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Power The Almighty Buck Science Technology

Princeton Nuclear Fusion Reactor Will Run Again 147

mdsolar writes with good news for the National Spherical Torus Experiment. Tucked away from major roadways and nestled amid more than 80 acres of forest sits a massive warehouse-like building where inside, a device that can produce temperatures hotter than the sun has sat cold and quiet for more than two years. But the wait is almost over for the nuclear fusion reactor to get back up and running at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. "We're very excited and we're all anxious to turn that machine back on," said Adam Cohen, deputy director for operations at PPPL. The National Spherical Torus Experiment (NSTX) has been shut down since 2012 as it underwent a $94 million upgrade that will make it what officials say will be the most powerful fusion facility of its kind in the world. It is expected to be ready for operations in late winter or early spring, Cohen said.
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Princeton Nuclear Fusion Reactor Will Run Again

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  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @09:10AM (#47746915) Homepage Journal

    And here is that cynicism personified. Notice how anonymous coward here doesn't mention any sort of concrete goals he thinks should have been met, and haven't. Notice how he talks about a money pit, but doesn't talk about allocation. It always always always reads as repeating complaints you've heard somewhere else.

    Tell me, how much slippage on the NIF timeline would be too much? Or ITER? What scientific results do you think have been unsatisfactory?

  • by SJHillman ( 1966756 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @09:28AM (#47747045)

    Isn't that true of pretty much every technology that's still in the development stage? There was a time when microprocessors weren't worth the materials they were made with, but they seem to have paid off in the long run. If we can get fusion to pay off, the benefits could potentially far outweigh what we've gotten from the microprocessor.

  • Re:mdsolar again (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jgtg32a ( 1173373 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @09:34AM (#47747081)
    I think you forgot to change accounts before posting.
  • by LordKronos ( 470910 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @09:35AM (#47747089)

    We've been chasing the mythical beast of fusion for decades and are not any closer to it this century than we were last century.

    First, I think you are wrong. There has been a lot of progress, and although were are not yet CLOSE, we are CLOSER.

    That said, how many hundreds of years did man spend trying to learn how to fly? Guess we should have given up on that pursuit a few hundred years ago.

  • by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @09:38AM (#47747109) Homepage Journal

    And, yes, it is a false dichotomy to say we can only fund one. But the other reality is that we have only so much money for the sciences and one dollar spent on one project is one not spent on the other.

    Of all major industries, energy has the smallest percentage total revenue directed to funding research. That's already hinting at a problem.

    And there's the fact that a fuckton of that is going to "exploration", i.e. finding more fossil fuels we don't really need.

    Solar is good. Solar is wonderful. Solar has legitimate problems too. You seem to be perfectly willing to sell out the long term future for the medium term, which is the weirdest case of short-sightedness I've ever seen.

  • by Andy Dodd ( 701 ) <atd7.cornell@edu> on Monday August 25, 2014 @09:51AM (#47747225) Homepage

    Many of the delays in fusion research can be attributed directly to inconsistent funding.

    If you keep on yanking money and then giving it back again, you're going to get FAR less productivity during the funded periods than if there were continuous funding.

  • by meta-monkey ( 321000 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @11:51AM (#47748417) Journal

    And it's insane when you compare fusion research funding to military spending in general, or what we spent on the Iraq war specifically. If we'd spent a fraction of those amounts on energy God. It's not for sure that throwing money at energy research will solve all our problems, but come on, our society runs on energy, and the cheap energy we got from long-chain hydrocarbons is never coming back.

    When I think about threats to the future of stable society, lack of cheap energy is #1. If I were a conspiracy theorist, I would have all kinds of interesting ideas as to why the government isn't pumping more money into solving this problem.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2014 @11:56AM (#47748461)

    Really? The vacuum tube was invented in 1907. The FET transistor was invented in 1925. Thee point-contact transistor in 1947. The first 'high frequency' one in 1953 (60Hz). Digital computers appearing in the 40s but with mechanical equivalents decades earlier.

    The first microprocessor wasn't until 1968.

    And the power of those first ones was still limited - hence you needed rooms full of them to be able to do a modest amount of 'useful' work, such that the smallest school calculator now is more powerful than the most powerful computer in the world at that time. Most of what we would consider 'useful' now has only possible in the past couple of decades.

    So really... they weren't in development for decades before they were useful???

    Besides, fusion is a little different to compare - the transistors and early microprocessors weren't useful for much, but were useful for some specific tasks so we got immediate gains while still during their development. Fusion requires you to hit reach a special point of development before it becomes useful - where you generate more power than you consume. Until that point it's not useful yet because you're running at a loss.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 25, 2014 @12:02PM (#47748523)

    And how much of that is precisely because we keep cutting funding or simply not devoting the resources that could make it viable in, say, 20 years? No, fusion is seen as a long-term investment so there's every incentive to make long-term funding decisions that seen no reason to get a result in 20 years vs 60 years if it means spending three times as much (at least) in 20 years. That it creates some sort of morale problem seems to be missed or ignored

    Exactly. []

    Break ground in 2008, 5 years before construction begins (2013), another 2 before assembly of the reactor (2015), 4 more years before commissioning (2019), and only starting full operations in 2027. That's 19 years. It should not take 7 years simply to build the building that will house the reactor, unless money is so tight that they have to pull money out of multi-year budgets. If you throw enough funding at it they should easily be able to go from breaking ground to first plasma in a fifth of the time their roadmap shows. The building that takes 7 years to build should be able to go up in 3 months easily.

  • by Zalbik ( 308903 ) on Monday August 25, 2014 @01:10PM (#47749165)

    How come no one mentions that the world's most powerful fusion reactor consumes more energy than it produces?

    The first airplane only flew 120 feet. Clearly air travel should never have been researched after such an abysmal failure in one of the first attempts.

Perfection is acheived only on the point of collapse. - C. N. Parkinson