back to article Hotter than the Sun: JET – Earth’s biggest fusion reactor, in Culham

I’m in a room that, in normal circumstances, is not fit for human habitation. It features a number of big red buttons surrounded by illuminated yellow rings – just in case. “Push button to switch off Jet. Press only in case of extreme emergency,” the signs read, informatively. This is the Torus Hall, a 40,000m3 space the size …

  1. Ralph the Wonder Llama
    Joke

    "Demo"?

    What could possibly go wrong?

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Alien

      Re: "Demo"?

      Dunno try asking Dr Freeman

    2. Nick Ryan Silver badge

      Re: "Demo"?

      When I first went there in the early 1990s there was a fair bit of humour and caution about the place.

      Put simply, if there is a serious plasma breach at running temperatures then the plasma was not going to stop for much - walls, buildings people. The humour at the time revolved around how fast you could run and whether or not you thought suddenly becoming religous would be a good idea or not.

      1. Yes Me Silver badge

        Re: "Demo"?

        Yes, but the main point is that after such an event, all fusion would stop dead as the plasma dissipates: exactly the opposite of a hydrogen bomb. So people very nearby would be fried, but neither explosive power nor radiation would be an issue outside the site.

        I was there while JET was being built. They pointed out that the safest place to stand when JET was running would be right outside the concrete containment building with your back to the wall. Radiation from JET would be negligible and you would be protected from half the normal dose of cosmic rays.

        I'll refrain from my Brexit rant for today...

  2. bombastic bob Silver badge
    Devil

    scaling up is the answer?

    seems like "bigger" is better for tokomak, as far as efficiency goes.

    I wish them luck, though I have my doubts about the practicality of using a scaled up tokomak to get 500MW out of 50MW of laser+microwave+whatever.

    Keep in mind, that the thermal efficiency of a power plant might be 20-25%. So in theory, the 500MW (thermal) plant is generating only about 25% of that as electricity. Then 10% would be required to sustain the fusion reaction, leaving 10-15% for powering light bulbs and computers etc.

    it's all about the physical capabilities of devices (assume steam system) that can turn thermal energy into electricity. Because we're dealing with the limits of known materials, you probably won't go over 1200 psi, or about 550 deg F (as I recall). The carnot efficiency at that temperature is around 30% as I recall, meaning practical efficiency is a bit lower, hence the 20-25% number [which is a ballpark guess, I've been out of the power generating world for quite some time].

    I can't think of a more practical way to turn gamma+neutron radiation into power than a steam system. Maybe someone has come up with a better way, but water absorbs radiation really well, and if you have THAT much, then all of that energy needs to be absorbed and turned into "something" that can become electricity.

    So you've got ginormous "gamma panels" that are like solar panels? 20% efficiency I think, is the best you can do. So not much better, and they're more expensive and more environmentally 'unfriendly' from all of the toxic materials you'll need to make them.

    Anyway, steam is the most practical approach to make 'trons' out of 'gammas'. So we're looking at HALF of the electicity going back into the plant.

    I'm not complaining so much about that, as pointing out the gross inefficiencies of the tokomak design. Not saying "don't bother making them". I'd love to spend 99 watts to get 1 usable watt out of fusion energy. But let's be realistic and manage expectations a bit, too.

    Tokomak is probably not the best method to use in order to get fusion power to work. There are better methods, and some of them are very very interesting. I think that maybe so much money has gone into Toikomak designs that someone out there wants to see a payoff, one way or another, dammit, and there better be SOMETHING or there's HELL to pay!

    Or something like that.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Pint

      Re: scaling up is the answer?

      @ bombastic bob

      Incontrovertibly you know so much better than these scientists, so why are you not running this project?

      Just saying.

      Beer, because it is Monday so any excuse.

      Cheers… Ishy

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: scaling up is the answer?

        I think the real scientists will get confused by the medieval units of measurement.

      2. Daedalus Silver badge

        Re: scaling up is the answer?

        "Incontrovertibly you know so much better than these scientists, so why are you not running this project?"

        Well, on the one hand there's a certainty that some version of fusion can eventually produce useful energy. We're just not sure when we'll get to it.

        The whole thing has been sold on the idea of "harnessing the power of the Sun", but it turns out that the Sun generates net energy at about the same rate, per cubic metre, as a compost heap. Less indeed than a human body (100 W per person). This explains the use of deuterium and tritium: plain old hydrogen is NBG for our purposes because it won't fuse fast enough. The reaction time for two protons becoming deuterium is on the order of a billion years. The Sun has jillions of protons to work with, so it generates enough energy to warm our planet. To get a useful reactor, we need to use the rarer isotopes of hydrogen and up the reaction temperature by a lot. Eventually, maybe, we'll have a useful reactor that's smaller than, say, a skyscraper.

        Maybe.

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: scaling up is the answer?

          Scaling is nearly always more efficient in production. But more costly in deployment/construction. You do get diminishing returns in most systems though. Sometimes it also depends on what you mean by "bigger", is 100 size 1 units bigger or smaller than 1 unit of size 100?

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: scaling up is the answer?

          "Eventually, maybe, we'll have a useful reactor that's smaller than, say, a skyscraper."

          Skyscraper sized - if we stick with Tokomak, yes, could be.

          But of course, they SHOULD do it. At least one. As a proof of concept.

          Like the first 'general use' computer, which was ginormous and had to be programmed by re-wiring it. That wouldn't be the specialized 'Collossus' machine developed by Turing and the Bletchley Park group [I don't know how that one was programmed, exactly] which was not 'general purpose', but still pretty damn good at the time. I think the first 'general use' computer was Eniac, which had to be re-wired to re-program it. And it was ginormous. That's the point.

          As for my preference, there's a design that's based on keeping the plasma flow all at the same velocity, that twists and turns in somewhat unusual ways, producing a 'ribbon' effect as I recall. I can't remember what it is called, though...

          And there are other possibilities with 'linear' rather than 'cyclic' accelerators.

          And I don't know if they're at least looking into RESONANCE ENERGIES and other physical effects to assist with the fusion process. A linear system could employ something similar to a 'travelling wave tube' to bunch the protons/deuterons together at ideal energy levels, as one example. It would be a type of 'resonance confinement'.

          Anyway you'd think they'd be talking about this stuff if it were being done, right?

          1. Mike Pellatt

            Re: scaling up is the answer?

            Talk on JET at the IET last night.

            Power out/Power in is "Q". Jet manages a Q of around 0.6. ITER is targetting 10. But this is just the plasma power in/out ratio. It ignores the power used by the excitation systems and, of course, losses in energy extraction for Useful Work.

            For a commercial system, you need a Q of 30. So ITER is the next step on the road towards that. But it won't get there.

            The Stellerator is the interesting shape you describe. The (quite believable) view of the tokamak guys is that they will be very difficult to maintain given their shape.

      3. Hans 1 Silver badge
        FAIL

        Re: scaling up is the answer?

        @ Ishtiaq

        It so happens that I live near leading boffins of ITER and they do not believe they can reach anywhere near a surplus of energy .... simply, because the conditions are so extreme that to keep the plasma going for more than mere seconds they have to replace have the bloody housing, while the plasma is still active (you and I know this is impossible).

        Their prototype was due for 2014, alas, that failed miserably ... since then, they try to win time ... ITER is a money well, many governments backing, so where is the incentive ? There is none ... and the problems they face are nothing like humanity has ever faced before, they still cannot cool the chamber appropriately and they know that they are there to give fission an extension of life .... how would that make you feel ? In their situation I commit suicide ...

        And the idiots on here who claim whatever, ITER cannot make their system run for more than 7 seconds, have tried for a decade ... any material they use deteriorates too quickly ... make it bigger, sure, good luck, more Watts to dissipate ...

        Again, I know REAL BOFFINS from ITER, their kids go to the SAME SCHOOL AS MINE, I see them EVERY FUCKING DAY.

        Fusion is a mirage that the fission idiots have cast on us to win time so they can use up all the uranium that is economically feasible to harvest ... and fission by products will be around for not centuries but millennia, but the fission scum don't get to pay the price, we pay it, like we paid for the reactors, the profits are, for the most part, already in private hands ... they need to hold on some more, by any means, doesn't matter ....

        French Nuclear Industry has to come up with something like €450bn. 250 to dismantle existing reactors and 200 to build new ones, EDF and Areva are almost bankrupt, who is gonna pay that ... the French ... merci, hein ! The worst thing is, reactors need water, lots of water .... heard of climate change ? The flow in rivers in France already causes enough trouble to the existing fission reactors ...

        To the downvoters, you are wrong, you do not believe me ...

        1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
          Stop

          Re: scaling up is the answer?

          > It so happens that I live near leading boffins of ITER and they do not believe they can reach anywhere near a surplus of energy

          ITER was never intended to produce a surplus, it's just another step on the road to working out the bugs in order that the next iteration will be more likely to do so.

          1. Hans 1 Silver badge
            Windows

            Re: scaling up is the answer?

            ITER was never intended to produce a surplus, it's just another step on the road to working out the bugs in order that the next iteration will be more likely to do so.

            THEY WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE A WORKING PROTOTYPE BY 2014 that would "survive" mere seconds .... not ANYWHERE NEAR that yet.

            The worst is, these guyz are the top boffins when it comes to fusion, they banked their professional life on it, and they have hurdles in the physics, that are way beyond their imagination, Ok, and political ones, too - Massive project with lazy arrogant civil servants....

            Again, if you have a precise question, I will forward and get the answer ... on here.

            1. Yes Me Silver badge

              Re: scaling up is the answer?

              Anybody who knows anything about large projects knew better than to believe a 2014 date for exothermic ITER. It's well known that you have to provide dates that are near enough to make a politician wet their pants to get budget for this sort of thing. It's also well known that controlled fusion is a hard nut to crack - we've been trying since ZETA in 1957, after all. And yes, there are surely materials science problems, which is why you have to contain the plasma electromagnetically so that it never touches the vacuum chamber's walls. That's been understood since 1957, as well. And that's the tricky part. The problems aren't physics, the physics is well understood - it's all engineering.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          WTF?

          Re: scaling up is the answer?

          "The worst thing is, reactors need water, lots of water .... heard of climate change ? The flow in rivers in France already causes enough trouble to the existing fission reactors ..."

          That's because they used shallow water supplies which got to warm during a heatwave.

          A problem easily solved, you use these things called cooling towers, lakes and dams.

        3. Hans 1 Silver badge

          Re: scaling up is the answer?

          To the down-voter:

          Smart arse, do you have a question for the boffins ?

          Go ahead, I will ask them and report back!

        4. itzman

          Re: scaling up is the answer?

          I believe you that fission is currently practically almost impossible.

          But I dont believe the fission peole have anything to do with this.

          There's enough economic uranium and thorium for several thousand years...

          1. Andrew Newstead

            Re: scaling up is the answer?

            Not to mention that the Moon is quite rich in Thorium.

            1. DougS Silver badge

              Coal ash has another problem

              It is radioactive. Not highly, but unlike nuclear we aren't containing (well usually, modulo Chernobyl & Fukushima) it, but letting some of it out the smokestack to diffuse throughout the environment.

              1. LesC
                Coat

                Re: Coal ash has another problem

                Has anybody sat with a geiger counter downstream of Drax?

                Didn't coal ash or flue gas contain usable amounts of germanium I've got an old 60's science book somewhere that says so,,,, all these legacy power stations must have kept Mullard, NKT, GEC, Ferranti etc wallowing in germanium ..

                Mines is the one with the OC44/2N1302/AC127/AC128's in the pocket... incidentally the germanium NPN 2N1302 work well in {google it} Joule Thief due to the low VCEsat as well as computers :)

          2. sniperpaddy

            Re: scaling up is the answer?

            "Economic" depends on what part of the life-cycle you choose to cherry pick.

        5. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: scaling up is the answer?

          "ITER is a money well"

          that's one way to put it, yeah.

          Back to my original point: They need to use something that's NOT a Tokomak. Thanks for pointing out the bit about replacing the housing after operating for a short period of time. that's not something that ended up in the article.

          It's also why I would favor a linear design, embedded within a tank of water, which would act like heat exchanger and boiler, or just heat exchanger if you want to use a primary/secondary system like a PWR fission plant. Radioactive steam, due to neutron activation of various things in the water, is kinda, uh, bad.

          The problem with a linear design is you'd have to make THAT large, too, and put lots of fuel through it, just to get it running. That might frighten the scientists because 'too much fuel' could become an H bomb. yeah, no risk involved in coming up with a design. However, the advantage would be the 'continuous operation' aspect. You'd have to magnetically and/or electrostatically confine the plasma, but you wouldn't have to worry about bending its direction of travel, nor the 'twisty/turny' aspect of having the outside portion going faster than the inside portion. You could use resonant cavities to 'bunch' the protons at ideal energy levels, and thereby allow their own energies to confine the fuel into tight enough bunches to cause fusion to happen THAT way. But I can't see this happening in a short distance, and I'm not sure how long the thing would actually have to be. CERN long? probably not, but if nobody builds the thing, how would we know?

    2. The Man Who Fell To Earth Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: scaling up is the answer?

      "Keep in mind, that the thermal efficiency of a power plant might be 20-25%."

      Er, no.

      The efficiency of a modern coal fired power plant is about 33%.

      The efficiency of a modern natural gas fired power plant is about 60%.

      The reasons to move away from fossil fuels for electricity isn't efficiency, as typical solar panels are a bit under 20% efficient. The reasons to move away from fossil fuels are (1) consumption of a limited resource that has other uses and (2) collateral damage to the environment due to the extraction from the ground & the effluents from the power plants like CO2, mercury & ash (in the case of coal), etc.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: scaling up is the answer?

        (regarding the post by 'The Man Who Fell To Earth')

        Uh, I visited the first link and did not see any of that information. The 2nd one was interesting [keep in mind I was talking about steam plants, not gas turbines].

        I might as well give a bit of background on max efficiency:

        Carnot Efficiency: https://www.e-education.psu.edu/egee102/node/1942

        Here are some calculations based on Carnot efficiency.

        For a 1200 psi steam plant, appx 550 deg F with 60F rejection temperature - that would be 1010R and 520R, approximately. Yeah I'm using deg R. deal with it. Would you prefer an El Reg unit?

        max efficiency = (1010R - 520R) / 1010R, approximately 44.5%

        That's the theoretical maximum assuming 100% efficiency everywhere else. A bit better than I expect, actually.

        Of course In actual practice it's considerably lower than this. So achieving better than 30% is actually VERY good, so I won't doubt your claims outright.

        But if you assume ~30% total efficiency instead of ~25%, you STILL end up using a third of that electricity just to run the fusion reactor. And THAT was my point, along with pointing out that Tokomak is probably NOT the best design for an actual power plant.

        As for overall plant efficiency, you have turbine blade efficiency, the effects of condenser vacuum [or lack of it], delta-temperature across the condenser, generator efficiency, secondary steam systems, superheaters, and power required to run all of the support equipment (in particular all of the pumps, like cooling water pumps, and primary coolant pumps for a nuke plant).

        And when you consider that 70% of the thermal energy goes out through the cooling system, those pumps have gotta be BIG. A high 'delta T' on the condenser would reduce its efficiency even more, so the flow rate for the cooling water has to be MASSIVE to keep efficiency up. Big pumps, with big electricity consumption, in other words.

        Again, I've been out of the industry for a while. I remember what I've worked with. So kudos to steam plant makers who've squeezed an extra few percent efficiency out in the last 30 years. Well done.

        Of course gas fired plants would have higher efficiency than steam plants, because they're not limited by the physics of steam.

        But good luck transferring a bunch of gamma energy into a gas.

        Nuclear aircraft were tried, at one time, and that one big problem of transferring nuke heat into air for a jet engine's turbine cycle became impractical. Sure, you COULD do it, if the heat transfer surface were 'big enough'. You'd need something that could absorb gamma AND neutron radiation, and would tolerate the higher temperatures. And pressurized water would land you back in the same realm as a fission plant. So there ya go.

        And that was my point all along [so thanks to everyone for all of the thumbs down, a testament to your ignorance of practical applications in the realm of power plant engineering].

        In answer to another question, the only reason they don't hire _ME_ is because I don't have their "lovely academic pedigree". After all, a paper pedigree makes you SO smart these days... [academic arrogance, yeah]. And yet I see it often enough, where "those who can't, teach". In the IT realm, professors who call themselves 'programmers' generate some of the most impractical, inefficient, and unmaintainable code I've ever seen. In Python. [used to be BASIC]

        Question: how many people in this forum have ACTUALLY OPERATED a nuclear reactor or even a steam plant? (I have, just sayin')

    3. veti Silver badge

      Re: scaling up is the answer?

      i've come to believe that the tokomak fusion reactor is a technology that's destined to go straight from "experimental" to "obsolete" without ever stopping at "viable". (Much like Uber's business model.)

      Solar cell and battery technology are both improving year on year. Currently it's viable for maybe 3% of consumers to go off-grid using this technology. In a couple of years, it'll be 6%. In a couple more, 10%. By 2030, something like 75%. And the tokomak still won't be viable even on an experimental level.

      By the time it is working, all our power stations will be burning agricultural waste or methane and actively reducing pollution. Nobody will need a new, big, capital-intensive power station, no matter how clean it is.

      1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

        Re: scaling up is the answer?

        Nobody will need a new, big, capital-intensive power station, no matter how clean it is.

        Once we have lifted the industrial base to the Moon, that will be true.

      2. Degenerate Scumbag

        Re: scaling up is the answer?

        If solar and battery technology truly were progressing at the rate you suggest, that would be great.

    4. streaky Silver badge

      Re: scaling up is the answer?

      seems like "bigger" is better for tokomak, as far as efficiency goes

      Nope. It's a function of size/plasma pressure.

      Recent engineering dictates smaller is better. Higher pressure, smaller size - cheaper to build. It's actually why ITER's budget is teetering on the edge of death march. There's a couple of projects (in the US and the UK, separately) building these reactors with commercial rather than state funding.

      Also high temp superconductors are playing a big role.

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: scaling up is the answer?

        "Also high temp superconductors are playing a big role."

        the fact that they're using superconductors are even NECESSARY is a big problem in and of itself.

        Gamma radiation disrupts superconductivity. The primary energy output of a fusion reaction is GAMMA ENERGY, and the secondary is neutron energy. This would be due to conservation of momentum, actually. And let's not mention the COOLING REQUIREMENT for these superconductors. Consider that the closest thing to a gamma source will absorb MOST of the energy, like the innermost part of the walls of the containment vessel. Magnets would be right outside of that, I'd expect. They'd get a nice heavy dose of gamma and neutrons, and heat up rapidly [which we know is bad for superconductors also, not just the effects that gamma radiation have on superconductivity].

        So there ya have it. The very operation of the reactor causes its confinement mechanism to fail.

        (it's another reason why I favor a more linear design, to limit the need for strong superconducting magnets that operate at extremely high temperatures, and also to rely more on electrostatic effects for confinement)

        1. Rinze

          Re: scaling up is the answer?

          The SEM fusor is a kind of linear design: sidewards the deuterium ions and electrons are confined by a relatively modest magnetic field of about 1 or 1,5 tesla, and vertically by an electrostatic field generated by a couple of charged rings and spheres. In the computer simulation the particles stay confined, with speeds up to 3E6 m/s (for fusion is needed about 2E6 m/s). As in a Farnsworth-Hirsch fusor, the ions move more or less also back and forwards towards the centre of the vacuum chamber, only now there isn't an inner grid. To find out if this is really an easy way of accomplishing nuclear fusion a real experimental setup should be built...

    5. annodomini2
      Coat

      Re: scaling up is the answer?

      Sad as I must say this, on certain points Bob is correct, as much as he is annoying:

      1. Size, for some reason they are obsessed with building bigger and bigger reactors. These designs run on Magnetism, anyone heard of the inverse square law.

      2. Neutron/Gamma generation - this, I think, is the power generation lobby, all they know is steam generation for large scale systems.

      There are other options for fusion other than D+T, such as Aneutronic reactions (He3, being one form), these typically produce ions from the reaction, which depending on the reactor type can be used to generate electricity directly from the reaction.

      Many years ago I saw a weird conspiracy theory stating that the Tokamak was invented (in Soviet Russia) to bankrupt the West, as much as I hate to think that there is any truth in what a lot of these nut jobs are coming up with, in this case, there is a possibility.

      The real issue with JET and ITER is what it is doing to Fusion research funding, they have been pouring billions in over the last few decades and while I definitely believe the research performed at JET has been very useful, ITER is a white elephant government funding vacuum.

      Taking away funding from other concepts, the phrase "Don't put all your eggs in one basket!" comes to mind.

      1. streaky Silver badge

        Re: scaling up is the answer?

        stating that the Tokamak was invented (in Soviet Russia) to bankrupt the West

        lul.

        If it was anything it'd be Stellarators the other way - it never ceases to amaze me how much new money goes into them despite being debunked as a potential future source of energy at commercial scale. The science of tokamaks is solid, and it's simple (which is the power of tokamaks versus say inertial confinement) even in engineering terms (it's a big vacuum chamber and some magnets at its most complex), what is not solid is getting enough funding into disruptive engineering projects. If there's conspiracy anywhere it's not dropping ITER like it's hot 3-4 years ago. Now the problem is ITER is a giant boat anchor of a project which has left the global fusion community what we call in poker pot committed. It's almost as if so much money has been spent on it that they have to keep spending more money on it and go all in until it's finished. It worked with the LHC and ISS so it must be the solution with ITER. Problem is ITER is being quickly outmoded, and the budget and timeline is getting more insane. It's too big and expensive for its own good and somebody needs to put a stop to it - maybe Trump might be useful for something after all.

    6. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      "you probably won't go over 1200 psi, or about 550 deg F (as I recall). "

      Try that in Centigrade and you'd be nearer the mark.

      The pressure for modern supercritical coal and oil plants is about 2x that.

      The units make quite a difference

      Now, what were you saying?

      1. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: "you probably won't go over 1200 psi, or about 550 deg F (as I recall). "

        "Try that in Centigrade and you'd be nearer the mark."

        uh, what? I could run the calculations in 'El Reg' units and it wouldn't change the efficiency. duh.

        "The pressure for modern supercritical coal and oil plants is about 2x that."

        2400psi? if you base that on the mollier diagram, that wouldn't be a whole lot hotter.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mollier_diagram

        It's a bit hard to read in that zone, but the temperature would be just under 1100R as I recall. The boiling point at 2000 psi was in the 600F range (1060R), if I remember correctly. the temperature change for a large pressure change in that zone is not very large. A few deg F gives you a major change in saturation pressure, maybe even doubling it.

        So now by doubling the steam pressure you change your temperature by about 60F or so, which isn't a whole lot for the Carnot efficiency. You'd do better by trying to pre-cool the coolant more, get condenser vacuum up.

        Not to mention the kinds of materials you'd need to handle 2000psi steam at 600F. But like I mentioned, it's been 30 years or so since I was "in the industry" so to speak. Tech has advanced a bit. but it hasn't managed to break the laws of physics. You still have limitations based on the physics characteristics of water and steam.

  3. Ben1892

    Do not press

    ...must ...not...push ...the .... big...shiny.....button

    1. 45RPM Silver badge

      Re: Do not press

      …must …not …step …away …from …European …Union. …Can’t …afford …to …do …this …on …our …own.

      1. Peter2 Silver badge

        Re: Do not press

        …must …not …step …away …from …European …Union. …Can’t …afford …to …do …this …on …our …own.

        Being a bit disingenous here, this is not an EU project and the EU couldn't afford to do it on their own either.

        ITER is an international project, proposed by General Secretary Gorbachev of the former Soviet Union to US President Reagan in 1985. Work started between the USSR, the USA and participating EEC nations in 1988. Currently, participation is the EU, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States.

        While there are sound economic arguments for remaining in the Single Market, there is no convincing reason that we cannot agree to continue to participate in ITER after leaving the EU.

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Do not press

          I don't see why it's also considered necessary to come out of Euratom. After all, it was formed in 1957 and Switzerland are involved as an associate state member.

          1. Cynical Observer
            Mushroom

            Re: Do not press

            @werdsmith

            It's one of Theresa May's red lines - complete removal from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. This article from the Grauniad might help - extract below.

            What’s special about Euratom compared with other EU regulatory agencies?

            Unlike the dozens of other, equally sensitive, regulatory arrangements for industries such as aviation or pharmaceuticals, Euratom has been singled out for special treatment because it is not technically part of the EU. Instead, the treaty that established this body to coordinate Europe’s civil nuclear energy industry was born in parallel with the birth of the European economic community in 1957.

            Britain’s participation in this largely untouched relic of atomic camaraderie therefore required a separate legal relationship with the European court of justice to enforce it. Since Theresa May has committed the country to severing all ties with the ECJ, it also required a separate clause announcing our intention to leave in the article 50 legislation that triggered the start of the two-year Brexit process in March.

            Icon for when things go into meltdown...

            1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

              Re: Do not press

              What’s special about Euratom compared with other EU regulatory agencies?

              Although the negotiations about joining a committee dedicated to peaceful use of nuclear technology is a lot easier when you have nuclear weapons and they don't

            2. Hans 1 Silver badge

              Re: Do not press

              Since Theresa May has committed the country to severing all ties with the ECJ

              I understand, who wants Human Rights in Britain, hey ?

          2. druck Silver badge

            Re: Do not press

            I don't see why it's also considered necessary to come out of Euratom. After all, it was formed in 1957 and Switzerland are involved as an associate state member.
            That's the point, on leaving the EU we have to cease to be a full member, but can be an associate member.

            1. Yes Me Silver badge

              Re: Do not press

              Er, we can negotiate to become an associate member, and the other members can say no. But there's no sign that the UK 'government' is able to understand such subtleties of the real world.

        2. ridley

          Re: Do not press

          As to whether a country can afford to do this on it's own, I seem to recall that the proposed budget for ITER was 35billion dollars and there was much huffing and puffing about the cost. Remember this cost is between many nations over many years.

          Lets put 35billion in context it is about what the US spends on defence per MONTH.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Do not press

            "Lets put 35billion in context it is about what the US spends on defence per MONTH"

            It's about what the US spends on the MIC per month. What percentage of that is actually spent on defence I would not like to say.

            1. bombastic bob Silver badge

              Re: Do not press

              "It's about what the US spends on the MIC per month"

              and on "entitlements", per week. just sayin'.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Do not press

        must ....blame ... everything ... on ... Brexit ... when ... I... don't ... actually ... have ... a ... frikkin' ... clue ... what ...I ... am ...talking ... about.

        JET's future was handed to the UK Govt on a plate and tipped in the bin during the noughties, allowing the french to take the project's future right from under our noses. If you want to go kick something, find Mandelson, for it was he.

        1. Lars Silver badge
          Mushroom

          Re: Do not press

          "JET's future was handed to the UK Govt on a plate and .......". Some more down votes than up votes including my down vote.

          Could it be that AC is not aware of "JET, the Joint European Torus":

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joint_European_Torus

          Which makes the "the french to take .... under our noses" so damned silly.

          Or could it be that AC is in the belief that tokamak is somehow a British invention.

          Quoting the Wiki:

          "Tokamaks were invented in the 1950s by Soviet physicists Igor Tamm and Andrei Sakharov, inspired by an original idea of Oleg Lavrentiev".

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tokamak

          I wouldn't really mind about this topic but I did something I haven't done ever before months ago.

          I spent about 12 hours during two days listening to the "lords" (not capital letters?). I was actually quite impressed by that house.

          More for the EU than against it, some very good and decent speeches and people with good knowledge of trade and business. (Not the impression I have about May and her Don Quixotes.)

          A very decent atmosphere with some guys at times in deep thoughts, not at all like that other house I have started to associate with the "whack-a-mole" game.

          And then there was this question about Euratom and Brexit.

          A topic a lord started with the "World Leading British Nuclear Technology" and an other who politely asked him to get serious and return to earth. Which he slightly reluctantly did.

          The reason research like this tend to be international projects is not just the money but also the fact that the "brains" needed are not always born on an island. The results are better shared openly too and there is a better buffer against the politics of the day in one or an other country.

      3. Hans 1 Silver badge
        Holmes

        Re: Do not press

        …must …not …step …away …from …European …Union. …Can’t …afford …to …do …this …on …our …own.

        Crikey, did not know Japan was part of the European Union (yes, they are some more) ... but then again, smart fsck, what do we have in our UK ? Honda plants and the big NSA spy infrastructure that listens on all of us, that is about it ... thank Feynman the continentals are not aware that we betray everybody 'round here for the NSA, hey ?

        TBH, I am surprised the EU did not kick us out earlier ...

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Do not press

      "Push button to switch off Jet. Press only in case of extreme emergency"

      As Terry Pratchett would point out, under normal conditions with a load of scientists and engineers a red button would get pushed in a few seconds. But as in this case it would prevent a potential massive destructive event rather than cause one, nobody's going to want to do it.

  4. John Robson Silver badge

    Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

    To help regulate the power draw from the grid - or am I imagining it?

    I'm not...

    Wikipedia suggests:

    JET's power requirements during the plasma pulse are around 500 MW with peak in excess of 1000 MW. Because power draw from the main grid is limited to 575 MW, two large flywheel generators were constructed to provide this necessary power. Each 775-ton flywheel can spin up to 225 rpm and store 3.75 GJ. Each flywheel uses 8.8 MW to spin up and can generate 400 MW (briefly).

    1. Sammy Smalls

      Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

      I remember being told about the flywheel at a school talk.

      IIRC we were told it took a couple of days to get up to speed and if it ever came away from it's bearings it would go all the way to Reading, smash through the centre and keep going.

      Not all bad then....

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

        I recall them being described as the mass of a train (which looks a bit like an understatement actually) - but it looks like the time to spin up is 7 minutes, and to stop them takes 9.4 seconds... (ignoring operational losses)

        That's pretty impressive, particularly when you think that the outside of the flywheel (and most of the mass) is travelling at 200+mph - probably not quite in the 'get to Reading and keep going' territory though (although if it was on rails....)

        Operations are probably still scheduled around ad breaks in Coronation street though...

      2. TWB

        Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

        As someone born in Reading, upvote from me.

        (it's not all bad....)

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge
          Joke

          Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

          The flywheel does not stop in Reading, but that has nothing to do with the speed it is going at... no one wants to stop in Reading!

    2. This post has been deleted by its author

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

        I was a regular in Culham, Harwell and Aldermaston in the 1980s when I worked on the road for one of the suppliers of hardware. We also supplied CERN but I never got to go there back then (though I have since been).

    3. Cynical Observer
      Thumb Up

      Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

      @John...

      Can't be the only one who thought - 1.21 Gigawatts!

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

        400MW from each flywheel, 575MW from the Grid feed...

        Yep, 1.21GW is rather easily possible - we could add a third flywheel of course, that might do quite a good job, surely we can make it do 410MW?!

        1. DropBear Silver badge
          Trollface

          Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

          Flywheels, huh? Good to know the site is gyroscopically stabilized...

    4. N2 Silver badge

      Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

      Yes, I think they had two concrete flywheels run up to speed at 200 rpm by electric motor & suppelemnted about 600Mw from the Didcott to Cowley supergrid.

      I visited some time around 1990 & very interesting it was too. Aparently they also had to let Dinorwig know otherwise it cut in on the dip.

      1. Lord Kipper III

        Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

        I was a graduate trainee at Didcot power station in the early 1990s and the control engineers desk had a special light marked JET Pulse that would flash when they spooled the machine up to warm the plant operators. Very impressive to see the impact the pulse had on the local system.

    5. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

      On an open day once, long ago, I got to go inside the flywheel enclosure. They'd done a run not many days before, and it was still roasting hot in there. This was before they'd started using tritium, so they'd opened up the pressure vessel so that you could see inside, and get quite close to it. Very impressive! I grew up near there, and remember the lights dimming whenever JET started up (or at least that's what we assumed it was!).

      It's interesting to compare political priorities. Fusion may one day provide us with power, and if it works at any decent scale it will be the power source of choice for pretty much the rest of time. The geopolitical consequences will be immense (and mostly good, I hope). Energy supply underpins pretty much everything else. So given that, you'd think that it would be high up on the politicians priority list?

      Nope. ITER is costing a few €billion. Compare that to saving the banks in 2007 / 2008. Gordon Brown when prime minister all on his own managed to spend £150billion in a single afternoon saving the banks, enough to pay for and accelerate the entire ITER project several times over.

      I'm not suggesting that saving the banks was a bad idea (a debate for another day...), but the first hint that fusion actually works ought to liberate rather more enthusiasm, cash and effort. There's a lot that has been achieved by JET (it's ended up massively exceeding what they were planning on back in the 1970s), and I think it right that ITER is being seen more as an engineering project than a research project. Compared to saving the banks, you'd think it'd be worth putting a few more quid into ITER.

    6. peteratjet

      Re: Didn't they used to have a flywheel?

      There are two flywheels, one to drive the Toroidal Coils that contain the plasma, one to drive the central solenoid that drives the plasma current (think of a tokamak as a giant sparkplug). It takes a couple of minutes to spin them up from 80rpm to the operating speed. However, there are also power amplifiers driving coils that control the plasma shape and position, and most of the energy going into the plasma while the actual science is happening comes from the additional heating systems, neutral particle beams and radio frequency heating, and these are all driven off the national grid.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: flywheel safety

      Could the flywheels not be sited such that they are in a pit ?

  5. fnusnu
    Mushroom

    So still 20 years in the future...?

    Has there ever been a time when fusion wasn't 20 years in the future?

    1. Lloyd

      Re: So still 20 years in the future...?

      Yes, 100 years ago.

    2. Robin 3

      Re: So still 20 years in the future...?

      I'm pretty sure it was always 30 years in the future 20 years ago. It looks like we may be asymptotically approaching 0 years ...

      1. Martin-R

        Re: So still 20 years in the future...?

        I'm reliably assured it's 50... and has been pretty much since the site opened, just over 50 years ago!

  6. Andy Tunnah

    Amazing

    I love things like this, absolutely blows my mind.

    But hands down, my absolute favourite fact about this; even though this is the pinnacle of high-science, one day this'll be seen as humdrum. We'll be so advanced that harnessing the powers of a bloody STAR will be met with the same nonchalance as showing a teenager a gameboy today.

  7. ukgnome

    Great article on a thing that should totally hook the youth into science

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Meh

      "Great article on a thing that should totally hook the youth into science"

      See Icon

  8. hammarbtyp Silver badge

    Fun times....

    I spent a fun 6 months there as a placement when I did physics. Great place and some of the brightest people I have ever worked with.

    I was in the UK part, which had a definite heath robinson feel to it compared to the JET area. However the advantage was that we could try out and reconfigure ideas far easier. Basically the UK was a old ford . that you could take apart and re-purpose while JET was a rolls-royce, that was the ultimate in technology, but expensive to customise.

    One situation that comes to mind was the mess when one of the capacitor banks that provided the high voltage exploded spraying the room with large amounts of castor oil, which was the electrolyte used

    One thing that is not mentioned is the basic research had a huge number of spin-offs including magnets, cryogenics, power electronics, material physics. A lot of people who worked at Culham have gone off to create new products based on that science. Even if economic fusion is never achieved, the path followed has more than enough benefits to justify us following it.

    The UK has benefited greatly from such EU projects. The scale means they are beyond the resources of even the richest national governments so require collaboration. That collaboration brings the other benefits of creating a fantastic melting pot of ideas and cultures. It would be a pity, nah, disaster if we flush that down the toilet of political short-termism and myopia.

    In the end working at Culham made me realise that I was not cut out for high level physics, but it did give me an opportunity to play with multiple PDP-11(it was that era), and pushed me into software

    1. frank ly Silver badge

      Re: Fun times....

      "... castor oil, which was the electrolyte used"

      It was a dielectric. Just saying.

    2. itzman

      Re: Fun times....

      I visited Culham in 1966.

      Years before we joined the 'common market'

      However did it get paid for?

      1. Tom 7 Silver badge

        Re: Fun times....

        We've had an economic revolution since then - there's no money left.

        1. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Black Helicopters

          Re: Fun times....

          "We've had an economic revolution since then - there's no money left."

          same as it ever was. politicians will make sure that their power is the only power that controls the economy, whenever they get a chance. If that means higher taxes and more spending, so be it. It empowers them.

      2. hammarbtyp Silver badge

        Re: Fun times....

        @itzman

        Jet was proposed by the Council of the European Community in 1970 and built in 1977. it was built at Culham which already housed at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy which was built in 1965. Basically the European facility was appended to an already existing research facility(also close to Harwell, Rutherford Appleton and Oxford).

        Although some might contend that since the UK already had a fusion research it shows the ability to go it alone, in practice the scale of the UK research was never on the same level as the JET project and Culham probably would of withered without the injection of European capital at the time

  9. lee harvey osmond

    "The fission process turns two forms of hydrogen"

    "The fission process"

    typo or editing error ...

    "turns two forms of hydrogen – deuterium (extractable from water) and tritium (produced with lithium) – into the inert gas helium – and neutrons"

    yes

    "which can generate power."

    Explain please.

    Is it the neutrons that can generate power, or the the helium too?

    How is the power generated? This is not a fission installation where the primary cooling circuit extracts heat to sustain a thermal flux to boil water and drive a steam turbine.

    1. Steve the Cynic

      Re: "The fission process turns two forms of hydrogen"

      > Is it the neutrons that can generate power, or the the helium too?

      The neutrons pass out of the magnetic fields because they are neutral, and strike atoms in the lining of the torus. These then undergo radioactive funtimes and release heat that's used to generate electricity.

      Well, that's my understanding of the technology, anyway. And it does mean that running a De/Tr test makes the interior of the torus radioactive, yes. It's one of the reasons the research is *expensive*.

      1. cray74
        Happy

        Re: "The fission process turns two forms of hydrogen"

        "undergo radioactive funtimes"

        This seems to be my week to pick up new catchphrases. Between "radioactive funtimes" and the movie Patchwork's "Release the owl-cat!" I'm going to have a complete mad scientist vocabulary in no time.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "The fission process turns two forms of hydrogen"

          Try Simon Mayo's confession's.

          "Darker than a Goths wardrobe" and you are complete.

      2. bombastic bob Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: "The fission process turns two forms of hydrogen"

        "The neutrons pass out of the magnetic fields because they are neutral, and strike atoms in the lining of the torus. These then undergo radioactive funtimes and release heat that's used to generate electricity."

        nuclear reactions are fun in a lot of ways. but they still obey the laws of physics, like conservation of momentum.

        When you add up the total momentum of the fission or fusion products, it will match what it was before the reaction. In the case of fission, the uranium is sitting still, so the split atom products will buzz off in opposite directions [this heats the fuel material]. You also get neutrons, and a LOT of gamma.

        In the case of fusion, it's a bit different. the products fuse together to produce one "thing" plus a neutron. The velocity of the neutron may be very high compared to the original products, but it can't be TOO high, because [after all] you MUST conserve momentum.

        So where does the energy end up? gamma. Gamma has no actual mass, and so its momentum is based on the "planck's constant stuff" and you can have more than one and they can all buzz off in different directions as long as TOTAL momentum is the same as it was when you started out. [in theory the neutron could go back the other way at extreme speed and the helium go in the same direction, and ALL of the energy could be in neutron + helium, with total momentum conserved, but this is much less likely than the ejection of gammas from the fused helium, which may actually NOT produce a neutron immediately].

        And so, most of the energy is gamma. Trapping gamma is easy. You just need enough mass to slow ti down and heat up in the process.

        Slowing down neutrons is a bit harder. you need something to 'scatter' it, something that weighs about as much as a neutron. like hydrogen. in water.

        You could try to ABSORB neutrons, but that tends to deplete the material that does it. Boron 10 has a high affinity for absorbing neutrons. It becomes Boron 11 and then doesn't do squat for neutrons after that. boron is cheap, however, and might still be useful if you replace it often [or somehow just pump it through the system].

        In any case, all of that energy becomes a) fusion products [He5, He4, Li5, etc.], b) neutrons [probably moving very very fast], and c) gamma radiation [most of it]

        So you just need to collect the energy from the gamma. Easiest method: cooling system, using water. If the water blanket is thick enough, about 3 feet per "tenth thickness" as I recall, you'll get the energy from the neutrons as well. you just need to make sure the temperature is high enough so that you can boil water [direct boiling is possible, but probably a bad idea, because of neutron activation] and make steam and drive generator turbines with it.

    2. MonkeyBob
      Mushroom

      Re: "The fission process turns two forms of hydrogen"

      AFAIK from my A level days, each atom has a unified atomic mass that is slightly different from what would be expected from just adding up the number of protons and neutrons. Carbon 12 is used as the yard stick for measuring this and Hydrogen has a mass of approximatly 1.0078. If 12 Hydrogen atoms were combined there would be an excess of mass of 0.0936 which is turned into energy using E=MC^2. i.e. small mass change = HUGE energy, that's the easy part the tricky bit is controlling the fusion so you don't get all the energy at once, see icon -->

  10. NotWorkAdmin

    Brexit pushes Fusion Power back another 10 years

    Which seems unnecessary. Fusion can do that by itself.

    1. 45RPM Silver badge

      Re: Brexit pushes Fusion Power back another 10 years

      Which is incredibly restrained of it, especially given that it pushes national attitudes to racism back 60 years, and the economy back 40 years. I’d say Fusion is getting off remarkably lightly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Brexit pushes Fusion Power back another 10 years

        Yes!

        The attitudes to the British Race exposed in Europe by brexit are truly frightening!

  11. amlendu kumar

    Snake Oil

    The perpetual snake oil.

    To contain semiconducting magnets which are cooled to near absolute 0.

    To extract any usable heat no way to sustain leak and keep reactor ongoing.

    Its always 20 years to success or anything near that since last few decades.

    1. John Robson Silver badge

      Re: Snake Oil

      "Its always 20 years to success or anything near that since last few decades."

      Depends on your definition of success...

      Have you seen the list of spinoff technologies developed?

    2. HPCJohn

      Re: Snake Oil

      Ahem. Superconducting magnets.

    3. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      Re: Snake Oil

      "To contain semiconducting magnets which are cooled to near absolute 0."

      Well 4K to be exact, and that is a huge difference between that and near absolute 0. This is quite easy to achieve (see CERN), and once obtained as long as well insulated very easy to maintain with minimum of energy expenditure

      "To extract any usable heat no way to sustain leak and keep reactor ongoing."

      Well, that's the challenge isn't it, but it is an engineering issue, not one of basics physics and solving the engineering is why ITER is being built. The only way we will know whether it is possible is to try. The alternative is to give up when things get hard. The reason we keep trying is the rewards for success are so huge

      "Its always 20 years to success or anything near that since last few decades."

      That ignores the amount of progress made in the last 20 years. Not only that but technology moves onwards. High temperature magnets, advanced computer control and modelling, improved material science provides capabilities that were only a pipe dream 20 years ago. That is why they have the confidence to move from experiment to full scale engineering demonstrator.

      That is not to pretend of the challenges. This is the energy moonshot, but the potential rewards are so huge, it makes it worth trying.

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Snake Oil

        "That ignores the amount of progress made in the last 20 years."

        Indeed. With apologies to Asimov - 40 years ago people thought they were 20 years from fusion, and they were wrong; 20 years ago people thought they were 20 years away from fusion, and they were also wrong. But if you think they were both as wrong as each other, you're wronger than both of them put together.

        We've made a huge amount of progress in understanding fusion (as well as the engineering, materials science and various other required disciplines) over the last 60 or so years. At every step along the way, at least some of the people involved have been over-optimistic about how close we were to actually having commercial fusion power. But the fact that they were wrong about the exact timescale doesn't mean that none of that progress happened. A prediction that it will happen 20 years from now is obviously much more accurate than the same prediction made 40 years ago, because we've used that time to solve all kinds of problems that no-one had even realised existed. There may well be more unforeseen problems that means it will again take longer than expected, but that can't change the fact that we're closer than we ever were before.

    4. MonkeyBob
      Pint

      Re: Snake Oil

      To copy from JFK

      "We Do These Things Not Because They Are Easy But Because They Are Hard"

      Here's to the ones pushing at the boundaries -->

      1. hammarbtyp Silver badge

        Re: Snake Oil

        @MonkeyBob

        In software the rule is

        We do these things not because they are hard, but because we thought they were easy

  12. HPCJohn

    Muon catalysed fusion

    I guess I could Google...

    Does anyone know if there is significant effort going into muon catalysed fusion these days?

    ps. Wildly off-topic, I was at CERN int he auditorium which Fleischmann gave the presentation on cold fusion. He wasnt rended limb from limb. However they did depend on measurements from very iffy (tosay the least) neutron detectors. There were experts in the room on neutron detection, who asked some very pointed questions.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Pint

      Re: Muon catalysed fusion

      @HPCJohn

      Wot's google? I Binged it for you. I "read" it. I haven't got a clue what it's on about. Now I need more beer.

      https://www.peakprosperity.com/forum/82078/muon-catalyzed-fusion

      Cheers… Ishy

    2. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: Muon catalysed fusion

      "Does anyone know if there is significant effort going into muon catalysed fusion these days?"

      dunno - I'm too lazy to look.

      I'm a fan of using resonance. Anybody researching THAT? In the nuclear physics world, 'resonance capture' applies to neutrons. At certain neutron energies, Uranium [and other materials] will capture a neutron but the Uranium will never fission from it. It may spit it back out again, later, or may just keep it. Or it might alpha decay into something else. Whatever. You lose the neutron and the uranium atom, and that's the point. The idea is to slow the neutron down to thermal energies in as short of a distance as possible in order to minimize the capture. On the other hand... breeder reactors with U238 in them would rely on this factoid, and the slowing down length is MUCH bigger which is why they moderate with carbon instead of water.

      In any case - the concept of resonance is *REAL*. Therefore, has anyone discovered the connection between proton/deuteron/trition resonant energies and the probability of a fusion reaction?

      'duck duck go' search brought up one scientific paper, along with some links to other unrelated things like fusion music, MRI scans, and so forth. Not very helpful...

  13. Robin 3

    What is ~20 parsecs away and hotter? Could Han Solo get there in 12?

  14. ChrisC

    “Nothing,” says Cave-Ayland. “You’re too big an impurity.”

    Ouch... Given its scope for reminding people of their place in the universe, if this whole fusion power business doesn't work out as planned, they could always adapt the designs into the first prototype Total Perspective Vortex instead.

  15. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    And Reaaction Engines is in the same science park

    Although I'm not sure what there like about access to strangers.

    Although if you are an accredited journo perhaps they might answer a few questions.

    1. Korev Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: And Reaaction Engines is in the same science park

      <<Googles Reaction Engines>>

      I'd be very interested in a very geeky article about what they're up to too.

      1. 45RPM Silver badge

        Re: And Reaaction Engines is in the same science park

        @Korev

        Given that they benefit from EU funding too, and that we can't afford to do this on our own either, I imagine that what they're up to is:

        a) cursing the idiocy of Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, JRM, Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn et al, and anyone who voted for Brexit and…

        b) trying to find a way out. A friendly science park attached to, for example, Paris Sciences et Lettres? École Polytechnique? Technische Universität München? Universität Heidelberg? Or maybe my alma mater, Fachhochschule Wedel? ;-)

        and c) carrying on regardless in the meantime.

  16. cutterman

    Fusion vs. fission

    If we'd spent one tenth of the amount of money that goes into fusion research, we'd have small, intrinsically safe fission reactors all up and running years ago.

    A bit more and we'd have radionuclide junk-eating reactors to take care of the long-lived fission products.

    Furthermore, fusion is not "clean" - the huge neutron flux makes the walls of the containment chamber intensely radioactive and they degrade, needing replacement. So there is still the problem of disposing of long-lived radionuclides . . .

    Right back where we started - and in the meantime we continue to use our dwindling stock of fossil fuels that wreck the ozone layer, pollute our lungs and could be used far more profitably as chemical feedstock than just being burned. And in efforts to reduce this we pollute the countryside with acres of windfarms whose generators require scarce rare-earths, the mining and refining of which generate even more pollution.

    Fusion is a well understood process (though there aren't many nuclear engineers left) and can be made safer than a fossil-fuel plant. Ask the US Navy (not the Russians!) how many of their nuclear-powered vessels have had accidents or containment issues. They operate 100 or so reactors and logged over 5,400 reactor years of accident-free operation while traveling over 130 million miles, enough to circle the earth 3,200 times.

    Fusion my ass . . .

    Mac

    1. cray74

      Re: Fusion vs. fission

      Furthermore, fusion is not "clean" - the huge neutron flux makes the walls of the containment chamber intensely radioactive and they degrade, needing replacement.

      That was noted in the article. The point made was that fusion is cleaner than fission since the radioisotopes produced have significantly shorter half-lives than the transuranic wastes of fission reactors.

      So there is still the problem of disposing of long-lived radionuclides . . .

      Define "long-lived." Do you mean some tens of thousands of years like typical pressurized water fission reactors waste stream, or do you mean tens of years (reaching safety in 100 years) like the planned ITER plasma-facing panels and diverter materials?

      It's funny that ITER is going to have about 100 times the neutron flux at its interior walls as common PWRs, but will generate less radioactive waste, and it'll be shorter lived. Funny, but useful.

      Right back where we started - and in the meantime we continue to use our dwindling stock of fossil fuels that wreck the ozone layer,

      Fossil fuels aren't much involved in ozone layer damage, unlike now-banned CFCs. And the ozone layer is on track for recovery by 2075-2100AD thanks to that CFC ban.

    2. hammarbtyp Silver badge

      Re: Fusion vs. fission

      "If we'd spent one tenth of the amount of money that goes into fusion research, we'd have small, intrinsically safe fission reactors all up and running years ago. A bit more and we'd have radionuclide junk-eating reactors to take care of the long-lived fission products."

      Even if you are right (and i have doubts about you figures ), we still have the issue of the need to get and refine uranium for the reactor. That fuel has a dual purpose and remains a claer and present danger

      Furthermore, fusion is not "clean" - the huge neutron flux makes the walls of the containment chamber intensely radioactive and they degrade, needing replacement. So there is still the problem of disposing of long-lived radionuclides . . .

      No, but the waste is confined to the vessel itself and relatively easy to deal with. Most of the issues with fission reactors come from an escape of nuclear material into the atmosphere after some accident, which cannot happen in fusion since it is inherently unstable. Not only that but the half life of a fusion reactor is about 1/2 that of a fission one, and that itself could be reduced further through careful choice of material

      Right back where we started - and in the meantime we continue to use our dwindling stock of fossil fuels that wreck the ozone layer, pollute our lungs and could be used far more profitably as chemical feedstock than just being burned. And in efforts to reduce this we pollute the countryside with acres of windfarms whose generators require scarce rare-earths, the mining and refining of which generate even more pollution.

      True, US spent £1Billion on Nuclear research while oil subsidies cost $400 bill (by the way rare earths are not that rare and uranium mining has its own issues)

      Fusion is a well understood process (though there aren't many nuclear engineers left) and can be made safer than a fossil-fuel plant. Ask the US Navy (not the Russians!) how many of their nuclear-powered vessels have had accidents or containment issues. They operate 100 or so reactors and logged over 5,400 reactor years of accident-free operation while traveling over 130 million miles, enough to circle the earth 3,200 times.

      True the US navy has a fantastic record with fission reactors, but these are relatively small self contained devices. Scaling them up increases the risks and dangers. Not that I am anti nuclear, but it is risky to extrapolate. The biggest issue is the fuel and how it is obtained and refined. Fusion uses tritium and deuterium, which is easy to store handle and has little weapon value (Ok I know H bombs use it too, but it is useless without the initiator)

  17. Craigie

    Wow

    Ancient hardware and software, most of it custom.

    If any of this has any internet-facing parts anywhere then it's a clusterfuck of epic proportions waiting to happen.

    1. cray74

      Re: Wow

      If any of this has any internet-facing parts anywhere then it's a clusterfuck of epic proportions waiting to happen.

      Like what, damaging millions of dollars of expensive research hardware? You don't actually think a fusion reactor is going to store up enough energy to make a nice bang, do you?

      Magnetic confinement fusion reactors don't use magnetic fields to protect the walls (and nearby communities) from the plasma they contain. Rather, the magnetic fields protect the plasma from being quenched by the comparatively super-cold walls of the reactor.

      Look at ITER: it's planned 840 cubic meters of plasma volume will only contain 2 to 3 grams of plasma at time. After all, plasma that's 100 million kelvin will occupy a very large volume for a given pressure and mass.

      Now, consider the energy contained in 2-3 grams of hydrogen at 100 million kelvin: it's not a lot of Joules comparable to the heat capacity of the tungsten plasma-facing panels enclosing an 840 cubic meter donut. If some l33t haxx0rs get in through the internet and collapse the containment fields in ITER (let alone the smaller JET), then all they achieve is a bit of scuffing of the inner walls and a prompt shutdown of fusion reactions. Imagine evaporating a few grams of tungsten: to a first approximation, you'll immediately cut the temperature of the plasma in half by doubling its mass with the tungsten. Fusion reactions will cease, and you'll only have the latent heat of the plasma (measured in a modest number of megajoules) to warm up a heavy structure meant to soak that sort of heat.

      You're not going to rival Chernobyl with ITER or JET, let alone imitate a hydrogen bomb.

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "Ancient hardware and software, most of it custom."

      In fact the CAMAC standard was designed by people with a clue. It spec's features from board up to "crate" (24 boards, basically 1 level of a whole rack) up to a rack and beyond.

      Critically it also includes specs on the power system.

      Factoid. The #1 cause of problems on the NASA "Lessons learned"system is about power faults. $Bn space projects delayed or over budget because someone was able to insert a board into a system before it was powered up (massive starting transients), or because the power system was wrongly designed in the first place.

      It's old, but it gets the job done.

      You don't know much about the history of the WWW, or CERN, do you?

  18. This post has been deleted by its author

    1. cray74
      Mushroom

      Re: We've already cracked fusion

      ...it's called a H-Bomb, we just haven't found a way to slow down time.

      Yes, we did. You just need some mass to soak the heat from a fusion explosion, which leads to the PACER fusion reactor concept. Magnetic containment is for nerds. Real fusion reactors use concrete and steel walls. ;)

      The final PACER reactor concept was: make a big cave, preferably in hard granite; pre-stress the rock with gigantic rock bolts; line the cave with ludicrous amounts of concrete and 4 meters of steel; and partially fill the cave with molten salts to about 30 meters depth. Begin circulating the salts into giant waterfall curtains to protect the walls. Drop in a fusion bomb, detonate. Circulate super-heated molten salt through steam generators, which drive dynamos. Repeat with another fusion bomb every 45 minutes.

      Fusion bombs release a lot of energy, but it is a limited and calculable amount of energy. Muffle the bomb with enough mass and the mass will be heated to manageable, useful temperatures, and then you can extract the bomb's released energy in convenient time frames with conventional power generation hardware.

      1. Mage Silver badge

        Re: final PACER reactor concept was: make a big cave

        The same folks that designed Project Orion?

        Did Footfall inspire Orion or vice versa?

        1. cray74

          Re: final PACER reactor concept was: make a big cave

          Did Footfall inspire Orion or vice versa?

          Project Orion started almost 30 years before Footfall was published.

          Niven and Pournelle "Footfall": 1985

          Freeman Dyson, "Project Orion": 1958

          1. Stevie Silver badge
            Pint

            Re: final PACER reactor concept was: make a big cave (4 cray74)

            Beer, but would have been an entire crate if you'd posted a "let me google that for you" link.

        2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
          Unhappy

          Did Footfall inspire Orion or vice versa?

          Orion dates from the 1950's. Freeman Dyson's retrospective "Death of a Project" was written for Science around 1965

      2. Solmyr ibn Wali Barad

        Re: We've already cracked fusion

        "Magnetic containment is for nerds. Real fusion reactors use concrete and steel walls. ;)"

        Bah. Real ones are held together by the gravity. None of that namby-pamby concrete stuff.

  19. Alperian

    I am not an expert unlike most of the posters here, but, like many politicians, I would robustly support the proposition where the interior is lined with solar cells, so that any bits of light energy are harvested economically. I would also suggest putting a couple of wind turbines in the Tofumak so that any fluttering gases can be used to help sustain the electromagnetic fields.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Ultimately the hydrogen could be fused all the way upto Carbon, just like in stars.

      Then we could burn the Carbon bringing back coal jobs to wherever it was that Trump was promising

    2. Chris G Silver badge

      Alperian, I'm not sure if Tofumak is a typo or not but I think a Tofumak that could fuse tofu into the 'F' plan diet would provide everyone with a healthy diet while solving energy needs with a human derived bio fuel that recycles carbon. Just need to sort out a means of collecting the bio fuel .

    3. IT Poser

      Alperian,

      We'd all love to have materials that could be used to make solar panels with the ability to withstand the expected radiation levels inside a fusion core. AFAIK, no one has discovered the right materials yet.

      You'll have to describe how you envision wind turbines functioning inside a fusion reactor core. I can't think of any way to make the extra effort worth the trouble.

  20. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    Fusion is MUCH cleaner than fission in reactors, because we can't get it to work for anything a real person would call "time".

    When we make explosions with it we still can't get it to work very well, but then it is much dirtier than fission on account of all the energy it does release tossing the results of the fission-stage reactions and irradiation products over a much wider area.

    I wish scientists would stop pretending a working fusion reactor is here or "just around the corner". We've been turning that corner for over fifty years with no joy.

    The only person to figure out working fusion reactors is still the Great Green Arkleseizure, who stuck one about 8 and a half light minutes away just to rub it in.

    1. GrumpenKraut Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      > I wish scientists would stop pretending a working fusion reactor is here or "just around the corner".

      You will have a very hard time to find any scientist pretending this. Indeed "Just 20 years in the future, for another 70 years." (or some variation of this) is what pretty much every scientist working in the field will agree to.

      Things may sound a bit more optimistic in grant proposals, but that's another matter.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Bah!

        Oh GumpenKraut, I was there for most of the hysterical "almost there" of the seventies. There were no mentions of the corner being 70 years in duration then. That is something that came along in the mid to late eighties (at least publicly; academics might have been saying it to each other behind closed doors, safely out of the hearing of anyone connected with the funding bodies, since the idea began).

        In fact, the most vocal public speaker on the subject in-the-know-and-in-the-trenches didn't believe Tokamak tech could *ever* deliver the goods and said so in Omni, while people cared and were watching.

        But that was in the heady days of science, before the word "retcon" had been coined and popular science journalists didn't try and con us that there were already "working" nuclear fusion reactors every three months or so.

  21. cutterman

    So we're going to retire all our fusion reactors and sit around waiting for the holy grail of fusion power to come along because we are so scared of fusion power . . .might be a long wait.

    We don't even have an experimental fusion reactor that will sustain fusion for more than two "shots" per hour, let alone run continuously or generate more power than it takes to keep it going.

    And we are able to generate that much power from, guess what, fission reactors !

    The technology is here right now to have safe fission - viable fusion reactors are still "blue sky" stuff, though I'm sure we will get there........eventually.

    The fuel may be cheap, but the expense of building and maintaining a power contributing fusion reactor is likely to be way beyond one country - right now we have to have multinational consortia.

    Building a small, safe fission reactor is an order of magnitude cheaper and easier, making (relatively) cheap power available even to smaller countries.

    Nobody is thinking rationally anymore - everyone is so terrified of fusion power and the possibility of weaponizing it that all sense going down the plughole. Never mind that our finite fossil fuels have killed tens of thousands more than all the fission accidents that have ever happened all added together.

    How about a little common sense here?

    Mac (you'll be lucky . . .)

  22. Hey Nonny Nonny Mouse

    Real close now

    So, in another couple of decades then?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Real close now

      Hey Nonny Nonny Mouse,

      Correct ..... in another couple of Decades we will be 'Real close now'. :)

      Joking aside, I think it is worth chasing for another few decades, particularly if there are spin off technologies on the way as some form of pay back.

      I like 'Impossible Science' projects as they have a habit of surfacing 'interesting/useful things' on the way which find uses that were never planned or expected.

      You never know it might actually work ...... one day !!! :)

  23. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Joke

    Splitting Euratom

    Brexit means leaving Euratom

    1. Stevie Silver badge

      Re: Splitting Euratom

      Indeed yes, and the Bozon count is through the roof.

  24. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
    Joke

    Visitors

    It’s serious science, but not too serious to exclude visitors. Culham is open to pre-booked visitors, holding open evenings in addition to a school programme.

    I'd still be a bit weary if a somewhat obese foreign gentleman with a distinct hairdo comes visiting with an entourage of uniformed men holding notebooks and pens

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Visitors

      "It’s serious science, but not too serious to exclude visitors."

      I remember going there when they had an open day just before it was turned on for the first time ... you got to walk all round the main core etc. Seem to recall finding out about it from a posting on usenet!

  25. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge
    Mushroom

    I made

    some of the tiles inside the torus

    Bloody horrible graphite/fibre mix that was a complete pita to machine.

    Took over machining the facing plates on the diverters at the bottom too, previous guy to me kept asking for more material because he had'nt been supplied with enough in the first place.

    Turned out he was altering the stock delivery cards and hiding the plates he was scrapping..

    Ahhh the joys of making nuclear stuff... see icon

    PS we found all the 'lost' plates behind the tooling cabinets when we decided to move everything around one day :)

    1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

      Re: I made

      @Boris the Cockroach

      Ahhh the joys of making nuclear stuff... see icon

      Cockroach/Nuclear - obviously

    2. John Smith 19 Gold badge
      Unhappy

      "Bloody horrible graphite/fibre mix that was a complete pita to machine."

      Sounds like some kind of Reinforced Carbon Carbon. Like the nose of the Shuttle (or really high performance brake pads for aircraft).

      Might have more in common with ablative heat shields designed for high energy entry, like Jupiter or Venus.

      The article said they switched to a Beryllium/tungsten alloy during one of the upgrades.

      Which I predict was also a PITA to machine as Be is brittle and highly toxic if airborn.

      So, is it "Dr" Cockroach?

    3. james swiers

      Re: I made

      you should have sold them

  26. Delradie
    Go

    Happy memories

    I used to love playing around with cryogenic liquids and whatnot as a teenager at the Culham labs, courtesy of a family friend who ran the crystallography department at JET, and getting to see inside the torus just before they started using tritium (with a group of Swedish students who provided champagne and a jazz gig as a thank you).

    3 questions, if any of the Culham crew are reading?

    1) Is MAST an evolution of the START concept?

    2) Is Alan Sykes still around? If so tell him Mark, Herbert's young friend / the work experience student he helped inspire, is now making a living as a full time professional nerd. Thank you for helping get me started with that Fortran code.

    3) Was MAST designed in the Machine Man (think I've got the name of the pub right)?

    1. Martin-R

      Re: Happy memories

      Alan Sykes was here a couple of summers ago - my daughter had a couple of very happy weeks making plasmas there on work experience :-)

      https://www.tokamakenergy.co.uk/

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: Happy memories

        Heck, anyone can make plasma with a pin, a test tube, some string and a cork.

        1) Prick artery with pin

        2) Direct spurting blood into test tube

        3) cork tube

        4) Apply band-aid to wound

        5) Well you should have bought some when you went for milk on Sunday

        6) Use some of the string for a tourniquet

        7) Tie the rest to the test tube and whirl it round your head really fast

        8) Uncork and sip delicious plasma

        No need for grants from GE or neodymium magnets and liquid helium.

  27. Bert 1
    Happy

    Excited

    I'm just excited by the production of Helium. I hadn't realised that.

    I'll start using party balloons again.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    All well and good but

    Does it generate enough power to run Windows Vista?

  29. 2+2=5 Silver badge
    Happy

    Making stars

    > No extremes of heat and pressure here but pause for long enough after sunset and, if you have a clear night and look up you’ll see the real thing in action.

    And if you look up before sunset on a clear day?

    1. IT Poser
      Joke

      Re: Clear day in the UK?

      Wouldn't it require less waiting to design and build a working fusion power plant?

  30. Joe Gurman

    "Making stars." Hm.

    While no doubt a good way to explain your job to the folks back home, stars also involve quite a lot of mass, and thus quite a lot of gravitational concentration of mass, in order to establish the conditions for thermonuclear energy generation. Right now, at least, a somewhat more difficult engineering problem.

  31. james swiers

    remember to wear your sun tan lotion when looking at this thing

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