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

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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  • by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:29PM (#46729951)

    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. This extra few billion might involve one whole phone call from Hollande if things get rough. More likely it will be pencil-whipped through by the NSF or whatever other TLAs are involved.

  • Re:Stop Now (Score:0, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:37PM (#46730011)

    Good. Leave. The rest of us will pull this cart as well just like all the others and your international influence and respect will continue to drop like it has the past 30 years.

    The only time Americans get involved in anything it's either dropping bombs on brown people one week or dropping food on them the next. That or bitching about the French like it's the national sport.

  • by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @06:59PM (#46730151)

    No "they" didn't have a LFTR reactor working in the 70s. Nobody's EVER had an LFTR working. There is no liquid-fluorine thorium Santa Claus, just a lot of grad student Powerpoint presentations.

    There was a molten-salt reactor, a laboratory-scale device fuelled with U-233 and later U-235 in intermittent operation at Oak Ridge National Laboratories for a few years in the 1960s. It never used thorium and wouldn't have been any good if it had because it couldn't breed thorium up into U-233 to fission for energy. It took a long time to decommission this small reactor in part as several bad things had happened to the piping inside it. Folks reckon the corrosion could have been fixed with a little tweak but you don't get to "tweak" sizeable reactors. Chernobyl 4 is a worked example of "tweaking" a large reactor.

    China might sell you their CAP1400 light-water reactor design (an upgrade of the Westinghouse AP1000) or maybe their HTR-PM modular reactors; they're actually building one at the moment to test the concept and they have a small testbed gas-cooled pebble-bed reactor running at the moment. India is working on using thorium in regular heavy-water reactors as part of the fuel mix, not in molten-salt systems and nobody else is really interested in buying into what they're doing. Other folks are looking into pebble-bed reactors which can burn thorium as part of the fuel mix but the previous history of attempting this is not a success, mostly -- the Germans are still trying to figure out how to decommission their thorium-mix pebble-bed reactors. They've been filled with concrete for the moment to stop the leaks of radioactivity.

    There are also experiments going on to see how thorium works in regular light-water reactors. The physics says it will work, it's not as energetic as regular uranium fuels though. Baby steps baby steps.

  • by TheRealHocusLocus ( 2319802 ) on Friday April 11, 2014 @09:16PM (#46731005)

    You think that a commercial scale Thorium reactor could be developed and built for $4B?

    Because fusion is hard [],
    and LFTR is easy [].

    Comparatively speaking.

    The second one would cost half as much. The 20th one might cost as much as an airplane.

    And using closed cycle Brayton it could be sited anywhere, even far away from a major source of water. And as far away from people, who tend to congregate around water, as desired.

    The present regulatory apparatus, which is wholly oriented to a solid fuel water reactor technology that carries risk of decay heat meltdown, steam and hydrogen explosion, large scale venting of radioactivity -- needs to be reevaluated and adjusted rationally for this technology -- which carries none of these risks.

    With due and fond respect for the things that helped us become civilized people... it is time to end the age of steam and fossil fuel.

    Obligatory bump to the Thorium Alliance [] and my own letters on energy,
    To The Honorable James M. Inhofe, United States Senate []
    To whom it may concern, Halliburton Corporate []

  • Re:Stop Now (Score:5, Informative)

    by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @06:04AM (#46732471)

    The ITER is designed to do more than "break even", it's expected to return 10 times the energy input for heating and controlling the plasma -- a return of 500MW for an input of 50MW and to sustain this for periods of thousands of seconds. This is just heat, not electricity, there's no plans to try and extract energy from the system yet. It's an experimental platform, not a prototype power generating system.

    Whether ITER succeeds in this aim we won't know until it actually runs. One school of thought is that bigger tokamaks make it easier to control the plasma generated. Pessimists think more problems will crop up as the engineering scale increases. That's why they're building it, to find out.

  • Re:Stop Now (Score:4, Informative)

    by nojayuk ( 567177 ) on Saturday April 12, 2014 @07:54AM (#46732679)

    "You could get the experimental platform for a couple of orders of magnitude less money."

    No you couldn't, demonstrably. If they could build an ITER-scale reactor for one-hundredth the price they would have. Large-scale sustainable high-Q fusion is difficult. It cost billions to build and operate JET and it was never meant to beat breakeven (Q > 1) but it's come the closest to that of any of the major tokamaks with a couple of seconds of fusion with a Q of about 0.6 back in the 1990s. Heck JET wasn't even built specifically to do fusion, it was mainly supposed to be for plasma research but it got repurposed as plasma control and generation techniques improved. ITER, if it works as planned and the physicists haven't dropped a decimal point here or there, is a fusion reactor which will eventually run with Q >= 10 for several thousand seconds at a time. Maybe.

    The "E" in ITER stands for Experimental. It's a testbed platform for trying out stuff and seeing how it breaks, a rig to make mistakes on and gain knowledge. There are nebulous plans to build DEMO and the later PROTO which will be power generating fusion reactors but they'll still be less than fully-commercial designs, just another step closer to the rollout of workable and cost-effective fusion power generation. Nothing is guaranteed though.

  • Re:Stop Now (Score:4, Informative)

    by jo_ham ( 604554 ) <joham999@ g m a> on Saturday April 12, 2014 @09:58AM (#46733155)

    It's actually vastly, vastly, vastly underpriced and underfunded.

    It is an absolute disgrace that fusion power hasn't seen the funding necessary to succeed given the importance of energy to modern civilisation.

    ITER is a necessary step in the chain to produce working fusion power plants. It's amazing they've come this far while being funded with what amounts to hunting for pennies in vending machine coin return trays.

    Here's a picture that paints a thousand words that makes the laughable troll headline of "skyrocketing" cost for ITER make the idiot who wrote it seem like he has trouble tying his own shoes: []

    Also note the scale on the y axis, and remember that the annual cost of the air conditioning the troops in Afghanistan is $20 billion.

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton