing that once the commitments are made and the real figures are revealed backing out will be politically difficult for the funding parties.

      This isn't the last cost bump either. There will be more as the years pass, each carefully calculated to be just feasible politically.

      Right now they can get away with bigger bumps because Obama et al. have never seen a demand for money from Europe they weren't eager to cover.

      • by loufoque (1400831)

        I do a lot of work that is funded by the government, and that's the opposite to how it works.
        You have to budget for more than you think you'll need, because the government will never give you more than what was agreed on.

        • by Tailhook (98486) on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:01PM (#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.

        • by BitZtream (692029)

          Reality shows the exact opposite of what you're saying.

          My wife is in research currently, and I was not to many years ago. You give them a number thats way low for cost, a number thats WAY high for return on investment, then ... unforeseen things happen ... inflation, unexpected difficulties (that you expected but didn't mention in the original proposal) and who can argue that those things don't happen ... because you'll also run into actual things that you didn't expect that will raise the cost ... and tha

        • by mspohr (589790)

          Unless you are on a military "cost+" contract. Then you have a license to print money.

    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Friday April 11, 2014 @05:32PM (#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 BitZtream (692029)

      ... Well, considering the US is a MINOR partner, they aren't in charge of 'the plan', which ... is costing EVERYONE on the project more money than expected ... well with the exception of the few countries that didn't lie about the expected cost of front ... which is pretty much SOP for science these days.

      You can't show me any research project of any size building something that has never before been built that stays on budget.

      The intentionally low ball it so they can get funding, then use the 'well, we've a

    • by dbIII (701233)

      How hard can it be to make a budget plan and stick to it?

      Getting a new pair of shoes - easy.
      At the cutting edge of high energy physics, wait, you didn't think before posting did you?

  • by hawguy (1600213) on Friday April 11, 2014 @05:10PM (#46729835)

    $4B over 20 years is $200M/year -- does anyone in congress even track such a small amount of money? I bet that if a few congressmen looked under the couch cushions in their office they could find more money than that.

    • by fermion (181285) on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:48PM (#46730459) Homepage Journal
      No, it's not. It is just that they can't rent hotel room to meet their hookers and keep their mistresses on staff [csmonitor.com].

      How much is this really. As a comparison, our football stadium was supposed to cost $400 million in today's dollars. It actually cost closer to $600 million, also in today's dollars. About $350 million of that is paid by extorting fees from visitor to the city. I can't imagine how making visitors pay for something they have no use for makes, sense, but there it is.

      This reminds me of people who complain about the $400 million cost to launch the Space Shuttle. The same amount of a high end movie. But what does a movie give us?

  • Government programs have a tendency to have inflating budgets that often don't have anything to do with their actual purpose.

    If we're throwing this sort of money at an international science project then I'd like to know that large sums of it aren't going to pay for hookers and cocaine.

    And yes... that has happened before and I'd just assume not have it happen again.

  • It seems, ITER long ago disproved that at least this kind of Fusion can be cost effective.

    • by Firethorn (177587)

      I've come to the conclusion that it's likely a scaling problem. IE once we can do continuous fusion(or at least pulse/'diesel' fusion fast enough for steady power), it'll be a matter that the energy costs will scale by the square, but power production will scale by the cube.

      Going by the size of ITER, considering that many research nuclear reactors had generators hooked up to them but ITER has no provision to ever produce electricity, ITER isn't big enough.

      We may be looking at needing something crazy like a

      • by towermac (752159)

        "new fission plants"

        That's the key right there. For 2 reasons.

        One, we need the power. The greenies can take their country-wide windmill blanket and shove it up their ass. If you take offense that, then all birds and bats hate you, just so you know.

        Two, we've got thousands of tons of highly radioactive waste witting all around the country right now. And we have no plan on what to do with it. New Mexico ain't taking it, and in the long run; that's probably for the best. The only thing that can be done with it

        • I'd forgotten that "new nukes burn up all existing waste" is the new "duck and cover". Reprocessing creates MORE waste (it's a fuel recovery process not a waste management one), just a different sort which actually lasts longer so we can't just ignore waste management.
          We'd be better off just managing the waste we have properly as well as building the best nukes for the job instead of pretending that it's part of a waste management system, especially since the best nukes for the job are going to be differe
          • by towermac (752159)

            If you mean better off as in somewhat cheaper, then sure.

            But I'm a bit of a greenie myself, and I don't think we should leave some of this truly nasty stuff laying around.

            And I didn't say "all"; yes there will always be some leftover, but you can get the volume down considerably. And yes some of the leftovers last longer, that's the point; the longer it lasts, the less radioactive it is.

            • Better off as in more practical.

              but you can get the volume down considerably

              No, the waste volume goes UP with reprocessing. You've been badly misled into thinking that reprocessing is a magic fix everything wand instead of a real way to recover fuel. I suggest you look out how it is done to undo the damage before you embarrass yourself more. Last I looked the web site for the facility at Harford (think that's how it's spelled) had a good description of how they make MOX fuel from old fuel rods.
              It helps i

  • I'm all for lofty science projects with a moderate likelihood of failure but it seems like every one of these large scale projects of late fail to live up to their promises, don't provide significant scientific information AND cost 4 times what they were originally projected to cost. One of those conditions every other project would be quite acceptable but all three of them on a vast majority of projects? Sounds like either a massive waste of taxpayer money or a "legalized" form of embezzlement to me.

  • 20 years out?! They company doesn't state that. The government doesn't state that. The investors don't say that. Not even the critics say that. Every number I've ever heard says it's a lot closer.

What this country needs is a dime that will buy a good five-cent bagel.

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