back to article US reactor breaks fusion record – then runs out of cash and shuts down

In a tale that tells you all you need to know about the parlous state of American science, a fusion reactor has broken plasma-handling records in the last few days before losing its funding. The Alcator C-Mod tokamak nuclear fusion reactor, run for the past 23 years by MIT's Plasma Science and Fusion Center, managed to contain …

Page:

  1. Adrian Midgley 1

    What is its maximum performance?

    Great that it set the record, but the requirement is a lot more than that, no?

    Time for a bigger newer machine.

    1. Mikel

      Re: What is its maximum performance?

      Bigger? Ironically, the answer is smaller.

      1. ToddR

        Re: What is its maximum performance?

        No the answer is much much bigger

        1. Doctor_Wibble

          Re: What is its maximum performance?

          That sort of remark always reminds me of a secondary scene going on in the background,the director losing his rag at the SFX guy, "Bigger! What part of 'bigger!' do you not understand?!?!?"...

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: What is its maximum performance?

          "No the answer is much much bigger"

          And, you so wittily point out the core of the problem here: Fusion *RESEARCH* is being paid for. NOT Fusion reactor designs that make electric power and make money for investors.

          Just pointing THAT out, too...

          (you get what you pay for)

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

    3. Rich 11 Silver badge

      Re: What is its maximum performance?

      Great that it set the record, but the requirement is a lot more than that, no?

      Not that much, at least in one sense. A pressure of 2.05 bar is most of the way there, since a self-sustaining reaction is possible at somewhere between 3 and 10 bar (depending upon design). Whether they'd reached their design limits or not, I don't know.

  2. Mikel

    Too close

    You know they were getting too close.

  3. DNTP

    Decommissioning

    The tokamak's gettin' took!

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Why spend billions?

    High densities of hot plasmas more than sufficient to generate sustainable fusion reactions are achieved almost daily in parliaments and other government circles. May as well put all this hot air to good use for once no?

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Why spend billions?

      I don't know. The favored method (favored by me in my daydreams) of extracting energy from a politician is burning at the stake, and I don't think those are the kind of temperatures they're looking for. But - experiment by all means. Can we donate some of the USA variety for the cause? They have proven to be exceptionally productive gas emitters.

      1. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

        Re: Why spend billions?

        We definitely have plenty and it would improve the human race in so many ways.

      2. h4rm0ny

        Re: Why spend billions?

        Better approach is to attach the politicians to a pulley and crank and then place them near to sum of money, preferably in a plain brown envelope. You can then extract energy from the continuous attraction of the politician towards the cash. N.b. Use Tory or New Labour politicians for greatest efficacy. Under no circumstances uses UKIP members as they degrade the money pile through a process known as Brexitation.

      3. Rich 11 Silver badge

        Re: Why spend billions?

        They have proven to be exceptionally productive gas emitters.

        It's the gas which is part of the problem in using them for fuel. They're net CO2 emitters. They'd have to be scrubbed after combustion and -- just to be on the safe side -- beforehand too, preferably with a wire brush and caustic soda.

      4. PNGuinn Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Why spend billions? @ Etatdame

        As a Brit I'll back you on that one, on one condition.

        Take ours as well. Please.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Why spend billions? @ Etatdame

          "Take ours as well. Please."

          That seems perilously close to something Twain is supposed to have said: "Earned a precarious living by taking in one another's washing"

          But I'd consider two for one - our two.

          I'm making a list.

    3. Doctor_Wibble
      Trollface

      Paper-Fuelled Power Station, was Re: Why spend billions?

      The only reason they don't just burn the money directly and generate power off that is because this way looks more impressive and has lots of jobs involved.

      Also, this is a cunning way of making sure you have something ready to explode in the man-made black hole if the people at CERN break the terms of their contracts and succeed.

      The locations of these projects are not by accident - a sufficient land mass and body of water separates them, without being suspiciously close to exact opposite sides of the world. Check the map, you know it's true.

      1. Doctor_Wibble
        Unhappy

        poor judgement of crowd or wrong icon

        That sucks. I had hoped the non-seriousness would have been obvious, but I guess not.

        I'll just go and sulk I think...

    4. PNGuinn Silver badge
      Go

      Re: Why spend billions?

      "High densities of hot plasmas more than sufficient to generate sustainable fusion reactions are achieved almost daily in parliaments and other government circles. May as well put all this hot air to good use for once no?"

      Yes, that'd likely work very successfully, but I can think of at least 2 unsolvable drawbacks:

      1. What can you do to prevent some totally random event causing a major energy spike and such a vast destructive thermal runaway ...

      2. What do you do about the inevitable vast quantities of toxic waste the process would produce?

      On the other hand, looking on the bright side, 1. might solve another of humanity's more intractable problems. Let's go for it.

  5. Nolveys Silver badge
    Meh

    The (ITER) facility will now cost over $15bn and won't be operational until the next decade...

    What a waste of money, they should reallocate it to cover almost a whole percentage point of the F-35 project costs. Or use it to cover 0.01% of the money the US has shoveled into the banking sector.

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Well, a small bipartisan land war on the eurasian landmass that "will pay for itself" would pay for 200 over-budget ITERs. There is not enough place in France to put them all there though.

      1. elDog Silver badge

        If the F35 could fly reliably,

        We could drop a few billion$ on whatever landmass we want to conquer. Unfortunately, we'll probably have to use B29/52s and heavy metal reactors.

        I guess this is a total non-sequitor, but it certainly seems stooooopid that the richest country currently on earth can't get behind true research, LHC, ITER, cancer, genome, global warming. They all have an Issa's chance of a snowball in hell.

        1. Crazy Operations Guy

          "richest country currently on earth can't get behind true research"

          What are you on about? China is throwing billions into Fusion research as both part of ITER as well as home-grown CFETR tokamak. Then there are all the various fission-power research projects, not to mention being the largest contributor to the field of clean-technologies. China is also home to the greatest number of super-computers (Including #1 and #2). China also has the highest STEM scores in the world across the board. R&D spending is growing faster than any other country and will be greater in both terms of raw spending and even percentage of GDP of any nation in the world by 2022.

          1. cray74 Silver badge

            Re: "richest country currently on earth can't get behind true research"

            What are you on about? China is ...

            ...not the richest country on Earth and won't be until the late 2020s, barring a correction in its economy.

            China does, however, have a wiser R&D investment strategy than the richest country on Earth.

            1. d3vy Silver badge

              Re: "richest country currently on earth can't get behind true research"

              "...not the richest country on Earth and won't be until the late 2020s, barring a correction in its economy."

              ...Or you know... a certain bewigged politician trashing the US economy.

            2. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

              Re: "richest country currently on earth can't get behind true research"

              China does, however, have a wiser R&D investment strategy than the richest country on Earth.

              Indeed. Although given the volume of treasure notes held by Chinese it is quite possible that one and the other are the same. Not really sure either way ...

    2. Mikel

      What a waste of money

      Money is a philosophical abstract. The trick to it is to understand this basic concept: it has no more power than you give it.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: What a waste of money

        It pays the bills though.

        One should also not confuse the toilet paper "money" like EUR/USD/GBP under control of bureaucrats and establishment sycophants, named and unnamed, and actual money backed by ... solid amounts of refined uranium for example.

        1. cray74 Silver badge

          Re: What a waste of money

          actual money backed by ... solid amounts of refined uranium for example.

          There are several problems with money backed by uranium, gold, or something else tangible.

          First, most candidate substances are subject to market supply and demand just like paper money. Look at gold and uranium prices over the past 20 years. They bounce all over the place, which is not what you want for a stable monetary system. You could try to fix the value of the underlying commodity, but that just leads to opportunities for abuse by other nations. Venezuela is offering a gruesome case study of price fixing and monetary controls.

          Second, pegging money to a substance with a restricted supply is a perfect recipe for triggering depressions due to monetary shortages. It's hard for a thriving economy to grow when you don't have enough money to represent that growth because you can't find enough shiny or radioactive minerals in the ground.

          Which leads to the third point: the candidate substances are divorced from the majority of the economy. You're asking the market to accept that some shiny, radioactive, or other rare substance to be a metaphor for the sweat, labor, skill, and effort of people in a global economy increasingly dominated by the service industry, just like fiat paper or digital monies do. The difference is that a gold- or uranium-backed money supply isn't controllable in an economic crisis. There might not be enough of it, there might be too much, or the underlying substance might be devalued by a market crash or technological change (e.g., tree huggers outlaw nuclear plants).

          1. YumDogfood

            Re: What a waste of money

            Problems? Oh, I don't know about that...

            http://www.larryniven.net/stories/roentgen.shtml

      2. Afernie

        Re: What a waste of money

        "Money is a philosophical abstract. The trick to it is to understand this basic concept: it has no more power than you give it."

        I expect if you explain that to your landlord/mortgage provider they'll be very understanding.

  6. Len Goddard

    120 years away?

    I have 40+ year old books promising fusion reactors in 25 years. It stayed 25 years for decades. I might last another 25 years but 120 is pushing it. Come on, guys, get your fingers out!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 120 years away?

      So... Fusion reactors will show up what, 5 years, after we exhaust IPv4?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 120 years away?

        > Fusion reactors will show up what, 5 years, after we exhaust IPv4?

        Nah. The world only needs 3 IP addresses: one for Google, one for Facebook, and one to NAT the rest of the planet behind.

        1. theblackhand

          Re: 120 years away?

          Re: Nah. The world only needs 3 IP addresses: one for Google, one for Facebook, and one to NAT the rest of the planet behind.

          TIME_WAIT.....

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: 120 years away?

        And 2 months later, someone will find a way to miniaturize it and strap to his chest in a "prosthetic" suit of armor.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 120 years away?

      Well commercial fusion power is likely 5 to 25 years after an experimental reactor succeeds. That experimental reactor may succeed in generating sustainable power tomorrow or ten thousand years from now.

      On the other hand the reward of achieving fusion power are so unimaginably astronomical (it means an end to scarcity as with practically limitless energy you can do wild things at an atomic and sub atomic level) that it's well worth pouring hundreds of billions into every year on the off chance that that year is the year someone cracks it.

      1. Paul Smith

        Re: 120 years away?

        Sadly, no. Did you not read the article? They have achieved fusion power. It just took 1.4 million amps of power generated by something else to generate fusion power for two seconds.

  7. streaky Silver badge
    Facepalm

    ITER..

    There are advances being made that make ITER look like a bit of a silly investment. Argument behind ITER is you had to go big because of the technologies at the time, but the technologies have moved on since ITER was outline-designed and the project hasn't really changed in scope to accommodate. There are various alternative projects that look sensible taking into account of those advances. ARC at MIT is one of them. Still not sure it's a good idea to kill ITER though, it wasn't a commercial demonstrator anyway and will still fill various gaps in knowledge; it might be too late to pull the plug now and it's still not clear that we even should so it will live on.

    1. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

      Re: ITER..

      Nice presentation there, thanks!

    2. Filippo

      Re: ITER..

      Interesting. Nevertheless, the key thing to understand about basic research is that you do not know what comes out of it. Anything that's not patently stupid, and ITER, is worth pursuing; it might be pointless, but it might also be the only way to do something amazing, and you can't know until you try. Even the stuff that's patently stupid is at least worth the effort of debunking. Always remember that there was a time *electricity* was considered a useless novelty.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dead End

    TOKAMAC and the MIT approach to fusion have pretty much proven to be a dead end.

    MIT has had their incremental press releases periodically throughout the years, but they really are pretty much where they were at the beginning.

    Perhaps ITER will be more successful, but bar a major discovery not currently on the agenda - I have my doubts.

    *I always think you should have a major discovery on the agenda: "And a miracle occurs at this point in the process."

    1. streaky Silver badge

      Re: Dead End

      You know you're wrong, right? Expensive yes, too expensive.. possibly, probably not.. Dead end? No.

      1. Danny 14 Silver badge

        Re: Dead End

        The MIT tokamak might not have been a leap to commercial hrade production but it was a leap to greater understanding

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Dead End

          Yes, I won't argue with that.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Dead End

        "You know you're wrong, right?"

        Sometimes I'm wrong, sometimes I know it - but it's never a one-to-one correlation.

        Barring an unforeseen breakthrough, I doubt continuing to go down that path will ever yield anything besides more incremental improvements.

        But as you say......

        1. streaky Silver badge

          Re: Dead End

          Barring an unforeseen breakthrough, I doubt continuing to go down that path will ever yield anything besides more incremental improvements.

          It's supposed to yield what it's supposed to yield. Fusion is a thing. Fusion reactors are a thing. Making fusion reactors produce more energy than they consume is a difficult thing. It's supposed to be there to narrow down designs for the demonstration commercial reactor which is in early designs phase.

          It's like people that say ISS isn't a thing despite it constantly changing our understanding of everything from medicine to space flight to nutrition in a way we couldn't possibly ever hope to replicate without the existence of the ISS.

          Fusion hasn't even really been a long time coming in terms of timeline and actual engineering science.

  9. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    Okay, to paraphrase one of my own posts from a different thread: I'll be riding to my paperless office in a fusion-powered, self-driving car.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      @ allthecoolshortnamesweretaken

      Ahh, still having to go to the office, are we?

Page:

POST COMMENT House rules

Not a member of The Register? Create a new account here.

  • Enter your comment

  • Add an icon

Anonymous cowards cannot choose their icon

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2019