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New Review Slams Fusion Project's Management

Soulskill posted about 10 months ago | from the doing-great-except-for-the-fusion-stuff dept.

Science 109

sciencehabit writes "ITER, the international fusion reactor project in France, is reeling from an assessment that found serious problems with the project's leadership, management, and governance. The report is so damning that after a 13 February special session that reviewed and accepted the report's conclusions and recommendations, the ITER Council — the project's governing body — restricted its readership to a small number of senior managers and council members. 'We feared that if [the assessment] leaked to people who don't know about the ITER agreement, the project could be interpreted as a major failure, which is not what the management assessor intended,' says nuclear engineer Bob Iotti of the consulting firm CH2M HILL, who chairs that council."

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They have 20 years (1)

able1234au (995975) | about 10 months ago | (#46340301)

...to fix it.

So...it's a complete failure. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46340329)

Thanks for clearing that up.

Re:So...it's a complete failure. (2)

durrr (1316311) | about 10 months ago | (#46340663)

Did you really need an article to figure that out?

I read about ITER as the future of fusion a decade ago in popsci.
The same article today would be identical.
And so would it be in 2024 when the mess is finally finished.

Meanwhile several different small scale projects that have emerged from obscurity during the last decade have put commercial viability goals within the coming decade.

A coal power plant that requires an olympic torch to ignite the fuel would be more viable than ITER.

Re:So...it's a complete failure. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46340825)

Meanwhile several different small scale projects that have emerged from obscurity during the last decade have put commercial viability goals within the coming decade.

As someone who has worked on more than one of the smaller scale projects, I don't think anything is commercially viable within a decade. While many alternative designs offer a chance or at least hope of ending up cheaper than a tokamak, they will still require large scale projects at the level needed to produce electricity, likely with similar orders of magnitudes in costs in the $100M-$1B+ ranges. Except there is also more risks, as some of the things that had been figured out on tokamaks decades ago are being rediscovered on other machines, or finding new, different problems that need to be addressed. At least large parts tokamak designs are shifting to more engineering type problems than science problems.

Re:So...it's a complete failure. (2)

durrr (1316311) | about 10 months ago | (#46341071)

That still doesn't change the fact that I'm willing to bet my manhood on non-ITER derivates achiving commercial viability before ITER-derivates.

Why I can do that bet in good faith is that the ITER roadmap doesn't reach commercial viability until the end of my life, and with delays that always are inevitable on a project of this scope you'll at best recover my rusted balls of steel from my grave if the bet goes against me.

Not a complete failure (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46342455)

It's providing jobs for tens of thousands of scientists, engineers and middle managers all across Europe for years to come.

So, no. Not a complete failure.

Shock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46340349)

They are SHOCKED and DISMAYED at how a bureaucracy works!

Re:Shock (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46340695)

Hey buddy this was about management not rank and file paper pushers.

haha CH2M HILL (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 10 months ago | (#46340353)

I've worked with CH2M HILL before, and frankly I wold trust anything they say without a serious double check..

Re:haha CH2M HILL (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46340425)

See CH2M Hill - Fraud_prosecutions [wikipedia.org]

Re:haha CH2M HILL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46340807)

Concidering this was two employees of a large company, I am not sure what you are trying to imply?

Re:haha CH2M HILL (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46344115)

I too worked for CH2MHill and in my experience, the fraud and ineptitude permeated every level. It's just part of their culture.

Imcidentally, this is the same firm who (As VECO) was sullid by a milti-billion dollar fraud scandal in Alaska a few years back.

Re:haha CH2M HILL (1)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | about 10 months ago | (#46340509)

I worked for a lab that occasionally did work for them. I have no impression of them at all other than they were a client with a weird name. They sent samples, we analyzed said samples, sent them results, they paid, rinse, repeat. If they wanted interpretation, that'd be handled by the forensics division but I doubt they ever did.

Re:haha CH2M HILL (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | about 10 months ago | (#46340523)

I've worked with CH2M HILL before, and frankly I wold trust anything they say without a serious double check..

Agreed. They hire tons of people who can not spell!

Re:haha CH2M HILL (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 10 months ago | (#46340845)

HA, good one. The older I get the worse my hands get and the harder it is for me to find spelling errors.
Double whammy, my apologies.

Interestingly wold does not trigger a spelling error indicator. so, triple Whammy.

Re:haha CH2M HILL (2)

vux984 (928602) | about 10 months ago | (#46343035)

Interestingly wold does not trigger a spelling error indicator.

Because its not a spelling error. 'wold' is a word.

Re:haha CH2M HILL (1)

sysrammer (446839) | about 10 months ago | (#46343245)

I am the mornin' DJ on W O L D

Re:haha CH2M HILL (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 10 months ago | (#46344189)

> Because its not a spelling error. 'wold' is a word.

Which demonstrates that *smaller* spelling dictionaries are normally better. Yet every word pro bragged about how many words were in it.

Re:haha CH2M HILL (1)

Dishevel (1105119) | about 10 months ago | (#46344351)

I think this is mostly due to us old people not really giving a shit anymore. :)

Fusion is always 20 years from now (3, Insightful)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 10 months ago | (#46340375)

And whenever you think it will get closer, they come up with another reason why it will take another 20 years to be commercially viable.

Been that way since Expo 63.

Will be that way in 2099.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46340427)

And if the Apollo program had been budgeted in the same way as fusion in this country, we would be looking forward to the first man to land on the moon a few decades from now.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 10 months ago | (#46340577)

Why are only Americans capable of doing fusion research?

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46340773)

They aren't. A lot of the early work was done by the Soviets, although some of the information was slow to come out of the country or classified at times. Europe, Korea, Japan, and China are ramping up research efforts. While all of them did some work previously, they are only now pushing much harder. The US efforts have been kind of flat, at a level below which was previous though to be practical.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 10 months ago | (#46340947)

Europe, Korea, Japan, and China are ramping up research efforts.

Great. So we should have fusion reactors on the grid any day now, right?

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46341059)

No, they are all expecting it to be a decades long process. But they do show that it isn't down to just the politics of one country, and that some of them are capable of cutting through a lot of the bureaucracy. The speed at which some things get done on EAST and K-STAR are impressive compared to some of the red-tape and budget issues dealt with by western research in nearly any field, although they have other short comings.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 10 months ago | (#46341203)

But you just said that the only thing holding back fusion from being completed in a decade was funding.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (3, Informative)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 10 months ago | (#46341237)

That MIT survey concluded we're about 80 billion USD away from practical fusion, since if you follow the progress of funding cuts it's more less or less kept being cut every few years, ensuring that the project is always about 20 years away.

It's research who's budget has gone down continuously since the 70s.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 10 months ago | (#46343447)

We've been spending limited R&D budgets pursuing other types of energy production that show more promise in the near to medium term- and don't require spending 80 billion freakin dollars before they can maybe accomplish anything useful.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 10 months ago | (#46343941)

It's not like the science you fund with that 80 billion is useless. Reality isn't like civilization - you don't fillup the bar for "fusion" with beakers till you get the breakthrough.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46343955)

... which is very very short-sighted. "More promise in the near to medium term" still has us running out of fuel and watching human society collapse before we reach the stars, for lack of resource sustainability. Fusion is very necessary for our long term survival. Play with the Peak Oil/Gas/Coal numbers all you want (including offsets for what little "green" power we can throw in the mix sustainably) and we've still only got, at best, another 100 years to solve the Fusion problem or die trying.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 10 months ago | (#46344273)

> More promise in the near to medium term" still has us running out of fuel

Ummm, solar panels?

> Fusion is very necessary for our long term survival

No its not.

> for what little "green" power

You mean "all the power would could possibly ever want"? You are aware there's 1000W/m^2 on a sunny day, right? Here, do the math yourself:

http://matter2energy.wordpress.com/2012/11/29/revenge-of-the-electric-oil-sands/

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46344431)

Talk to me when solar (and wind) can provide baseline power.

You'd listen to MIT on fusion? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46345375)

Remember the total hatchet job that the MIT fusion lab did on Fleischman and Pons? The lead author later said that they published before they finished the experiments that the report was supposedly based on, using expected results as data. Regardless of what you think of cold fusion, the MIT hot fusion lab showed their colors in 1989. They aren't doing science, they are doing religion or something.

I wouldn't give MIT a bent penny for fusion research. They are known bad actors who care far more about ideology and funding than real scientific methods. "True believers" are never good scientists because they blind themselves to whatever evidence falls outside their pre-existing worldview.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46341509)

First off, I didn't say they were funding at a decade timescale level, only that it is ramping up, implying a heft change in derivative. Second, the poser who made a comparison to Apollo program was a different AC (I made the previous two in this thread, but not that one). Third, saying that doing something in a particular way assures failure is not the same as saying doing the opposite guarantees success. Previous projects predicted that a lot more funding than was given would have been needed to have a chance of fusion now, but there was not guarantee that we would have fusion now if that route was chosen. That said, if looking at cumulative spending, we're about on track with those previous predictions, just a couple decades later.

Not if you call them that! (4, Insightful)

tlambert (566799) | about 10 months ago | (#46341359)

Europe, Korea, Japan, and China are ramping up research efforts.

Great. So we should have fusion reactors on the grid any day now, right?

Not if you call them that!

Only if we're careful to call them "Fusion power plants", and not use words like "nuclear" and "reactor".

You know, the same way people are happy to get an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) instead of an NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance), and they're happy to get a CAT scan, but would never go in for Computed Axial X-Ray Tomography... because X-Rays are radiation, but kitties are cute.

You really don't want the "bad adjective choice" protestors coming after your technology trying to shut it down.

Re:Not if you call them that! (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 10 months ago | (#46345505)

You really don't want the "bad adjective choice" protestors coming after your technology trying to shut it down.

Oh do fuck off. It's the "banana equivalent dose" morons you really need to watch out for. Unlike the "bad adjective choice protesters" they actually exist, and even post regularly on Slashdot.

Re:Not if you call them that! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46347253)

When doing public outreach and lab tours of fusion research labs, I've yet to come across a person who had any sort of reaction to calling it "nuclear fusion," short of those that confuse it with fission and respond positively to the few seconds it takes to explain the difference. Any long term problems won't come from just the name, but what type of PR is put out from the proponents, and people like Greenpeace who advocate against fusion. The name at this point isn't dirty unless someone makes it dirty.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (1)

freezin fat guy (713417) | about 10 months ago | (#46345061)

Why are only Americans capable of doing fusion research?

Because only Americans live and work in France.

No (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46341755)

The small projects success referenced in the comments above disprove the idea that fusion requires a large budget. Fail.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (1)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 10 months ago | (#46344255)

> And if the Apollo program had been budgeted in the same way as fusion in this country

This is *not* a budget problem, don't let the people justifying their existent fool you into believing that.

Let me illustrate the actual problem with the best example I can think of. In 1972 John Nuckolls published this paper:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v239/n5368/pdf/239139a0.pdf

Unfortunately, you can't read it without paying, but here's a paper that reviews it:

http://www.osti.gov/scitech/servlets/purl/10126383

On page 5 (you'll have to count, there're not labeled) you'll see the key point. Nuckolls predicted, using simulations, that break-even/ignition could be achieved with a 1 kJ driver. This prediction was made long before they had drivers of that power. When they eventually made one, Shiva, in the mid-1970s, it was clear that they were nowhere near ignition, and had to change the simulations. Now they predicted they needed 100 kJ. When they eventually made one, Nova, in the mid-1980s, it was clear that they were nowhere near ignition, and had to change the simulations. Now they predicted they needed 1 MJ. When they eventually made one, NIF, in the mid-2000s, it was clear that they were nowhere near ignition, and had to change the simulations. And now you're up to date.

This is the story of *every* fusion effort going right back to Tuck and Ware. It is, simply, a very difficult thing to understand, and even more difficult to actually *do*. You can fund this all you want, it still won't change the physics involved, and those physics are going to make any practical fusion machine fantastically complex and expensive. There is simply no way around this.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 10 months ago | (#46340863)

They have made significant progress.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (1)

WillAffleckUW (858324) | about 10 months ago | (#46340915)

They have made significant progress.

Yeah, I heard that at Expo 86 too.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (5, Informative)

phantomfive (622387) | about 10 months ago | (#46341573)

Here is the graph, projecting how long it will take to create fusion [imgur.com] .

If you are criticizing fusion predictions, and aren't aware of that graph, then you are basically criticizing things you don't understand. Stop it. Understand first, then criticize.

Re:Fusion is always 20 years from now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46347965)

It's easy to make a graph every 10 years and pretend prior promises don't exist.

Ach, Sporca Sacrebleu Caramba! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46340399)

It's a 'Junta', young'un. Usually accompanies somethin' called a 'Coup'.

What could go wrong (1)

amightywind (691887) | about 10 months ago | (#46340421)

ITAR is a multi-billion dollar international project led by the French. What could go wrong?

Re:What could go wrong (3, Insightful)

hcs_$reboot (1536101) | about 10 months ago | (#46340543)

ITAR is a (...) project led by the French

Not exactly French. From the ITER site [iter.org] :

Three departments report directly to the Director-General Osamu Motojima: Administration; ITER Project; and Safety, Quality & Security. Click on the Organizational Chart below to find out more about the management structure of the ITER Organization.

and (picture)

Management greets staff on the first ITER Day in September 2011: Rem Haange, Department for ITER Project; Carlos Alejaldre, Safety, Quality and Security; Director-General Osamu Motojima; and former head of the Department of Administration, Rich Hawryluk

So, top management is made of
Director General: Osamu Motojima (Japan)
Deputy Director-General and Head of the ITER Project Department: Remmelt Haange (Netherlands)
Safety, Quality and Security: Carlos Alejaldre (Spain)

Or, look at the Organization Structure [iter.org] . No French in the top management

Re:What could go wrong (1)

TubeSteak (669689) | about 10 months ago | (#46343697)

When they were deciding where to build the ITR, the choices were France and Japan.
In the spirit of compromise, the ITR was built in France, but headed by someone from Japan.

This was no doubt the first of an endless series of political compromises necessary to get the project moving.

Re:What could go wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46340721)

ITER, not ITAR you illiterate dumbfuck.

Re:What could go wrong (5, Informative)

manu0601 (2221348) | about 10 months ago | (#46342023)

multi-billion dollar international project led by the French. What could go wrong?

French managed many big industrial projects on their own. To name a few: Ariane, Concorde, nuclear reactors and nukes...

Re: What could go wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46342773)

I think you will find the Brits helped them out more than a little with Concord.

Re: What could go wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46342863)

Ironically, France (through its public utility) now owns much of Britain's power generating capability (privatized under Thatcher).

Re:What could go wrong (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46344079)

Ariane and Concorde both suffered fairly catastrophic explosions, in one instance killing the project altogether (next to a bunch of people). The nukes have rendered at least one island inhabitable for a looooooong time (and also caused a lot of explosions). The nucellar power plants have yet to produce any explosions, but their safety record is very spotty, to say the least (it's only a matter of time).

The fusion project has already caused one or more explosions in the management layers. Considering the track record of the other projects mentioned, further explosions are to be expected.

The most important thing is, that based on previous experiences, I expect the visuals to be spectacular.

Re:What could go wrong (0)

Maury Markowitz (452832) | about 10 months ago | (#46344343)

> To name a few: Ariane, Concorde, nuclear reactors and nukes

Well Concorde was pretty much entirely Bristol Aerospace, in the UK.

They designed it as the Type 223 and submitted it to the Air Ministry, who promptly (and secretly) gave the document to the French, who passed it to Sud. A few months later the Ministry arranged a meeting between Bristol and Sud, suggesting they share development costs, and the Bristol team were presented with a design that appeared all too familiar.

It was years later when they found the proof that this had occurred, but everyone kinda knew it all along.

Spreading the wealth... (1)

hey! (33014) | about 10 months ago | (#46340465)

From TFA:

"Because all the partners want to gain experience from building ITER for what could be a lucrative future industry, the ITER agreement carves up the construction of reactor components among partners, each of which has created a “domestic agency” to handle the contracts. The result is far from efficient: Superconducting cable for the reactor’s magnets is manufactured in six different nations and the 5000-tonne vacuum vessel is being built partly in Korea and partly in Europe."

Remind you of any super-costly projects in the US?

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is way over budget and behind schedule. This is no doubt partly due to the ambitious goals of the project, but the fact that it employees 35000 people carefully spread over the majority of congressional districts in the country might also contribute. It's hard enough to do the nearly impossible without having to budget proof the project by doing it in an extravagantly complicated way.

Re:Spreading the wealth... (1)

sysrammer (446839) | about 10 months ago | (#46343313)

Spreading the wealth pleases the folks on the left, and enhancing the military pleases the folks on the right. A win-win situation, as far as politics in the US is concerned.

I suppose that another way of dealing with the politics of a complex project is the way Putin financed the Olympics. He spread the wealth too.

Re:Spreading the wealth... (1)

Big Hairy Ian (1155547) | about 10 months ago | (#46343591)

Exactly the same with the Apollo Space program James Web then head of NASA spread the construction out in the same way. It's a tried and trusted way of avoiding being cancelled by congress because it creates jobs in most congressmen's constituencies.

Re:Spreading the wealth... (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | about 10 months ago | (#46344761)

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program is way over budget and behind schedule.

And here is the big joke.

The projected cost of the F35 is US$857 billion (it will cost more).

ITER is estitmatated to cost a bloated EUR 16 billion.

So, which should we worry about?

Not the way to economical fusion power generation. (0)

smaddox (928261) | about 10 months ago | (#46340475)

ITER is a all the proof anyone should need that the Tokamak is not the way to economical fusion power generation. Of course neither is inertial confinement fusion, while we're on the topic. It would be one thing if these projects were sold as basic science, but instead they are sold as being practical approaches to fusion power generation. It's a lie.

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (2)

MildlyTangy (3408549) | about 10 months ago | (#46340517)

ITER is a all the proof anyone should need that the Tokamak is not the way to economical fusion power generation. Of course neither is inertial confinement fusion, while we're on the topic. It would be one thing if these projects were sold as basic science, but instead they are sold as being practical approaches to fusion power generation. It's a lie.

All the report has shown is that humans are greedy and the bureaucracy expands to fill the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.

Nothing in the report implies the engineering and science is impractical and uneconomical. This is a research reactor, not the final commercial product.

Unfortunately, your post is very light on "why" it is a "lie" or why it is uneconomical, so one must assume you are either lazy, or are trolling.

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (1)

geekoid (135745) | about 10 months ago | (#46340967)

"All the report has shown is that humans are greedy and the bureaucracy expands to fill the needs of the expanding bureaucracy."
that has been shown to be false over and over again, as a rule.
It happens, but nothing here, or anywhere, is proof its a universal rule, or even a natural by product of a bureaucracy.

Remember , humans invented bureaucracy so we can do complex things well.

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 10 months ago | (#46341261)

Well the saying is more a rule of thumb for how one should be aggressive in avoiding creating too many subdivisions in an organization, or trying to implement management and oversight where you should be trusting your existing delegates and granting them some organizational flexibility to achieve their goals.

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (1)

sysrammer (446839) | about 10 months ago | (#46343347)

I hate bureaucracy as much as the next person, but it does seem to be the best way humans have found to institutionalize advanced knowledge to the point where very complex procedures can be handled by mere mortals.

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (2)

TroyHaskin (1575715) | about 10 months ago | (#46340569)

Actually, ITER is supposed to be a proof-of-concept. That is, ITER is designed to show that a controlled and burning plasma can be created and sustained over a long period of time with a net power out (like any baseload power plant should). It's a toroidal tokamak simply because it is one of the most well-understood fusion reactor designs; spherical tokamaks, inertial confinement, electrostatic confinement, and (my personal favorite) stellarators being less so.

DEMO, another experiment, is the next step and is intended to be the bridge between ITER and a commercial design. What is DEMO is still up in the air, but it will definitely be influenced by lessons learned from ITER and other various research institutions (like, shameless alma mater plug, UW-Madison with its toroidal tokamak, spherical tokamak, and stellarators experiments).

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (3, Informative)

cheesybagel (670288) | about 10 months ago | (#46340847)

I remember the original ITER propaganda. Originally it did not have DEMO on it as a successor. It was supposed to be the direct precursor to an actual power plant. They added that afterwards. It has been nearly two decades since that and they still haven't built it. While some things did happen to improve tokamaks, like the superconducting magnets used in JT-60 and Tore Supra, or the improved plasma control and stability they demonstrated in D-III, the same problems still exist. You can only generate net energy with D-T fusion and the reactor walls can't survive the neutron flux of D-T fusion long enough for a viable reactor to exist. Until THAT gets solved you are not going to see any commercial fusion reactor. Even if they solved that it is going to be huge and expensive. A lot more expensive than a fission nuclear reactor. Unless they manage to make the plasma more dense or something.

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (1)

Yergle143 (848772) | about 10 months ago | (#46341537)

I loved that propaganda. However having followed fusion progress across my entire lifetime I think it utterly dubious that it will ever be an economically competitive power source -- on earth.
We should become an electric civilization. The answer is wind wave solar and nuke (yes to Th -- why not).
However what I wish we could do is stop the pretense of affordability and build towards bold understanding of principles. This machine is vastly expensive and we should do it anyway not only for the sheer thrill of it all but to consider that we might want to make use of this technology some other way.
Callisto is a cold place for example. ConEd doesn't have a cable.

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (1)

SomeoneFromBelgium (3420851) | about 10 months ago | (#46344765)

You can only generate net energy with D-T fusion and the reactor walls can't survive the neutron flux of D-T fusion long enough for a viable reactor to exist. Until THAT gets solved you are not going to see any commercial fusion reactor. Even if they solved that it is going to be huge and expensive. A lot more expensive than a fission nuclear reactor. Unless they manage to make the plasma more dense or something.

From the ITER FAQ:
"How often will the ITER first wall need to be replaced during operation?

The current operation schedule does not include the replacement of the ITER first wall. However, provisions have been made for the possibility of changing it once during the lifetime of ITER, if necessary. The component which receives most of the power load from the plasma (the "divertor") will need to be replaced more than once during the lifetime of the machine. It has been designed specifically to allow this operation by remote handling. Individual components may also need to be replaced from time to time for corrective maintenance. "

Seems like your problem is solved.
The problem of finding the correct materials to build the walls with is certainly not fully decided yet but it is not the main problem and certainly not a deal breaker.

The main problem is about the stability of the plasma. Or to be more specific: that there would be sufficient rotation of the plasma to create enough heat to have a sustainable "burning" plasma.

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46348109)

Seems like your problem is solved. The problem of finding the correct materials to build the walls with is certainly not fully decided yet but it is not the main problem and certainly not a deal breaker.

Far from a solved problem, and in fact one of the major issues being addressed by fusion research. You can see this as one of the main four goals for the Fusion Energy Sciences [energy.gov] program under the DoE, and the subject of dedicated research projects like IFMIF [wikipedia.org] . While ITER will be exposing materials to reactor levels of neutron flux, the materials involved will receive no where near the necessary amount of total cumulative neutron flux in a reactor running 24/7 for power production.

On a related note, the decision to have remote handling of the wall and diagnostic components is a huge part of the growth in cost of ITER. Not only does it complicate things to make sure parts can be assembled by remote manipulation instead of directly by some technician, the decision to do so was made after some design work was already done on diagnostics. A lot of backtracking had to be done on that design work to accommodate the new requirements and allow fine tuning and aligning of equipment remotely.

The main problem is about the stability of the plasma. Or to be more specific: that there would be sufficient rotation of the plasma to create enough heat to have a sustainable "burning" plasma.

While stability is the main science component being researched, it has more to do with having the right profiles of pressure and current so that stuff doesn't spill out or snap (like making sure a pile has the right shape so it can't avalanche). Heating comes from injection of beams of particles and radio energy. For a burning plasma in a reactor though, a majority of the energy should be coming from the fusion reactions and not external heating.

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (1)

50000BTU_barbecue (588132) | about 10 months ago | (#46340839)

General Fusion's approach seems to be the way to go. I'm saying this from a position of ignorance, and gut feeling.

http://www.generalfusion.com/ [generalfusion.com]

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (1)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 10 months ago | (#46341327)

I know I like to base my decisions of fundamental science on how flashy a website looks.

The issue with all the alternatives to ITER is that they are even less well understood, and less proven, then Tokamak reactors. Tokamak's have achieved Q > 1 - the plasma has generated more energy then was needed to heat it, and drive the machine. This is reality today in a reactor like JET, its just not practically sustainable on their sort of scale.

Things like the Polywell on the other hand? 13 neutrons in some iterations. Total. That's 13 known fusion events inside the entire machine. That's incredibly low (counts were higher in later models as I understand it). It's a promising but poorly understood device.

The problem is we have bad funding for fusion and plasma science all over. The issue isn't we need to redirect funding from ITER - we probably need to give it more. But we could also afford to toss $100 million at Polywell's to build a machine which is predicted to actually do Q > 1 and see what happens - then we'd know (slowly, we are getting there - it's a staged DARPA project which is being very cautious with their progress and whether the physics actually works).

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46342243)

"I know I like to base my decisions of fundamental science on how flashy a website looks."

Good for you, I guess. Beware the physicist that hires a web designer, I suppose.

"and less proven, then Tokamak reactors. Tokamak's have achieved Q > 1"

Look, if you're going to cast aspersions on a website's design, I can criticize your terrible grammar. THAN. TOKAMAKS. Apostrophes aren't like sea salt, to be put anywhere one please.

Re:Not the way to economical fusion power generati (1)

Cyberax (705495) | about 10 months ago | (#46344813)

Correction: for Polywell it's 13 registered neutrons. I've been following them and it _looks_ like scaling laws seem to work for Polywell, but it's also becoming more and more complex to build them.

No surprise (2)

Virtucon (127420) | about 10 months ago | (#46340495)

I honestly can't imagine why people try to "manage" something like this especially when you have all of these international partners each with their own agendas running the show. It's a subcontractors dream really, get a nice fat contract and have a big charge for changes/delays... I'm sure the subs are getting very, very rich right now off of ITER.

You can't build something this complex under the model that's being used and unfortunately ITER is an epic fail. Even back in 2009, people were warning of the problems with it [bbc.co.uk] and still those haven't been corrected apparently. Given that we're 8 years in, I think it's time to throw in the towel considering it was supposed to be a 10 year build.

For comparison, the closest model I can think of, the LHC and the international cooperation that built it, despite it's few successes has had numerous hiccups and failures despite taking decades to plan and build. If the International community really wants Fusion power they just need to pony up to one prime contractor to build it based on the input from a team of scientists and get rid of the carved up mentality of the construction.

Re:No surprise (2)

geekoid (135745) | about 10 months ago | (#46341007)

Yes, lets thrown in the towel because something that has never been done, something using well into bleeding edge technology is behind budget. All based on a report from a contractor who makes more money if the report finds problems. This is why it's complaining mostly about intangibles.

Re:No surprise (2)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 10 months ago | (#46341343)

You mean the LHC which was doing cutting edge science for the past year, and discovered the Higgs boson? That LHC?

Re:No surprise (3, Insightful)

noobermin (1950642) | about 10 months ago | (#46342569)

Slashdot has become so anti-science these days. I don't disagree that ITER has some problems, but calling the Higgs Boson one of the LHC's "few successes" is such a fucking understatement, I don't know what else could be.

That was half of the point of the damn thing, to verify the standard model. Finding the Higgs was no small accomplishment.

Re:No surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46342737)

You're right. Between the breathless 3D printing hype and the mindless Space Nuttery, it's more like a church in here. As long as you can quote the right sci-fi stories and repeat the same stale clichés about how computers got better so anything is possible, there's precious little rational thought going on here.

Re:No surprise (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about 10 months ago | (#46342937)

So who exactly are you saying is anti-science? I'm just anti-international cooperation especially where it really isn't in any nation's best interest. ITER has laudable goals but look at the players and ask yourselves if it will seriously be successful. Nope, it'll be a run into the ground project that won't produce anything.

Higgs Boson was a race and if the Feds had funded Fermilab's tevatron accelerator [discovery.com] a bit more [fnal.gov] you may have seen it discover Higgs Boson before the LHC.

Re:No surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46343981)

Or the SSC project in Texas :(

Re:No surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46346967)

Higgs Boson was a race and if the Feds had funded Fermilab's tevatron accelerator [discovery.com] a bit more [fnal.gov] you may have seen it discover Higgs Boson before the LHC.

That is a very very big if. The Tevatron operated at about 1 TeV which meant that a heavy Higgs would not be created at all. A lighter Higgs would decay into bottom quark pairs which would be swamped by background noise. The Tevatron certainly helped limiting the possible phase space where the Higgs might be found but it is not very likely that it would have found it.

Re:No surprise (1)

AmiMoJo (196126) | about 10 months ago | (#46346005)

It's also worth point out that both of these are experimental devices, so you expect problems. The point of doing them is to work the problems out.

Re:No surprise (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about 10 months ago | (#46342907)

Really, explosions, delays and long shutdown periods due to problems constitutes great uptime? I didn't say that the LHC wasn't doing good work but since 2009 it's had its share of severe problems.

Re:No surprise (2)

Electricity Likes Me (1098643) | about 10 months ago | (#46343921)

It's an experimental particle accelerator, not the server you keep under your desk. It's shutdown at the moment because it's the only opportunity CERN get to actually upgrade the accelerator and it's components - you can't very well go in and expect it when it's running, because it's cryo-contained, somewhat radioactive and highly magnetized.

The shutdown is multi-purpose - there's components at CERN which haven't been replaced since the 1970s partly because they were state-of-the-art then and no one had any idea if a new one would be better or worse, because nothing on earth needed - for example - triacs - with the performance they did. And they've been in continuous service since then since CERN has expanded by turning each previous accelerator into a boost stage for the next accelerator. Before the jump to 14 TeV is the last opportunity to replace them, and so a decent amount of them is coming out.

There's also the fact that you can't just ignore those giant detectors once they're installed - nothing like that has ever been built before, and no one knows how they'll perform. ATLAS and CMS both look for the same data, but have different electrical and physical designs for sensing - both teams are currently inspecting the components of the detectors to catalog and study the performance, damage and degradation of the components. One of the interesting things is ATLAS uses liquid argon , while CMS uses a special type lead tungstate crystals for calorimetry - both new technology in their own ways, the CMS people are studying the bleaching of the lead tungstate which has been happening faster then models predict.

You know what all this has in common? All of it is science, all of it is useful (arguably the much more useful and transferrable bits of CERN as well) and all of it is just what happens when you build experimental devices. The helium explosion was unfortunate but a 1 year delay in a machine which has been planned since the 1980s is not some type of massive failure.

It's a particle accelerator, not a commercial building and has been very efficiently built to boot.

Re:No surprise (1)

Eunuchswear (210685) | about 10 months ago | (#46344791)

explosions, delays and long shutdown periods

Sounds like the server I keep under my desk!

Re:No surprise (1)

Virtucon (127420) | about 10 months ago | (#46345217)

Good points but when you say "no one knows how they'll perform" I'd have to take a step back and say that with all the intellect involved in building it, it sure seems there's been more downtime than uptime. Sure, it's cutting edge in terms of science/technology but I wouldn't want to rely on it if my career depended upon it. The Tevatron at Fermilab was something that although not as powerful as the LHC, was able to conduct science on a routine basis and we've now lost that in the US and have to wait along with everybody else for the LHC when it doesn't have PMS.

ITER will fail because of the yellow submarine approach about building something together with international cooperation. When you have competing, international commercial interests in Fusion Power I can't see how this will ever succeed because you'll have entire nations throwing up roadblocks in getting real work accomplished while they suck the science out of it for their own projects. Yeah, we'd like to think that the scientific community is open, but I'm not so sure that that'll be the case where Fusion is concerned.

Re:No surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46346321)

Good points but when you say "no one knows how they'll perform" I'd have to take a step back and say that with all the intellect involved in building it, it sure seems there's been more downtime than uptime. Sure, it's cutting edge in terms of science/technology but I wouldn't want to rely on it if my career depended upon it. The Tevatron at Fermilab was something that although not as powerful as the LHC, was able to conduct science on a routine basis and we've now lost that in the US and have to wait along with everybody else for the LHC when it doesn't have PMS.

Sounds like you don't know much about particle accelerators. Yes, there was the superconducting magnet problem which delayed the startup, but downtime is always an issue with accelerators. Again, they are not like servers which you can stick in a rack and let them chug along. Things need repair all the time and downtime is the only time that repairs can be made. The Tevatron did too.

Re:No surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46347635)

The Tevatron at Fermilab was something that although not as powerful as the LHC, was able to conduct science on a routine basis and we've now lost that in the US and have to wait along with everybody else for the LHC when it doesn't have PMS.

It is not just the energy difference, but the difference in luminosity that affects how fast relevant data is accumulated. The LHC has over hundred times the luminosity of the Tevatron. Even if it only had 10% uptime, it would accumulate more high energy data in a couple years than Fermilab did over its whole existance.

Re:No surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46341639)

Given that we're 8 years in, I think it's time to throw in the towel considering it was supposed to be a 10 year build.

Construction started 6 years ago (if including the two years of site prep as construction), and that was about 2 years after the formal organization was setup. Even years ago I saw that first plasmas were not expected until 2020 or later. While they are falling behind on schedule, it is not like your numbers that seem to imply they should have been finished in a year or two.

Re:No surprise (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46346515)

ITER will NEVER produce net surplus fusion. It will instead be a small company that does that and probably within 5 years!

Cold Fusion and Polywell Fusion are..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46342021)

The lowest cost highest reward alternatives to the tens of billions already wasted on tokamak fusion. And yet because of a mixture of ineptitude and cowardice in the physics community, funding is quite limited for both.

Perhaps some eccentric billionaire who doesn't feel like wasting billions on acquiring a worthless app that'll be obsolete in less than 2 years or buying a private jumbo jet can rescue the field.

Re:Cold Fusion and Polywell Fusion are..... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46342061)

Cold fusion was a hoax, and Polywell is a non-starter. If these are your best examples, might I suggest some remedial physics courses? Maybe some of Asimov's excellent books?

Re:Cold Fusion and Polywell Fusion are (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46342151)

The results of excess heat that are still being reproduced in Cold Fusion experiments say otherwise. Moreover based on our understanding of quantum tunneling the coulomb barrier can be overcome more easily than classical physics would indicate, enabling fusion at lower temperatures.

As for the Polywell the US Navy funding and experimental results also indicate continued progress.

Unfortunate that you don't seem to have the intellectual curiosity to seek out independently the information on these two fields and instead seek to dismiss them out of hand as that's the prevailing flawed narrative for both areas.

Re:Cold Fusion and Polywell Fusion are (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46342403)

"The results of excess heat that are still being reproduced in Cold Fusion experiments say otherwise."

Peer reviewed papers, please.

"Moreover based on our understanding of quantum tunneling the coulomb barrier can be overcome more easily than classical physics would indicate"

We've been building tunnel diodes since the late 1950s. That's for electrons though... I don't see how tunneling can help protons.

"Unfortunate that you don't seem to have the intellectual curiosity to seek out independently the information "

And you don't seem to have the intellectual capacity to tell the wheat from the chaff. You're still stuck at the curiosity "comic book science" stage.

Sorry chief, you're a rube.

Re:Cold Fusion and Polywell Fusion are (1)

Shimbo (100005) | about 10 months ago | (#46345135)

We've been building tunnel diodes since the late 1950s. That's for electrons though... I don't see how tunneling can help protons.

Some enzymes use it; bioscience is frighteningly subtle at times. Not for fusion though.

Re:Cold Fusion and Polywell Fusion are (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46343487)

"Moreover based on our understanding of quantum tunneling the coulomb barrier can be overcome more easily than classical physics would indicate, enabling fusion at lower temperatures"

You are indeed right that tunnelling enables fusion at lower temperatures - but thing is: The "lower" temperatures actually are the 2+ keV (20+ million Kelvin) that are used today. If no tunnelling existed, energies would be much much higher than that and reaction cross sections so small that there would be no chance of any fusion energy generation.

Fusion is no longer relevant (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46342273)

I worked on fusion for years but no longer consider it relevant for near to intermediate term energy needs. The reasons are

1) natural gas -- enough for several lifetimes
2) renewables -- already becoming useful/relevant and if energy storage problems can be solved, a long term solution,
3) conventional nuclear -- in a crisis in which society's real needs exceeded its largely irrational fears, much safer new generation fission reactors could be brought on line in a couple of years.

A useless bureaucrat's dream (1)

EmperorOfCanada (1332175) | about 10 months ago | (#46342423)

Bureaucrat the world round fear being found out as being the useless tools they usually are. Spending lots of other people's money is fun. So the ITER is a dream come true. With a 20 year plus delay before they hit the on switch an established technocrat can basically turn a project such as the ITER into a MBA amusement park. With a budget that bit, nobody should notice all the conferences that are attended, officials wined and dined, and other expense account shenanigans that are possible.

But maybe my ravings are just that. But they are a hypothesis that can be tested. The worst thing that could happen to ITER would be that someone else cooks up a working fusion reactor using jukebox parts or for under a billion dollars. The second worst thing would be that some low-life engineer or physicist publishes a paper basically saying that ITER is about as likely to create viable fusion as Deloreans are to travel through time. So my test would be to see how much effort has been expended over the years to shut down viable projects and to silence critics.

The key is that if I am a genuine scientist then I want to see working fusion and I would applaud anyone who beat me by 20 years. But if all I care about is my little empire then it is the last thing.

My key complaint (of many years) of ITER is that it didn't have any significant fusiony milestones for a very long time as in a career finishing long time.

Then you have the simple sense of power that must have come with managing that project. You would have grant money by the truckload; so think of the best and the brightest grovelling at your feet hoping you will throw them (and their institutions) a few crumbs. I have been in many a scientist's lab which might have had a few hundred thousand in hardware an a few graduate students working for peanuts while those scientists desperately fought to keep the trickle of grants coming in. A blessing from the gods of ITER would be something potentially very corrupting.

If I were the Emperor Of Science, I would sell the ITER for scrap and disperse its budget to 10,000 different fusion projects with any that showed actual physical progress qualifying for further rounds of funding.

I am certainly not a physicist but I have worked on projects that smelled like ITER with distant nebulous goals and people who use big numbers to impress. But the reality is that these projects often get caught in catch-22 engineering (which is why they use big numbers to distract from the fundamental problems). Something like any material that is strong enough to take the pressure will melt and any material that won't melt can't take the pressure. The reality is that no amount of engineering bandaids and ducktape will solve the problem, the fundamental solution is flawed.

I can remember one data communications project. Basically they eliminated any kind of error correction from the transmission to enable crazy high speed bursts of data. But it only worked over a distance of about 5 feet. After that the noise started to start knocking off bits. At 1000 feet the data was untrustworthy. At around 1500 feet the data was clearly useless. This system needed to communicate over a huge distance. The simple problem was that they had promised to fit more data than such a low frequency could handle at that narrow a band for that short a time. There had to be error correction and it was going to eat bandwidth. But they had promised X data in Y time and X/2 in Y time was unacceptable. Then to top it off the people wiring it all together sucked.

I think that project lasted around 8 years; 7 of which were just basically trying to put a gallon of milk in a pint container.

Re:A useless bureaucrat's dream (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46342651)

"But the reality is that these projects often get caught in catch-22 engineering (which is why they use big numbers to distract from the fundamental problems)"

That's Space Nuttery 101.

The problems are physics, not management (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 10 months ago | (#46343671)

I think the problem is that they don't really know how to get the thing done physically; blaming the management seems wrong to me.

Forget that fusion crap. (1)

macpacheco (1764378) | about 10 months ago | (#46345111)

Thorium LFTR is was fusion pretended to be.
Cheap, safe, efficient, clean.
Without costing a trillion dollars to develop.
Like not even 10 billion, perhaps 5 billion to having a LFTR production line fully operational.
When are we going to start to be outraged that we don't have the money to spend on money pits. Stop all fusion research now.
The problem with fission isn't fission in general, no corporations are interested in doing major, risky investment, quite the opposite, corporations are risk adverse, so we got the least efficient nuclear reactors, cause that's what the US navy decided to do !

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