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back to article Fusion reactor eats Euro science budgets

More than a billion euros will be channeled to the astronomically over-budget ITER fusion reactor rather than to a broad range of needy European research projects. "This will not make us friends," one senior fusion boffin, who declined to be identified, confessed to Nature, which reported the research-funding switcheroo. The …

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Happy

They better try harder than a tokomak

That LHC dial on 11 - can it chuck hydrogen into boron? Now that would be a coool test!

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Scientific solutions

Obviously the ITER guys need to get the LHC folks to put the Higgs Boson on hiatus for a while and start focusing on that turning lead into gold problem.

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Anonymous Coward

You can do it, and it has been done

in a nuclear reactor.

Unfortunately, it's bloody expensive- the amount of gold you produce doesn't pay for the energy and feedstock materials.

It would be interesting to see what ITER could do if you fired stuff from the LHC into it. If it did more than nothing but less than blow up dramatically, it could be useful!

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Boffin

Spend it on cold fusion instead

It's a lot cheaper and stands at least as much chance of working, if recent results are anything to go by:

http://www.eetimes.com/news/latest/showArticle.jhtml?articleID=216200272

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Fire up the fusor

Philo T Farnsworth's fusor has been around with modifications for about fifty years now. Unlike cold fusion where the results are still disputed it does produce reproducible results. They're also relatively cheap to build (you can make one at home if you don't mind irradiating the cat with fast neutrons), so it looks like a technology that should be investigated seriously:

http://www.fusor.net/

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Re : Fire up the fusor

Rubbish !

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Polywell

Bussard's Polywell looks like the Fusor done right:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polywell

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Re : Polywell

Most of these 'references' seem more akin to religion than science

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Anonymous Coward

I have every confidence in the ITER project

and fully believe that at its conclusion cheap, reliable fusion power will still be a mere 10-15 years away

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Boffin

the modern philosopher's stone

According to my great-uncle, who gave presentation of the great future of fusion in the fifties: fusion is the modern philosopher's stone

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aaaah, the fifties. But then again...

In the fifties your great-whatsisface probably thought that we would have flying cars and non-cretinous managers and democracy in the US by now. All things that we all know will have to wait for waayyy longer than cheap commercial fusion.

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Go for it

As much as it is a shame to nick funds from other science projects, I believe there are few other things more needed right now than the clean cheap power that fusion will bring.

Anything that advances its development has to be worth the extra cash.

There are enough horror stories of huge budgets going to waste all over the place, at least this one is going to a decent cause

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When they crack commercial fusion though

It's going to make an immediate and massive difference to the world. I mean OK, so it's not a renewable resource, but it is a fuel so abundant that it's the most common matter in the universe.

I've always been a fan of funding fusion research though, you can do nearly anything with enough energy and this could one day give us one hell of a lot of energy,

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Jobs Horns

Not going to get any cheaper!

When do you ever hear of scientific research like this ever getting cheaper?

The sooner money is spent on projects like this, the closer we will be to either: 1) benefitting from cheaper cleaner energy; or 2) know that it's an impossible dream not worth chasing.

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Stop

Which is likelier?:

... that a scientist who has built a career on nuclear fusion is going to say "We can do it, we're only 15-20 years away now, just keep feeding us the cash."

... or that she's going to say "It's an impossible dream not worth chasing. It's very sad, but there you have it. Might as well sack us all now."

So while you're right - that this will never get any cheaper - we have to face the fact that no scientist, except possibly one who's on the verge of retirement, is *ever* going to issue the second of these two statements. So after >30 years of, basically, zero-rate progress, how does it make sense for us to continue writing blank cheques to these scientists? Perhaps it's time to grow up and realise that we have to draw assumption #2 ourselves.

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Waste

12 Billion is alot of cash, and any benefits - even if the experiment is successful - will be still 50 years off.

Also the research funding comes from all over Europe, and was to be spent all over Europe - but now - once again it will all be spent on a small region of France.

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Grenade

hey A/C

the Dail Wail is calling your back to the editorial department....

Euro waste, bloody foreigners....

Chances are they are scientists, construction workers, designers, engineers from all over europe working on this, just as they were / are on the LHC.

Or would you prefer the money being spent on big British projects, say the Olympics, employing nothing but ENGERLISH workers...Oh wait....

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Pint

Wow

Makes the LHC look cheap, with only 7 billions Euros or so...

But what wouldn't we do to support the economy?

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Cheap energy means a lot.

Cheap power means you have cracked a lot of other issues.

You can grow food in green houses with grow lamps/leds.

You have energy to make steel and other materials that you use in building shelters.

You have cheap energy to heat/cool homes.

You have cheap energy that will lead to space exploration of our solar system and then potentially our galaxy.

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Cheap?

Even if Fusion is cracked, then it's extremely unlikely it will be cheap. If it's anything like current design ideas the capital costs of any fusion power stations will be absolutely enormous. The costs of this would have to be amortised over the useful lifetime of the generator and that will not be an indefinite period. Any fusion reactor satruae with neutrons will eventually need replacement. Even the more conventional parts of a such a power station (turbines, generators, distribution and the like) still have a significant cost, although they are likely to be a fraction of the costs of nuclear parts.

The best that can be said is the energy supply will (to all intents an purposes) be unlimited as we are not going to run out of deuterium. However, it's difficult to see how it will ever be cheap without an, as yet, completely new technology.

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@Waste

> once again it will all be spent on a small region of France.

No experience of ITER but the waste on most of these projects that I have worked on is because it ISN'T all spent in one region.

Because all the spending gets pork barrelled back in proportion to each country's contributions you get different pieces of equipment doing identical jobs developed separately in different countries by different companies.

Innevitably one of them doesn't work as well, so the better supplier ends up being paid to build a replacement for the second out of the spares budget - this means each bit of kit costs 2x as much as if you just let the best supplier build it.

It's like being forced to build and support every app in Java and C# so that both Sun and MS will vote for it.

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Nice analogy

[see title]

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Not that much really...

I wish the US had spend the trillion dollars we've blown invading Iraq on fusion power. I think longer term, it would have been a much better investment.

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Unhappy

Achilleas Mitsos?

Is he Greek? Did he receive his pension at 55?

Now that he is an OAP, he tells us that ITER is expensive?

Thank you Mr. Mitsos!

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Well that's research...

So a reactor that might open the way to groundbreaking scientific progress costs about the price of a useless fighterplane, or a fraction of a useless unarmed warship. Preposterous. Hang'em short and high!

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Go

Nothing wrong with fusion

As long as you know it's like rubbing sticks together then you’re fine.

OK its very small hydrogen sticks that really don't want to be rubbed together and need to be very hot,

But we have the technology and it's about fucking time we perfected it.

It isn't like we ever failed to perfect anything else if we could be arsed.

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Hmmm they need $1.4 billion

How much did saving Northern Rock cost us?

What are the overruns on the NHS Spine?

How much for one of BAE's crappy frigates/submarines/Nimrods?

The UK, even in its current financial state could afford this and be seen as a visionary.

But we won't.

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Boffin

Many of the world's problems...

... could be solved or mitigated by the availability of truly cheap power, so whilst it's a shame that other research projects may have to be put on hold, I think that putting the money into fusion is worthwhile.

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Not fully funded by Europe

Europe contirbutes less than 50% of the funding for ITER. So in reality, that little corner of France is attracting significant non European invertment which will create many European jobs and generate tax revenue to prop up your ailing economies.

Also, if it works it will be the single most important thing that has happened to the human race for a long long time.

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FAIL

We will NEVER have cheap power

Does anybody seriously expect governments/power companies to actually reduce bills even if generation costs drastically drop?

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must have funds

The troubling part is that the project went this much over budget. But, now that so much money has been spent, suddenly not renewing the funding would be insane - you have a massive initial investment that would go down the toilet. It'd be like buying a car, finding out it has a bad battery, and refusing to get a new battery because it costs too much.

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a

Going over budget has many reasons here, largely because of delays in the money being made available has lead to large increases in the raw materials cost (particularly copper, which ITER needs a lot of). If it had been built when originally planned at the original design of pre-1998 then it would be less of a problem.

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Flame

What If Merkin Lazer ?

If this were a merkin project to develop a new laser to evaporate someone's balls at 200 miles (not those wicked SI kilometers of course) distance ?

That would be a great project worth 100 billions, naturally !

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Joke

Cheap at twice the price

Now that the ID card scheme has been cancelled, and CfH is being scaled back, the UK should easily be able to afford this out of the cost overruns that those two projects would have had...

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Economic Break-Even

So suppose that ITER produces more energy than it consumes, the so-called Holy Grail "break even" point with fusion. If it costs $15b to build, then I have serious doubts as to whether we can ever make this stuff work in a cost-competitive fashion. Remember, nuclear fission can last us a VERY long time.

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(Thorium) Breeders

..could help with that. We already had the tech running here in Germany, but the soviet's incompetence in running THEIR power stations killed it.

It was called "Thorium Hochtemperatur Reaktor" and was operating in Hamm-Uenntrop, generating 300MWe.

Thorium would last for 5000 years at current energy consumption levels.

And in addition, we could breed U238 into Pu239. The french had their SuperPhenix reactor doing that, but it proved to be politically inconvenient (even the frenchies have their Green Plague) and also very expensive.

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Oh really ?

$15Bn is buttons in the energy industry.

That cost is for a scientific proving version of the technology, not a commercial version. If history has taught us nothing else when it comes to science, the first time you do something is the hardest and invariably most expensive.

It's also only a low multiple of the cost GM spent on building a hydrogen-cell powered car.

It's about the same cost that ID cards in the UK were thought to have ended up costing.

The current shortfall (€1.4Bn) is about the same as NASA spent on building the lunar rover 40 years ago.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: (Thorium) Breeders

What a joke! Thorium is what everyone will turn to when the uranium runs out, but it's not a fundamental shift. If fusion is mastered, the only thing that conventional fission technology can contribute is the know-how around materials science, dealing with lots of neutrons, and stuff like that.

And Superphénix and Dounreay weren't cancelled because of "political inconvenience" - there were serious operational problems with both of them.

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Joke

But fuion *already* produces

An inexhaustible supply of PhD's in Plasma Physics.

Oh you want it to produce more electricity than it consumes.

That's going to cost a bit more.

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Polywell

ITER is more a political activity rather than a scientific endeavor, its also one of the least promising approaches to fusion currently being researched. an awful lot of scientific careers are attached to ITER and its incredibly embarrassing that fundamental technical issues such as confinement still remain unsolved. Its a turkey.

Bussard's take on the Fusor, Polywell, is looking exceedingly promising and is being funded by the US Navy, next year for the next set of results. EMC2 are looking towards commercializing the technology and seeking funding to do so. Its a more promising approach on a quicker path than ITER with a considerably lower cost.

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Neutrons

> its incredibly embarrassing that fundamental technical issues such as confinement still remain unsolved.

More importantly, what do they propose doing with all those high-energy neutrons bombarding the sides of the reactor, day-in, day-out? When the tiny JET reactor fired up for less than one minute, didn't it make the vessel so radioactive that it couldn't be opened for a week?

ISTM that even if fusion works it will be far dirtier than any fission reactor. So why waste money trying to make it work in the first place?

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re: Neutrons

If the tokamak is running continuously it won't need to be opened :P

Confinement and blanket material to shield the reactor are challenging, thus, this is a test reactor, to create and refine the technologies needed to produce power from fusion.

What makes you say it'll be far dirtier than a fission reactor? Non radioactive fuels, non radioactive fuel waste, radioactive segments in machine (but then doesn't a fission reactor have, oh, i dunno, the same problem)

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no

"When the tiny JET reactor fired up for less than one minute, didn't it make the vessel so radioactive that it couldn't be opened for a week?"

No. You obviously don't have a clue.

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FAIL

Indeed

If it was safe to open only after a week, then may I suggest any radioactivity had a very short half-life and therefore not actually a practical problem.

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wind, wave and solar

We've already got an excellent and relatively stable fusion reactor at a safe distance likely to burn for a few billion years called the Sun. Putting a fraction of this budget into research for better methods of harnessing the Sun's output either directly (solar) or indirectly (wind and wave) would get much better and more immediately useful results. Good fun to be able to start up your own fusion reactor for sure, and certainly worth spending a few bob on, but being able to mass produce them and being able to get the energy out of such systems at a sensible cost is likely to be another story.

So what are the budgets for research into more probable renewable means of harnessing Sun energy outputs in comparison ?

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In Germany

...much more than 15 billion Euros is already being invested in Solar Power and all it did was driving up leccy prices dramatically, because utilities are required to buy it at excessive prices.

It's not for trying, but the "renewables" are only there because the government mandates them (effectively). If you put a panel on the roof you get between 25 and 40 eurocent/kWh. Now have a look at your bill and don't forget that for each kWh of solar you need a kWh of Gas or Coal or Water to back it up in case - the sun doesn't shine !

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Boffin

Inefficient on Earth.

The only place where Solar energy is actually efficient is in Space, where you get the full juice without an atmosphere blocking it, no day/night cycles, and no bad weather to screw up the power output level. There is one project working on Space Solar stuff, though; it involves sending the harnessed energy as targeted microwaves to the surface.

For Earth-based stuff, Fusion is the only thing that will be able to keep up with our power requirements.

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Unhappy

A vital pursuit

We need to accept that our current civilisation will run out of power unless a new source is found - Renewables are not enough for the levels of consumption we have and the other sources are finite and running low.

Moreover, if our civilisation should falter, we've raided the larder to such an extent that it would be impossible for a fledgling industrial civilisation to easily get started again - can you imagine the victorians managing to successfully drill a deep water well?

So anyway, our current civilisation is probably the last chance we have and it needs power. So really we should put all the money into power research that we can instead of using it to shoot at people who bicker over religions..

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Anonymous Coward

It wouldn't be that hard to change the levels of consumption

It has been demonstrated several times that it is possible to build a house so well insulated that it never requires heating, even in northern Scandinavia. There are plenty of opportunities to reduce energy waste in transport. Therefore, it is not inevitable that power consumption has to increase.

I'm not opposed to research into new ways of generating power, but research into ways of saving power is probably more important, and more likely to give results in the short/medium term than fusion.

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Support this

If there were any more deserving project, please let us all know. I can't think of one.

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