fI’m going to be skeptical here. The story makes the headlines of Drudge. Members of an international community are building a fusion reactor, if you read the first part of the glowing article (no pun intended). And then you get excited about the possibilities. But then you get into the meat of the issue.
It is the first experimental fusion reactor to receive a nuclear operating licence because of its power-generating capacity. For every 50 megawatts of electricity it uses, it should generate up to 500mw of power output in the form of heat.
Richard Pitts, a British nuclear physicist working on the project, said that even though Iter has a nuclear operator’s licence and will produce about 10 times as much power as it consumes, the Iter machine will still remain a purely experimental reactor, with no electricity generated for the French national grid. “We’re not building a demonstration industrial reactor. We’re building the first step towards one that does produce electricity for the grid. If we can show that fusion works, a demonstration reactor will be much cheaper to build than Iter,” Dr Pitts said.
A critical phase of the project will be the injection of plasma – the superhot, electrically-charged gases of the atomic fuel – into the reactor’s vacuum chamber. This plasma, a mix of the hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium, will drive the nuclear-fusion reaction.
The plasma will be heated to temperatures as high as 300 million C to force the atomic nuclei close enough together to cause them to fuse into helium, a harmless and inert waste product that could be recycled as an important industrial raw material. Giant electromagnets powerful enough to trap an aircraft carrier will contain the plasma within a spinning vortex held by the magnetic bottle of the tokamak reactor.
The original date for “first plasma” was scheduled for November 2020 but delays with the construction and commissioning phases have pushed this back to October 2022 – although some of that lost time has since been clawed back. One of the electromagnetic coils used in the giant magnets, for instance, had to be scrapped after a worker in one of the participating countries left a towel on one of the superconducting cables which then became compressed within a coil. Costly mishaps like this put the entire project behind schedule.
Rem Haange, deputy director-general of the Iter project, said that despite the delays, which are perhaps inevitable with such a huge and complex engineering project, no further problems are envisaged that could threaten the viability of the Iter project. “There are no technical issues any more that will be show-stoppers. We think we’ve overcome all the technical issues,” Dr Haange said.
Although the foundations for the main reactor building are still being laid, there has been a lot of development work off-site in the different member nations – the EU, Russia, US, China, Japan, India and South Korea. More than 90 per cent of the Iter machine’s engineering components, for instance, have now been commissioned.
Ohh, ohh, I get it. The “breakthrough” is a bunch of scientists have convinced governments to fund a project that won’t even get its first “fuel” until 2020 which in when the experiments may…or may not…start. In the meantime, the scientists will continue to get funding from different sources and political cover when it all goes to pot.
Sounds like Solyndra (if there is money moving around from friendly hand to friendly hand) or maybe AGW. Either way, if we see Michael Mann from the AGW scam being assigned there, then we’ll know for sure.
Seriously? Breakthrough? Man, I was all excited figuring by the time my kid is forty he’s on a starship saying “Make it so.”