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ITER update: At least they got the name right February 28, 2014

Posted by Maury Markowitz in fusion.
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ITER under constructionIf it really is true the any news is good news, the management at ITER should be ecstatic right now.

I suspect they’re not.

A recently released 3rd party report on the project was damning, pointing out enormous problems with the project’s management, while the budget and timelines continue to recede into the infinite.

Completion has already slipped to 2020, four years late in a ten year timeline. The budget is currently US$22 billion, three times the estimates, and the report suggests this is going to rise dramatically.

Now you might imagine that any project the size and complexity of ITER would be bound to suffer from these sorts of problems. But that’s just not true… not so far away from ITER is another mega-project of even greater cost and complexity, and it continues to hum along. That project is the Large Hadron Collider, which has an even wider selection of involved countries and egos. I’ll bet there’s an excellent paper in the offing for anyone willing to compare and contrast these two projects.

Originally, ITER was offered as a prototype of a power-generating fusion reactor, but by the time the first budget estimates were in it was clear that was a hopeless task. Instead, ITER became the prototype-of-the-prototype, and the real prototype was now called DEMO. The current estimates on DEMO place it becoming operational some time in 2030, but that’s based on ITER being successful in 2016, which it won’t be. In yet another example of history repeating itself, now there are suggestions that DEMO won’t be the actual prototype either, that will be PROTO, and there isn’t even the slightest guess on when that might be available.

Meanwhile others in the fusion establishment continue to heap scorn on the ITER concept, and there seems to be widespread agreement that the tokamak approach will never result in a practical reactor design. Of course this is typically in the context of broad suggestions that their approach is a better one, and they should be getting some of that money.

Natural gas plants are going in at about $1 a Watt, the same for large wind, and just a bit above that for PV. There’s no scenario where any of these fusion devices gets even close to these figures, which are actual, working technologies. It makes me a bit sad to see all this effort being dumped into a hole.

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