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EU Fusion Experiment's Financial Woes Get More Concrete

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the next-year-in-a-fusion-reactor dept.

Power 173

fiannaFailMan writes "An international plan to build a nuclear fusion reactor is being threatened by rising costs, delays and technical challenges. 'Emails leaked to the BBC indicate that construction costs for the experimental fusion project called Iter have more than doubled. Some scientists also believe that the technical hurdles to fusion have become more difficult to overcome and that the development of fusion as a commercial power source is still at least 100 years away. At a meeting in Japan on Wednesday, members of the governing Iter council will review the plans and may agree to scale back the project.' Iter will be a Tokamak device, a successor to the Joint European Torus (JET) in England. Meanwhile, an experiment in fusion by laser doesn't seem to be running into the same high profile funding problems just yet."

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Posting (0, Offtopic)

c00rdb (945666) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366625)

posting to undo accidental mod

Re:Posting (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28366675)

I must admit this is a unique first post.

Useless? Of course. But at least its not a copy/paste troll.

Re:Posting (1)

CecilPL (1258010) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367235)

Nope, he posted the same thing two days ago. I wonder how long he can keep getting modded Funny?

Re:Posting (1)

Hurricane78 (562437) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367643)

I wonder when he will notice that Funny does not give karma...

Re:Posting (1)

fractoid (1076465) | more than 5 years ago | (#28369351)

I wonder when you will notice that karma is not his aim...

Re:Posting (0, Offtopic)

beav007 (746004) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368533)

posting to undo accidental mod

This was very careless of you...

To heck with Fusion. (0, Offtopic)

Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366629)

I want Anti-Mater power.

Re:To heck with Fusion. (4, Funny)

Samalie (1016193) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366715)

You're posting on Shashdot. Thats enough of an anti-mater for any girl out there.

Now anti-matter energy....that would be cool :)

Re:To heck with Fusion. (1)

superdave80 (1226592) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367547)

Is Anti-mater like an evil mirror universe version of Tow-mater from "Cars"?

Better get cracking! (3, Funny)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366665)

We're supposed to have Mr. Fusion [wikia.com] by 2015, you know,... Of course, we were supposed to have flying cars 9 years ago, too,... ;-)

Re:Better get cracking! (1)

CarpetShark (865376) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367501)

I'm guessing you've never seen Space 1999.

Re:Better get cracking! (1)

Afforess (1310263) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368549)

No, Fusion power isn't unlocked until 2050.

I am impressed (4, Funny)

spyfrog (552673) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366671)

The saying has always been that "fusion is still 50 years away", for fifty years ago and recent.
Now EU has managed to make it 100 years away - it's an impressive achievement: they have managed to double the time we have to wait. Great use of money. Since fusion was only "50 years away" when we started we where actually better off before we started to build that reactor (or the scientists where to optimistic, but whats the fun in that?).

Re:I am impressed (3, Insightful)

roc97007 (608802) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366983)

Or is it possible that since governments fund research, not solutions, that's what they're getting -- research, not solutions. Practical fusion will always be 50 years ahead, because that's what we are (inadvertently) paying scientists to say.

Re:I am impressed (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28367281)

Practical fusion will always be 50 years ahead, because that's what we are (inadvertently) paying scientists to say.

Scientist in lab: "Ha! Another positive energy run! Well, we'll just fudge the numbers so it looks like it took more energy to start the fusion than we got back. Can't jeopardize our funding..."

Nope, I don't buy it. Once fusion hits positive returns, there will be more money spent on it, to develop it to practical status. And the lab that first hits positive return will go down in history, famous forever.

Scientists working on fusion would love to succeed.

since governments fund research, not solutions, that's what they're getting -- research, not solutions.

I don't know how you can skip the research and go straight to the solution. If you know how, then please go do it for fusion, and make yourself fabulously wealthy as you solve all our long-term energy problems.

And if you don't know how, then stop bad-mouthing the fusion scientists. Kthxbye.

Re:I am impressed (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367823)

Nope, I don't buy it. Once fusion hits positive returns, there will be more money spent on it, to develop it to practical status. And the lab that first hits positive return will go down in history, famous forever.

And the researchers could get a Nobel Prize and could name their price for a job with a company building commercial fusion plants, and...

Yeah, score one for common sense there. Mod the AC up.

Re:I am impressed (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367953)

And the researchers could get a Nobel Prize and could name their price for a job with a company building commercial fusion plants, and...

Yeah, score one for common sense there. Mod the AC up.

Forget the Nobel Prize, they'd be looking at their names in the history books. Nobel winners come and go, but technological breakthroughs of this magnitude happen a couple times a century, max. Do you know what most researchers in science and engineering would do for that kind of legacy?

The problem is not foot dragging (except on the part of the bean counters). Simply put, the problems associated with building a working fusion power plant, while not insurmountable, are still very difficult. Net energy output is only the beginning; you need a way to exchange fuel for waste from the working plasma, you need to be able to keep the containment running without an hiccups (or the whole thing stops working), you need to maintain superconductivity in the magnets...

It isn't enough to break even, you need to break even and keep going before you can hook up to the grid and supply power. This is why they say it'll be decades instead of years; we aren't that far from the break-even point, but then there's all the other steps after that.

Re:I am impressed (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367385)

Even if there is a breakthrough it is likely that some or all of the scientists will immediately quit the project and attempt to jump on board with "investor" companies as they rush to patent the fruits of what was formerly publicly funded research. It would become yet another classic case of privatization of profits and socialization of costs, losses, and risks.

Re:I am impressed (1)

OeLeWaPpErKe (412765) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367609)

... Which would still be of massive benefit to everyone. I mean the internet is a very good example of what you just described. I daresay nothing came of it while govt. controlled it. Only when private sector got involved did things get interesting. The same will be true of fusion power.

And ... of course if the government pays everyone gets to steal. Think about it this way : what prospects do scientists who don't do this have if they stay in government service ? The very top of the reward curve is a pad on the back.

Private sector will gladly pay heaps of money for even minor advancements, and even if you're motivated by research : ever compare the pitiful university labs with a private company's equipment ? The first time I did some research for a company I asked "when do I have to return these sensors ?", thinking it'd be like university, where you can use anything costing over 10$ for perhaps a day or two unless you're a professor, and even then. They just looked and said "never, this was budgeted for you, take it home afterwards".

I should say the difference is heaven and earth. But it isn't. The difference is heaven and hell.

Re:I am impressed (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28367685)

This argument is getting old...

Yeah, there's an untold number of scientist who would turn down a Nobel prize and tenure in favor of... tenure if not cancelled.

Right.

Idiot.

Re:I am impressed (1)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 5 years ago | (#28369543)

I don't know whether to find this comment funny or depressing...

For ITER specifically, one of the reasons the US wasn't involved early on was that ITER was promoting itself as a test for a commercial reactor. The US science community and the DOE didn't buy it, but were willing to fund a research focused reactor.

Re:I am impressed-Proof Of Time Travel Finally (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366999)

Since fusion was only "50 years away" when we started we where actually better off before we started to build that reactor

Congratulations, you have just proven that time travelers coming back from the future are clearly meddling in our affairs in an ongoing basis. I can only hope that it's a better future than Skynet - unless it's full of those hot Terminator babes!

ITER Implementation Plan - Current Estimates (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28367037)

ITER Implementation Plan - Current Estimates

June 2009

Audience: Forward Estimates Committee - ITER

Plan dates and schedules have moved this month in line with indicators discussed earlier. Please note that current estimates (based upon this month's economic data and technical risk assessment) indicate a 2-fold increase in time available prior to go-live.

The technical team and political working-group are please to announce the largest single increase experienced during the life of the project to-date. Expectations have been exceeded and regional vendors have re-affirmed their commitment to the project in light of this positive result.

Whist further increases can be expected in the next quarter, the chief project manager will amortise the recent time increase with those projected over the next 400 quarters, resulting in a rolling-averaged, smoothed expenditure curve that will provide additional contributor value by offering schedulable valuation events that may be timed to mesh with the various contributorsâ(TM) disparate election timetables.

P.S. Send cash.

Re:I am impressed (1)

somersault (912633) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367177)

Better off than when we started indeed:

Some scientists also believe that the technical hurdles to fusion have become more difficult to overcome

Somehow we have changed the universe to make fusion more difficult. We'd better be careful just how much research we do into it - if we do too much, the sun will stop working!

Re:I am impressed (1)

bertoelcon (1557907) | more than 5 years ago | (#28369713)

Somehow we have changed the universe to make fusion more difficult.

I don't think we did it, must be entropy.

Re:I am impressed (1)

EvanED (569694) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367227)

Bah, I'm not impressed. SimCity 2000 taught me that fusion reactors will be available in about 2050 to 2060. If reality fails to live up to Will Wright, I will be sorely disappointed.

Re:I am impressed (0)

ThePlague (30616) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367597)

They did better than that. When I was in physics grad school in the late 80's, early 90's, commercial fusion was "20 years away" and had been that way for over 40 years.

Re:I am impressed (1)

tenZygzak (1396535) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368767)

Commercial fusion will be "20 years away" after normal fusion. As always.

Re:I am impressed (1)

adavies42 (746183) | more than 5 years ago | (#28369127)

Now EU has managed to make it 100 years away - it's an impressive achievement

they must be trying to one-up nasa [theonion.com]

Bussard (4, Interesting)

Garrett Fox (970174) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366699)

I'm interested in the work of Robert Bussard's research team, which continued after his death. Last I heard was sometime late last year, when the US military announced a continued grant to that team for their "Polywell" system. The grant suggests that the military saw something it liked in the interesting, but questionable data from Bussard's last experiments. Is there any new info on this?

Re: fusion research in general, how much of a priority do you think it should be? Is the best way to think of it, "It'll be nice if it ever works, but don't plan on it ever being closer than "40 years away"? (Or 100, now?) There is that one experiment that's been reported on lately with breathless claims that it'll achieve better than break-even energy within "a few years," right? One story from May [guardian.co.uk] says that the new California facility will be the one to achieve net energy gain, but suggests that it might take till 2040.

Re:Bussard (1)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366831)

The Navy is still funding it. Last I heard they are under a publishing embargo again.
Maybe it is working really well but we will see I hope.

Re:Bussard (4, Informative)

Jerf (17166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366967)

The latest Bussard fusion news, from yesterday [classicalvalues.com] . Fairly encouraging; it's hard to estimate exactly how successful the tests were but we can rule out total failure, I think.

I would currently place Bussard's success probability as much higher than ITER's.

Re:Bussard (2, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367587)

Personally I'm gunning for Sandia Lab's Z-Pinch device, though mostly because the original looked so unbelievably fucking cool [sandia.gov] .

The last I'd heard from them, they had built a small module that could do inertial fusion, and could fire rapidly and for many cycles. They could be stacked to increase power, and in theory all they had to do (simplifying of course) was stack a bunch of these modules to make practical power generation, and a test product was supposed to be done in a few years.

Sadly, being small self-contained boxes and not a research toy they don't look nearly as awesome as the original.

But yeah. Bussard could work too. In any case, ITER seems like the real long shot.

Re:Bussard (2, Interesting)

KliX (164895) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367795)

Please, please, please tell me you're not a scientist of any sort! I really hope the late Bussard's ideas come to fruition, but the data from their previous experiments is awful (check those error bars people), and the physics dubious (the consensus is mainly on the "it's not going to work" side, but it's not clear cut). ITER on the other hand is an engineering problem; we've done plasma containment. We don't know if a full scale polywell can work, and things look bad - we know tokamak fusion systems will work (better than break even), but we've no idea if we can engineer a reactor/generator system that's provides cheaper energy than say fission, with workable maintenance (how many times a decade will we have the reactor shield/energy recovery system destroyed by the neutron flux etc).

ITER will "work", but may not be a practical mass energy source. The polywell, is pretty much a yes/no experiment that nobody has done yet. I just wish someone would throw $200 million at EMC2 to build a full scale prototype so we can see if the physics is good or not.

Re:Bussard (4, Interesting)

Jerf (17166) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368049)

You obviously didn't follow the link. The experiments are being done. It's military funded and they're not telling us everything, but clearly the results were good enough to continue ramping up. (Total failure would either cancel the project or move it in some other direction. Probably the former.)

and the physics dubious (the consensus is mainly on the "it's not going to work" side, but it's not clear cut)

The only such "consensus" that I know about is from a guy who used assumptions about how electrons behave based on equations based on preconditions that do not hold; I find Bussard's response compelling. I do not trust that analysis. Bussard fusion may yet not work, but not for that reason.

Besides, the time for posturing and insulting people for examining data and coming to their own conclusions is coming to a close; experimental data is at hand. It doesn't matter what theories say will or won't work when the experiment is done.

Re:Bussard (1)

khellendros1984 (792761) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367533)

How about his collectors? How are those coming? I think we need them by 2151 or so...

Re:Bussard (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28367541)

IIRC as far as time frame and cost goes, the EMC2 team (Bussard's team) expects that an energy positive full scale system will take 6 years and somewhere in the $100 - 200 million range. The team is mostly funded by the Navy which is interested in the research as a future power source for ships.

For those that don't know, the Polywell design is a rethinking of the old "Fusor" design which has been successfully performing fusion for decades, even in garage settings, but at an energy loss. The Polywell design works on the idea that instead of trying to crush atoms together with magnets like a tokomak (hard to do) you confine electrons with magnets (easy to do) and release ionized atoms into the device which are accelerated towards the confined electrons and smack into each other.

Typical "Fusors" and the current prototype Polywell devices use Deuterium and Tritium, which when fused result in Helium plus an extra neutron. The extra neutron can stick to components inside the device causing them to become radioactive over time (much of the radioactive waste associated with existing nuclear power is caused by equipment being bombarded with neutrons). The ultimate goal of the EMC2 group is to perform Hydrogen/Boron-11reactions instead, which only result in Helium, however this reaction requires significantly stronger magnetic fields, higher currents, and a larger area.

Re:Bussard (1)

NP-Incomplete (1566707) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368297)

I have much more faith in NIF than ITER.

How do you know until you succeed? (1)

clarkn0va (807617) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366717)

the technical hurdles to fusion have become more difficult to overcome

Really? Have they really become more difficult? Like jumping off the high board becomes more difficult after you've climbed up there? Or truly more difficult, like trying to sell tickets to the hockey pool after the playoffs have ended?

Re:How do you know until you succeed? (1)

Kiliani (816330) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367109)

Really? Have they really become more difficult? Like jumping off the high board becomes more difficult after you've climbed up there? Or truly more difficult, like trying to sell tickets to the hockey pool after the playoffs have ended?

About 15 years ago I sat in a very interesting seminar where one of the lead scientists on the fusion front admitted that the "easy" part of fusion was the physics (try that for "easy"), and that the really hard part of the engineering was yet to come.

Looks like back then they already knew they were going to be in for a ride, but they simply didn't know how hard it would be. So I am not surprised.

If you climb up the high board and only then find that it is all cracked and creaky: yes, your Olympic dive may just have become harder.

Re:How do you know until you succeed? (2, Insightful)

somersault (912633) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367271)

In both of those scenarios the difficulty stays constant - only perceptions change. Nothing has become harder, they've just realised that they're not as easy as they initially suspected.

It's the same as people in the 60s who thought that we'd have intelligent robot house servants and flying cars by now..

Re:How do you know until you succeed? (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368055)

In both of those scenarios the difficulty stays constant - only perceptions change. Nothing has become harder, they've just realised that they're not as easy as they initially suspected.

It's the same as people in the 60s who thought that we'd have intelligent robot house servants and flying cars by now..

As has been pointed out before, the "flying cars" business isn't about technology, so much as safety and efficiency. We've got helicopters after all, and some models aren't much bigger than a car. Now try to imagine what a city full of DMV certified copter pilots, each in a machine more vulnerable and fragile than a car, all bumping into each other, would be like.

Back on topic, I think it's less about perceptions and more about easy problems versus hard ones. The easy problems of fusion have been solved. Simply causing fusion to happen artificially came first, with the hydrogen bomb. Causing it to happen without prior fission came next. Now we're up to sustaining it, and getting net power out of it, which are harder than the previous problems. Still solvable, but the R&D needed is more complex.

Re:How do you know until you succeed? (1)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368775)

Now we're up to sustaining it, and getting net power out of it, which are harder than the previous problems.

Or even getting net power out WITHOUT sustaining it.

You can get power from a fueled heat engine with continuous combustion. (Steam engines - both mobile and power plants - for example.) But repeated pulses of power work fine too (diesel cycle, otto cycle, ...) and may have engineering advantages in some situations (i.e. trading efficiency for light weight, high power-to-weight ratio, and broad torque curve to make engines practical for vehicles). Fusion also might be practical on a putt-putt rather than long continuous burn basis.

Re:How do you know until you succeed? (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 5 years ago | (#28369263)

That's very much true for inertial confinement fusion, which uses the pulse model you describe. In those systems, ignition is akin to spark plugs for an IC engine - one spark, one mass of fuel ignited, repeat.

Magnetic fusion systems like ITER however are meant to use the heat of fusion to sustain ignition. This is probably going to be the more efficient approach, since it means not having to scrape together the energy for ignition repeatedly - start it up, and it'll keep going as long as you put fuel in and retain confinement (neither of which is easy yet). Given the current energy needed for ignition, the magnetic model will likely become net-positive sooner than the inertial model, though I'd obviously invest in research for both were I in charge of such matters.

Also, outside of naval vessels, I'm not sure any vehicle is going to use fusion directly, at least not in any near-future time span, so power-to-weight isn't going to be a concern. For futuristic spacecraft propulsion, inertial confinement would be my pick, particularly if it works for nuclear pulse propulsion.

100 years? (1)

Sybert42 (1309493) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366765)

That hits into Singularity timelines.

Europe + Fusion (1)

swanzilla (1458281) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366773)

= the plot of The Saint. Be on the lookout for horrible accents.

NIF cost overruns (4, Informative)

Super_Z (756391) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366789)

Meanwhile, an experiment in fusion by laser doesn't seem to be running into the same high profile funding problems just yet."

According to this article [economist.com] , NIF has cost $4 billion so far - almost four times the original estimate. What saved the NIF from cancellation was that its backers persuaded politicians that it was vital for Americas nuclear programme.

Science at this level is neither easy nor cheap.

Re:NIF cost overruns (1)

bitt3n (941736) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367465)

What saved the NIF from cancellation was that its backers persuaded politicians that it was vital for Americas nuclear programme.

Science at this level is neither easy nor cheap.

this is why I fully support North Korea's nuke program. Just think of all the new science we'll get to do on our end as a result (at least in the short term)

Not making it any easier... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28369369)

Tri-Valley Communities Against a Radioactive Environment.

Morons, idiots, fucktards, pick any name and it applies to luddite son-of-bitches like these.

J.Hansen wants to prosecute GW "Deniers". He should first go after brainless shit-for-brains like these people who, along with more mainstream leftists KILLED NUCLEAR POWER and made us MORE RELIANT ON FOSSIL FUELS.

Fucking assholes, the lot of them. Fucking environmentalists got us into this mess with their scare mongering...Bitch Fonda, are you listening? Global Warming is YOUR FAULT along with all the other dumb as a sack of brick enviro-whackos.

Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (0, Troll)

Jeng (926980) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366793)

We have two working examples of fusion generation, the Hydrogen Bomb that uses a fission device to jump start it and the Sun which is hugely radioactive.

So our two working examples of fusion generation require fission.

I would think that the future of fusion generation would be a component of fission generation.

You can have fission on its own, you can have fission and fusion together, but you can't have fusion on its own in any way that's economical.

Re:Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (3, Insightful)

LWATCDR (28044) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366861)

"So our two working examples of fusion generation require fission."
Um no. The sun doesn't use fission. So not at ll.

"I would think that the future of fusion generation would be a component of fission generation."
How? What? Huh?

"You can have fission on its own, you can have fission and fusion together, but you can't have fusion on its own in any way that's economical."

Nope not really and wow... I mean really wow.....
 

Re:Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (1)

selven (1556643) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367175)

Now, we just need to move the solar panels 149.59999 million kilometers closer and we'll all be fine.

Re:Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (1)

newcastlejon (1483695) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368059)

"I would think that the future of fusion generation would be a component of fission generation." How? What? Huh?

Burning and breeding. Powerful neutron sources can be quite handy, but I doubt that's what the OP meant.

Re:Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (2, Insightful)

KonoWatakushi (910213) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368069)

This reminds me of something Dr. Bussard said during his google talk:

"countless billions of stars in the universe all doing nuclear fusion...and not a single one of them is shaped like a donut!â

There are other promising possibilities for fusion; maybe we should be funding those, instead of the Tokamaks which cost billions upon billions, and are now 100 years away. Furthermore, even if they do work, they will never be economically viable.

Dr. Bussard's Polywell is one such approach, which thankfully, continues to be funded by the navy. If funding weren't so minimal, perhaps he would have lived long enough to see commercial fusion reactors using this concept. Even so, it looks like we should finally know whether it works within the next 1.5-2 years. Commercial reactors would follow shortly thereafter.

Re:Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (1)

Chris Burke (6130) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368187)

"countless billions of stars in the universe all doing nuclear fusion...and not a single one of them is shaped like a donut!â

Bah! Hadn't he ever heard of Bagelgeuse?!

Re:Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (4, Insightful)

logicnazi (169418) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367089)

>We have two working examples of fusion generation, the Hydrogen Bomb that uses a fission device to jump start it and the Sun which is hugely radioactive.

Uhh, what? It's actually pretty damn easy to create fusion reactions in the labratory merely using ions and electric fields. Of course they are hugely energy negative but it's not like these are our only two examples of fusion. Also the response about the sun indicates a complete lack of understanding about the different types of radioactivity and the relation between this and fission.

It's not like we don't have a detailed understanding of how fusion works. We know there is no fundamental law barring fusion power, the issue is all about practical generation.

Re:Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28368401)

"It's not like we don't have a detailed understanding of how fusion works. We know there is no fundamental law barring fusion power, the issue is all about practical generation."

In other words: in theory, it's voila. In practice, WTF?!

Re:Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (1)

Fallen Seraph (808728) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367883)

Ummm, here's one example that's pure fusion and economical: THE SUN.

As one of the previous posters said, you have a remarkably poor understanding of stellar fusion. The fusion reaction within a star is triggered by the massive gravitational force exerted by the star's mass. The force is so great that the mass collapses in on itself until the tremendous pressure and heat of the collapse ignites a fusion process within the core. Once ignited, the fusion reaction's force pushes the mass outward, holding back gravitational collapse.

The life of a star is this continual struggle between gravity threatening to collapse the star in on itself, and fusion, threatening the make it explode. Nova and supernova form when the star reaches an age at which it has burned off the majority of it's fuel (converting it into heavier elements in the process). This makes the fusion process less efficient, as elements above Iron on the periodic table yield a negative energy return in this scenario. As such, the gravitational force overcomes the fusion force and collapses the star further, causing the heavier elements which have formed to begin fusing, and releasing a massive amount of energy in the process, which in turn, causes the stellar shell to burst. After this, the star's death depends on the amount of mass remaining, but that's the general idea.

Fission has nothing to do with it because fission requires super heavy elements, such as Uranium and Plutonium, to occur. Stars have very little of these elements during their lifecycle, and indeed, they CREATE these elements through heavy fusion at the very end of their life, which is how these elements arrived on Earth: through the heavy elemental fusion in long dead stars, and being blasted into space by the star's death.

The problem for humans is not economy in this technique, but scale. We need the fusion to occur on a much smaller scale, or else it's of little use to us.

Re:Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (2, Funny)

The Archon V2.0 (782634) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368137)

We have two working examples of fusion generation, the Hydrogen Bomb that uses a fission device to jump start it and the Sun which is hugely radioactive.

So our two working examples of fusion generation require fission.

It is with great dishonor that I present you with the "you fail physics forever" diploma. I wish you the best of luck on your new career as a Hollywood action and sci-fi movie writer.

Re:Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (1)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368405)

I believe he was head script writer on "The Core", which would explain a lot.

Re:Pure Fusion power generation is a pipe dream (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28368509)

"Hydrogen Bomb that uses a fission device to jump start it" does not imply "the future of fusion generation would be a component of fission generation".

The reason that hydrogen bombs have fission bombs around them is because fusion requires compression and heat. Fission, on the other hand, requires a chain reaction--so the two use completely different mechanisms.

When the fission bombs go off, they provide they compression and heat for the fusion to start. All you would need is sometime to replicate that compression and heat, and there are several ways to do that.

They need to bring in more talent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28366817)

There's impressive research on Tokamak style reactors being done by the scientists over at Stark Industries. The bigwigs complained about the damn research being done to placate the hippies... If only they could miniaturize it using off the shelf missile parts and third world engineering tools!

Re:They need to bring in more talent (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28367231)

Clearly Robert Downey Jr. is wasting his talent in Hollywood.

What ever happened to this? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28366859)

nuclear google [google.com]

Re:What ever happened to this? (3, Interesting)

Ungrounded Lightning (62228) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368837)

The Navy picked up the option to fund the next step.

Now it's funded the step after that, and included a request for a proposal for it to fund the third and final step.

At the end of that step (if it all works) we have a practical first demo power plant - about 100 megawatts of fusion power out from cheap and very abundant fuel. Proof of concept, a practical design good enough to displace fossil fuel and fission power plants (and perhaps aircraft carrier and battleship engines) that can be replicated, and probably enough engineering data to design something much better.

100 years now (1)

Perp Atuitie (919967) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366943)

In the middle of the 70s, controlled fusion was just around the corner. Many times. 100 years is some corner. Far as I know there's been no progress, even in the lab, since then.

Re:100 years now (5, Insightful)

RsG (809189) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367845)

Far as I know there's been no progress, even in the lab, since then.

Then perhaps it is time to expand your knowledge?

We have built working toroid reactors since the 1970s. Just such a reactor, JET, is mentioned in TFA. The problem is no longer whether such a design will work. Nor is ignition the problem; we've achieved that years ago. Controlled fusion exists, here, now, in the present. This wasn't the case in the 1970s (well, there were Farnsworth fusors and H-bombs, but those are both significantly different cases).

The problem now lies in getting net energy out of it, and keeping the reaction going over long enough durations to generate useful amounts of electricity. This is indeed physically possible (see for instance the centre of the sun), it's just very challenging from a practical standpoint. The engineering hasn't caught up, in part because the number of testbeds for new designs is sharply limited. ITER is supposed to be the next such testing ground for new engineering solutions, but as you can see, it's having trouble getting political and financial backing.

Also, this "fusion has been 50 years away for the past 30 years" meme gets on my nerves. It's selective perception, and utter bullshit. People remember the promise of fusion, but forget that we were politically and financially unwilling to pay for it. The research wasn't going to just happen magically, someone needed to underwrite it.

Had we done the needed R&D decades ago, we would be decades ahead of where we are now. We didn't. You get what you put in, and in this case we put in nowhere near what we ought to have. Result is that we're behind.

The real problem is.... (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28366955)

Once they get it working the funding will cease.

Tokamak (3, Funny)

HTH NE1 (675604) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366957)

Iter will be a Tokamak device

Good choice, since attempts with Zat'nik'tel and Tacuchnatagamuntoron devices failed.

One Hundred Whats??? (1, Flamebait)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 5 years ago | (#28366959)

that the development of fusion as a commercial power source is still at least 100 years away.

That's like saying it's never going to happen at all. If we can't solve it in far less time than that, I don't think we'll ever solve it.

100 Years, My Ass (1)

logicnazi (169418) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367015)

I mean just consider the state of technology one hundred years ago. Advances in computational power alone should allow useful solutions of the diffeqs governing plasma containment. One might be able to make a case for 40 years but trying to push predictions about the future past that point doesn't seem particularly useful.

Also I have to wonder how useful it is to learn that some scientists think that iter is going in the wrong direction. Of course some scientists do, otherwise why would we build an *experimental* reactor. The question shouldn't be whether some people are skeptical but whether ITER is the most efficient way to advance our understanding of these issues.

Re:100 Years, My Ass (2, Interesting)

hbr (556774) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367229)

To me 100 years sounds like a precursor argument to cutting funding.

As fusion seems to be the only single approach that is capable of solving the energy/climate/etc crisis by itself, we should be doubling the funding.

For the promised benefits, nuclear fusion research funding seems disproportionately small to me.

100 Years? (5, Funny)

divisionbyzero (300681) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367153)

Wow, in the 50's it was any day now; 70's real soon now; 90's became 50 years; now 2010 we're at 100. That's a heck of a curve. In 100 years we'll be at only 200 years away!

Re:100 Years? (1)

Jesus_666 (702802) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367631)

Obviously that means we already had it in the Thirties but apparently someone lost the blueprints.

Re:100 Years? (1)

The_mad_linguist (1019680) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368357)

Estimates for polywell put mass production at 20 years, assuming the test results keep coming in the way they are now.

Have become more difficult to overcome? (1)

feepness (543479) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367213)

Some scientists also believe that the technical hurdles to fusion have become more difficult to overcome...

I was climbing the mountain and then it became three thousand feet higher!

Some perspective please... (5, Insightful)

johannesg (664142) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367233)

The EU spends way more than that on agricultural subsidies every single year. I'm probably a cultural barbarian, but I happen to think that developing fusion, even if it will take a while, is more important than subsidising French wine.

As for all those "fusion will always be 50 years away" remarks: that's what happens if you never start. ITER could have started a decade ago, if everyone hadn't been fighting over where to build it. Fusion would be ten years closer if we had somehow managed to select a piece of ground somewhere in a reasonable amount of time.

Re:Some perspective please... (1)

sidyan (110067) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367669)

You can (somewhat) blame the Japanese for holding up the start of the project; It wasn't until they were bought off with a separate research facility that they dropped their claim on the reactor location.

Oh, and by the way, ITER [wikipedia.org] is not just an EU project. It's about as international as the International Space Station [wikipedia.org] (minus Canada, plus China).

The Tokamak is a jobs program... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28367275)

For physicists at this point, that should be apparent.

And in the interest of continuing scientific progress in fusion, funding for it should be scaled back considerably and instead the money that would have gone into it should go into the Polywell device, which has a much higher probability of success.

seriously (4, Insightful)

dwarfenhoschi (1494927) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367307)

They dont mean those 100 years seriously right ? i mean look at it, 100 years ago we were happy to even have Power and just in the last 10 years much has developed. Science these days is exponential so i expect that in 100 years we have either blown ourselves up somehow or we will have really cool stuff...fusion power will be old by then ^^

Re:seriously (2, Funny)

Kesch (943326) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368339)

What if we blow our selves up with some really cool stuff? I'm thinking lots of last words along the lines of "Damn! That's awesome!"

How to make simple fusion reactor (2, Interesting)

laughingskeptic (1004414) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367613)

A back of the envelope calculation says that a paraffin sphere with a 200m radius can absorb the energy of a 2 megaton hydrogen bomb by melting. So we build ourselves a nice strong containment vessel out of a granite mountain, fill the hole with paraffin and set off a bomb, melt paraffin, boil water for a couple of months and then repeat. There is probably a better material than paraffin, but the basic idea is the same. Just a few minor engineering issues to work out and we could have one of these suckers in production in a couple of years. Or we could just start making better use of the monster fusion reactor that is already in the neighborhood.

Re:How to make simple fusion reactor (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28368013)

Sounds like a plan !

Re:How to make simple fusion reactor (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368121)

Believe it or not, that's been suggested, perhaps unsurprisingly in the USSR during the cold war.

It isn't all that practical a power source. There's no benefit to it over a conventional fission reactor, and several drawbacks. Notably, bombs are more expensive and challenging to make than fuel pellets, the security risk is much greater if somebody hijacks your fuel, radioactive material released in this manner has an annoying tendency to find it's way into the atmosphere or water table, and finally, whatever you build the blast chamber under is going to get hammered every time you light it up. Your granite mountain might become an irradiated gravel heap, given enough time.

Re:How to make simple fusion reactor (1)

tobiah (308208) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368133)

Or we could just start making better use of the monster fusion reactor that is already in the neighborhood.

Totally, the energy source is already there, and being exploited rather efficiently by many organisms. I feel like we've hit a limit of the centralized power source model, and the practical future of energy is in collecting on the small scale and exploiting local sources. For example, here in San Diego I know several people who produce a net surplus of electricity from their solar panels, without any real effort at conserving use. Big, dirty power supplies with massive infrastructure issues are so very dated. The future is small, local and clean. Not because it's ethical, but because it's practical.

Re:How to make simple fusion reactor (1)

NP-Incomplete (1566707) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368391)

I believe this has been suggested using existing salt mines.

ITERation? (1)

maroberts (15852) | more than 5 years ago | (#28367747)

I was under the impression that ITER was effectively the prelude to full scale fusion, and it was effectively just a scale up from previous designs to see if sustainable fusion was possible. This article makes it look as though fundamental problems remain unresolved; hardly reassuring when you're building a full scale unit with such major issues like what you're going to build the damn thing out of.

Re:ITERation? (1)

RsG (809189) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368239)

I was under the impression that ITER was effectively the prelude to full scale fusion, and it was effectively just a scale up from previous designs to see if sustainable fusion was possible. This article makes it look as though fundamental problems remain unresolved; hardly reassuring when you're building a full scale unit with such major issues like what you're going to build the damn thing out of.

Where did you get that idea?

ITER is going to be the testbed for the technology needed to make a commercial fusion reactor possible. The unsolved problems each have potential solutions to them, each of which will need to be tested. After ITER, the next step is a prototype reactor, one which incorporates the technology developed during the testing process. The step after that is commercial power generators.

The problems with fusion are not really "fundamental". They're just difficult. None are deal-breakers, and for each of them several possible solutions exist.

Imagine the hurdles that remain as being akin to the hurdles that faced us during the space race. Everything that we needed, we knew we could make. The science was long since done, the work fell to the engineers. We knew we could go into space as early as the turn of the twentieth century. It took 50 years to get there, and that's with three wars that spurred the requisite R&D (the first brought a boon to the aeronautics field, the second brought us rocketry and the cold war gave us a competitive environment for the space race).

Fusion Power is always 20 years away (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28368117)

Somehow, fusion power is always 20 years away. It's been that way the last 50 years.

Materials, materials, materials (3, Insightful)

mako1138 (837520) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368159)

Fusion is not 100 years away. It's already been achieved in JET, for example. What's 50-100 years away is a practical commercial fusion power plant with a lifetime measured in years.

In order to be practical, a fusion plant has to produce net power. ITER is expected to do that.

However, the materials issue remains. The interior of a tokamak, the "first wall", has to be able to withstand an intense neutron flux without degrading. ITER is going to be made out of stainless steel, which is fine for research; it wouldn't hold up very long in a 24x365 environment. For a commercial reactor, we don't have an ideal first wall material yet.

These cost overruns and delays over the history of the ITER program have been ridiculous. I'm not sure whether canning ITER is a good idea. Scaling it back might be, but the problem is, a new reactor needs to be significantly larger than existing ones, in order to explore a different part of the parameter space. Large = still expensive.

At this point, the most important part of the ITER program, IMO, is the International Fusion Materials Irradiation Facility. We need better materials.

Re:Materials, materials, materials (1)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 5 years ago | (#28369021)

...or repair, repair, repair.

One could make a production line to churn out stainless steel liners for the reactor at low cost.

TIMTOWTDI

100 Years for fusion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28368303)

Thanks a lot 'Smart Science Type Guys'. You couldn't fuse two pieces of bread, a slice of cheese, and a slice of ham into a sandwich -let alone two Hydrogen atoms into one Helium atom- in a hundred years. Swell.

I guess they had to hit the fuse box on fusion (1)

youn (1516637) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368499)

They wanted to fuse... the're confused instead... some body got pissed and blew a fuse, decided it was time to hit the fuse box and stop fusion

Is that what they really want? (1)

shish (588640) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368625)

EU Fusion Experiment's Financial Woes Get More Concrete

From the sounds of things, what they want is more money...

Cold Fusion (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28368755)

Cold fusion has already been proven and the method is called deuterium loading. Look it up.

More wasted money (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28368803)

You can drill a stupid hole in the ground, about 1 Km deep, use conventional (20 year old technology) directional drilling technology to make it a circle 1 Km in diameter, and then drill a second hole back up to the surface. You can then pump water (regular, every day ordinary garden-variety water) into the ground, and have it come up hot (steam). This can then be used to turn a turbine, and the water sent back down to do it all again. Such a system can be used to generate between 10MW-100MW. Repeat. 100 of these can be built for the cost of 1 tokamak. The difference is that 100 of these can produce between 1000MW-10000MW, whereas a tokamak produces 0MW. At least the scientists are not yelping 'oh, just 15 more years' anymore. I think research is really wonderful, but it had better be something tangible. They have said "only 15 years out" for about 60 years now. Except now they are saying 100 years. Between now and 100 years from now, we need something. A tokamak reactor won't. Geothermal will. Oh, and while we're at it, build about 2 or 3 dozen new nuclear plants. Create a mine about 10560 feet down (2 miles deep), and store waste down there. Use concrete and steel for support, and store at least 1000 tons of high-level waste down there, then seal it all up. Make sure there is no possible way it can get to the surface, and put a geothermal station above it with cooling lines 1 mile deep. If it starts to react and give off a lot of heat, you just let it react and get real hot. Siphon off all the heat, and remember to turn it into electricity. If you don't think 2 miles is deep enough, go 3 miles. This isn't that hard, is it?

This is why the IFR should be restart ASAP (1)

WindBourne (631190) | more than 5 years ago | (#28368909)

Anytime you have a large number of countries who are building something in which each is trying to gain control of it, there will be costs overrun. In addition, the IFR is capable of burning the WASTE nuke supplies. If advanced countries put these in, then the world will have but a fraction of the waste. 3rd world countries (developing nations; whatever) can put in older reactors that use simple reaction. And the argument about plutonium going to bomb making is a total fraud. As it is, we have Iran and North Korea creating bombs.

More Concrete? (1)

JuzzFunky (796384) | more than 5 years ago | (#28369545)

I'm confused. What does concrete [wikipedia.org] have to do with financial woes?

Tokamak? (1)

FungusCannon (1408259) | more than 5 years ago | (#28369595)

Why tokamak? Why don't they try out polywell or inertial confinement (LASERS!) fusion?
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