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US Joins ITER Tokamak Fusion Project

CowboyNeal posted more than 11 years ago | from the iniatives-that-don't-involve-dice dept.

Science 33

WannabePhysicist writes "Energy secretary Spencer Abraham announced at the Princeton Plasma Fusion Laboratory that the U.S. will join ITER , the international plasma fusion reactor effort. They're currently planning a tokamak (doughnut) design, and have some pretty optimistic energy production predictions for 2014. As many of us in science know, estimated times are usually off by a factor of two, and then sometimes and order of magnitude -- but hopefully they'll get it to work. Many people push this as the cleanest form of energy, but fusion reactors will most likely contain deuterium, tritium, and lithium (tritium's not exactly water) The deuterium and tritium fuse, giving off an alpha (4He nucleus), a neutron, and some energy. This energy causes more reactions (the controlled fusion part). The neutrons hit a 6Li blanket (surrounding the chamber) which then produces more tritium for burning."

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mmmmmmmmmm..... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5194495)

Mmmmmm tokamak..... *homer simpsons drool*

Tastes crunchy in beer!

Tritium (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5194497)

It's not exactly water, but it's not exactly plutonium either.

Re:Tritium (2, Informative)

helix400 (558178) | more than 11 years ago | (#5197774)

Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen.

It has absolutely nothing to do with water. (H20).

I think what the poster to this article, WannabePhysicist, was thinking about heavy water, which is 2 deuteriums + 1 Oxygen. I've never heard about a 2 Tritium + 1 Oxygen though? Has anyone else heard about it? Do they call it super heavy water? Or do they just not give it a name?

Its a Pity itl take so long (2, Interesting)

ThePeices (635180) | more than 11 years ago | (#5194536)

Its a pity that fusion based electricity generation will take so long to arrive. With fossil fuels being used at ever more larger rates, its THE technology that humanity needs to replace the current systems of electricity generation. The environmental benefits of using clean fusion to generate say, hydrogen for fuel cell powered cars as well as normal electricity use would be astounding. Unfortunately commercial greed would stiffle any hopes of that.

Re:Its a Pity itl take so long (2, Insightful)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 11 years ago | (#5194849)

Yeah, don't you miss the good old days when new developments took just as long, but nobody knew about them so they took ten times longer than they would have if it had any funding whatsoever, and then 90 years later when the 3 people who were working on it are long dead somebody stumbled accross it and the ignorant masses went "ooo, it lights up!" delaying useful application another 50 years?
Stop driving your car.

What ? (1)

Catskul (323619) | more than 11 years ago | (#5202360)

What ?

I do hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5194676)

I do hope USA will eventually make a power source that makes them completely abandon petrol. All these stupid wars in middle east are being done just for the sake of oil, not for dictators, that's crap, plain and simple, everyone wants that oil.

Re:I do hope (1)

neocon (580579) | more than 11 years ago | (#5197661)

Umm, at the risk of spoiling your conspiracy theory, if what we wanted was cheap oil, we would lift the sanctions, or do what the French did (sign an oil deal with Saddam in contravention of the UN sanctions and resolutions). Or do any of a hundred other deals which would allow us to get that oil cheap without the expense of a war, but wouldn't liberate the people of Iraq or end the threat of WMD.

At any rate, we only get about 17% of our oil from the entire Middle East, so your black-helicopter cliams just don't hold up...

Bush (1)

Catskul (323619) | more than 11 years ago | (#5202381)

Something good [] : Brought to you be the Bush Administration.

No one dares mention that its a decision by the Bush administration when its something good. Why is that ?

Re:Bush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5208910)

because Emeperor Bush is a fucking idiot, that's why. If you want more technical reasons wait 20 years and look back.

He quoted a prophet in his speech about the Shuttle diaster. He believes in prophets! A man, who is president of the US, in the 21st century, believes in PHROPHETS!

Re:Bush (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5257359)

"He quoted a prophet in his speech about the Shuttle diaster. He believes in prophets! A man, who is president of the US, in the 21st century, believes in PHROPHETS!"

With a statement like that, he was catering to the masses of whom are religious. In the end, it's all about putting peoples hearts and minds at ease. It's rather simple you see. Religion is mans way of consolidating with his or her own mortality. Just part of our nature... Anyways, don't be so quick to judge someone without giving that person a chance to earn your respect.

about time (4, Insightful)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 11 years ago | (#5194680)

At this point, there are very few major research tokamaks out there. In the US, there is only really one that is flexible enough to do a wide range of experiments on (at GA [] ).

This isn't going to necessarily lead directly to a commercial design, it's still a research reactor, but there are a LOT of big questions in fusion that can be answered by this device, and it would be irresponsible of the US to not be a part of it (that is, as long as we want to at least look like we're trying to find clean energy). At the rate different things are going, fusion might not be the energy source of the future, but you never know, it's always worth trying. It's only through programs like this that we'll get there.

When the US first left the project it was because it was billed as a demo commercial reactor, which just wouldn't have worked. It might be able to get more energy out than you put in, but the cost of construction and upkeep is still too high for such large reactors. A major part of fusion research now is making the reactors more efficient, require less repair and have a smaller size. Oddly enough, we can't do that unless we build a larger research reactor.

Re:about time (1)

km790816 (78280) | more than 11 years ago | (#5194759)

This is so amazing!

The international community was very upset when we decided to pull support for this project. They were still going to put it in Canada just to be close to all of the experts in the US.

First Bush gives a huge plug for hydrogen in his State of the Union and now this. He's either up to something or is not the evil oil baren everyone thinks he is.

This rocks!

Re:about time (1)

InadequateCamel (515839) | more than 11 years ago | (#5195270)

Actually, they had a smaller reactor but one of the Tech guys ruined it. He thought it would be really cool to put a window in the side of the reactor and throw in some light strips. But he wasn't watching what he was doing and when he reached over to get the LED-lit case fan he spilled his can of Mountain Dew all over the place. Oh, wait, did I say can of Mountain Dew? I meant stupendously hot plasma. :-)

"Zee goggles. Zey do nothing!"

"not exactly water" (1)

Captain Nitpick (16515) | more than 11 years ago | (#5194853)

but fusion reactors will most likely contain deuterium, tritium, and lithium (tritium's not exactly water)

Of course not. Tritium's a form of hydrogen. You'd need oxygen to make water (assuming those two extra neutrons don't get in the way, IANA-Nuclear-Physicist).

Re:"not exactly water" (1)

Mt._Honkey (514673) | more than 11 years ago | (#5198139)

The neutrons don't get in the way, as the nucleus is too small to effect the chemestry. Deuterium exists in small amounts naturaly, and water made of Deuterium (H2) rather than Protium (H1) is called "heavy water". One of the problems with Tritium is that it is radioactive, and readily forms its own heavy water. If it mixes with the water supply it is all but impossible to filter out.

in Spain? (1)

dragonfly28 (466802) | more than 11 years ago | (#5194903)

Anyone know where this thing is going to be realized. I remember reading (maybe newscientist ?) that they want to built this test plant in Spain or France near the Atlantic, so they could easy get supplies and cooling from the ocean.

I'm glad that the US finally decided to go along since the project was not funded completely yet.

As for the prospects of energy supply, I read that they also think a postive effiency could be realized somewere around 2008, but would then just go out the drain......
withput an obious reason I can remember
seems like a waste

Re:in Spain? (1)

DrFlounder (137823) | more than 11 years ago | (#5196222)

This web page [] has a listing of the four candidate sites. It's a choice between Clarington in Canada, Vandellos in Spain, Cadarache in France, and Rokkasho in Japan. From what I've heard, France and Japan are the most likely candidates.

Why not hot fusion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5195129)

I admittedly don't know anything about nuclear physics, but why does everyone seem to concentrate entirely on cold fusion? What about hot fusion?

Sure, it'd produce some waste, but it'd be more environmentally friendly than a purely fission-based system, right? Is it uncontrollable? Is it really that much harder to figure out how to make a controllable, sustainable, hot fusion reactor than it is to chase the cold fusion pipe dream?

Re:Why not hot fusion? (1)

hplasm (576983) | more than 11 years ago | (#5195288)

What,like these guys...??

Princeton Plasma Fusion Laboratory...

Re:Why not hot fusion? (1)

WannabePhysicist (646038) | more than 11 years ago | (#5198191)

ITER would be "hot fusion." No one really works on cold fusion -- that was just a little thing that sizzled in and out of the headlines awhile ago, but seems to stay alive in the minds of science fiction writers. The only possibility of something a little bit like cold fusion was called muon-catalyzed fusion, which was a brilliant idea put forward by some brilliant people, but it doesn't work in practice... unfortunately :-(

Tritium's not water (2, Informative)

Finuvir (596566) | more than 11 years ago | (#5195158)

tritium's not exactly water
Actually Tritium's not water at all, it's heavy hydrogen. That is, one proton, two neutrons.

Why dont they join the JET project? (1)

mnmn (145599) | more than 11 years ago | (#5195678)

and then sometimes and order of magnitude

you do mean 'an order of magnitude more' don't you?

I wonder what happened to the Joint European Torus project that was so much hyped, but couldnt produce sustained energy after many trials across years. Instead of doing everything America vs Europe vs Japan, they could so join the europeans for reduced costs and better maintenance across years, unless theres weapons technology involved of course.

I also wonder if its at all possible to locate the reactor close to other Big Science labs and create larger science community centres, maybe at BNL or LANL or Fermilab. Sharing ground and resources with other Big Science labs will help cut costs, and considering the fact that alot of construction/computer/other materials used for accelerators can also be used for the torus so uniting the location will make sense. Am I wrong?

At least in one state they should build large multiple torii if this succeeds. The abundance of energy will allow the government to enforce a clean-fuel-only vehicles law, which will really make a practical difference.

Re:Why dont they join the JET project? (1)

DrFlounder (137823) | more than 11 years ago | (#5196129)

The JET project is still going strong. It hasn't produced more energy than is put in, but it wasn't designed to. JET is a research reactor. It's fine for that purpose, but the purpose of ITER is to take a step beyond that.

Europe and Japan are the two major drivers of the ITER project, so JET personnel will be intimately involved with ITER.

Not water (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 11 years ago | (#5196081)

>i>Reactors will most likely contain deuterium, tritium, and lithium (tritium's not exactly water).

Deuterium and lithium are not exactly water either. They are not water at all.

I'm still pondering what this quote means. My best guess is they are saying that tritium is pretty rare in water vs deuterium which isn't to hard to get from water and lithium with is everywhere.

Re:Not water (1)

0x69 (580798) | more than 11 years ago | (#5196751)

Deuterium, tritium, and lithium-6 are right behind plutonium on a nuclear bomb builder's shopping list. Especially if he wants to build a more efficient (powerful) bomb, or (really powerful) H-bomb. You can Google for details and bomb designs.

Deuterium is fairly available; tritium & lithium-6 are extremely hard to get...but a decent fusion reactor will give you an ample supply. I think some (hypothetical) types of fusion reactors are also great for breeding plutonium (from uranium).

Re:Not water (1)

Lancebert (450767) | more than 11 years ago | (#5197073)

What's the big deal if you have D, T and Li at a fusion power plant? You can't make a fusion bomb out of these materials by themselves. Fusion reactions require high energies to set off. As a result, reactors require magnetic or inertial confinement schemes. An H-bomb still needs a fission bomb (requiring highly enriched Uranium or specific isotopes of Plutonium) to cause fusion. The real concern then is preventing the spread of fissile material in the first place.

Re:Not water (1)

0x69 (580798) | more than 11 years ago | (#5197805)

Ahhh...and since we're absolutely, 100.000% sure that no bad guy anywhere has gotten (or ever will get) his hands on plutonium, we have no need to control the ingredients that a bad guy could use to upgrade a bomb (extra bonus +250,000 people inside fireball, +1,000,000 people in radius of total distruction, etc.).

BTW, you know that T alone is good enough to build a "dirty bomb", right?

Re:Not water (1)

Lancebert (450767) | more than 11 years ago | (#5203961)

If someone has weapons-grade U or Pu and sophisticated enough to build a weapon, what makes us believe that acquiring D or T would be any more difficult? You pointed out yourself that D is easy to acquire. Yes, these materials should be protected to some degree (mostly to prevent exposure to the public), but if fusion works, we can derive enormous benefits while still assuring ourselves that nuclear weapons will still be difficult to acquire.

A dirty bomb is easy to produce given the vast quantities of radioactive materials that can be fairly easily acquired, mostly from weakly defended (if at all) "non-nuclear" facilities. Walking into hospitals, stealing density gauges from construction sites, amassing old fire alarms, swiping stuff from a university, .... You wouln't even need too much radiation to freak the public.

Building a Pu production reactor using a fusion neutron source is unattractive since everyone does it easily using fission reactors. a multi-billion dollar fusion reactor or build a multi-million dollar fission reactor?

Re:Not water (1)

FuzzyDaddy (584528) | more than 11 years ago | (#5197723)

I believe the point is that although it is claimed to be safe, it's not like it's all that safe, as it uses tritium, which is very dangerous, and not at all like water.

US RE-Joins ITER Tokamak Fusion Project (1)

p0BLaN (646210) | more than 11 years ago | (#5196109)

Yes, isn't it amazing that the US rejoins a project which they left in 1998, delaying it in the process?

Re:US RE-Joins ITER Tokamak Fusion Project (1)

Adrenochrome (555529) | more than 11 years ago | (#5196830)

...and they all said Clinton was the environmentally conscious one.

Not Water (1)

WannabePhysicist (646038) | more than 11 years ago | (#5197933)

Heh heh, so much on the "not water" part. I guess I wrote this kinda fast -- all I was thinkin was that tritium is not the SAFEST material in the world (I get that tritium != water), though I don't know enough to comment more than that.
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