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Cost Skyrockets For United States' Share of ITER Fusion Project

Soulskill posted about 7 months ago | from the burning-plasma-and-benjamins dept.

Government 174

sciencehabit writes: "ITER, the international fusion experiment under construction in Cadarache, France, aims to prove that nuclear fusion is a viable power source by creating a 'burning plasma' that produces more energy than the machine itself consumes. Although that goal is at least 20 years away, ITER is already burning through money at a prodigious pace. The United States is only a minor partner in the project, which began construction in 2008. But the U.S. contribution to ITER will total $3.9 billion — roughly four times as much as originally estimated — according to a new cost estimate released yesterday. That is about $1.4 billion higher than a 2011 cost estimate, and the numbers are likely to intensify doubts among some members of Congress about continuing the U.S. involvement in the project."

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Whiners (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46729759)

if you are only a minor partner then you are still getting it on the cheap but you would rather follow your nations historical precedent and just steal the technology

Really? Grow up. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730797)

Yes, because throughout its long and storied history, America has never been known for inventing anything.z And tangentially, how precisely does one "steal" from an open collaboration anyway?

In short, your worldview is infantile, black-and-white, and in this case flat-ass wrong. Your understanding of capitalization and grammar could stand some work too.

Re:Really? Grow up. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730835)

And tangentially, how precisely does one "steal" from an open collaboration anyway?

Ask Bre Pettis?

Re:Really? Grow up. (1)

khallow (566160) | about 7 months ago | (#46731537)

And tangentially, how precisely does one "steal" from an open collaboration anyway?

Actually, Rambus is a good example. They secretly patented a lot of the tech being developed by JEDEC organization members (the open collaboration) and scored big.

OTOH, ITER isn't going to lead to any economically viable fusion technologies, so there isn't a serious danger of someone stealing valuable technology via secret patents.

If precedent argument is valid (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730945)

then one could argue that Europe's history of rape and pillage should excuse any hypothetical stealing of technology by the USA or anyone else. It's a popular argument around here

Last hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46729765)

> "the numbers are likely to intensify doubts among some members of Congress about continuing the U.S. involvement in the project"

And so goes mankind's last hope of overcoming the adversity coming from the growing scarcity of energy.

Re:Last hope (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46729947)

Given the US is and remains a minor player in ITER, no, not really. The rest of the world is capable of science without the US, you know - especially when it's contributing so little to this project in the first place. That's not to say that greater US input, and greater US funding, wouldn't hurt, and US expertise and US money would certainly be very much appreciated (not least since the scientists involved are rather less prone to the facile nationalist bickering that seems to overwhelm fuckwits like yourself on the internet), but ultimately even the entire lack of the US wouldn't kill the project, merely provide another relatively minor setback in a field with a very long history of setbacks.

Re:Last hope (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731043)

No. We can also adapt our lifestyle to the new realities. Do we need jet travel every day? Do we need suburbs structured around cars with 4 seats and only one person in them? Do we need everyone to "work" everyday at basically "pointless theater" jobs?

Stop Now (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46729767)

End all involvement. This is a massive and pointless waste of money. It will never lead to any practical source of energy.

Re:Stop Now (3, Insightful)

bob_super (3391281) | about 7 months ago | (#46729845)

I'm so glad you're smarter than all the scientists working on it.

On the other hand, how does $3.9B over 6 years compare to the annual cost of securing US fossil energy sources?

Re:Stop Now (3, Funny)

ceoyoyo (59147) | about 7 months ago | (#46730219)

It doesn't even compare to the annual cost of securing face paint.

Re:Stop Now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730413)

The annual cost of securing US fossil energy sources, PAYS OFF... just like it has for over a century.

$3.9B over 6 years, DOESN'T PAY OFF... just like it hasn't paid off for 60 years of fusion 'research'.

That's why we choose the former.

Re:Stop Now (1)

bob_super (3391281) | about 7 months ago | (#46730493)

At last check, the sun was still working.
Did you systematically disprove the theories used to underpin the construction of ITER, before you so vehemently claim that it won't pay off?

Re:Stop Now (1)

towermac (752159) | about 7 months ago | (#46730893)

Heh, so you think the sun actually makes power, do you?

All that gravity counts as power. There is no net power gain in the Sun's 'working'.

Re:Stop Now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731085)

Um, uhhh, that's a rather amazing claim to make. 4 million tons of mass are converted to energy every second in the Sun's core. And for the idiotic comparison by the GP about the Sun "still working": hey, dipshit, the Sun has a very LOW power density, it's only so hot because it's so fucking HUGE. For fusion to be a power source on Earth, we need to SURPASS the conditions at the core of a STAR by several orders of magnitude!!!!

It's not even in the same ballpark!

Re:Stop Now (1, Insightful)

backslashdot (95548) | about 7 months ago | (#46731327)

Huh? That is so wrong and your understanding of physics so little that I can't even begin to frame a rebuttal within your intelligence level. But maybe there is another way to tell you .. ever heard of the Hydrogen bomb? That's proof right there that fusion can release net energy. Up to 50 MEGATONS of proof courtesy of the Tsar Bomba.

We are making steady progress towards net energy in a controlled setting .. now if there was a stall .. maybe you have a point but we have made steady progress towards achieving controlled fusion. Progress may be 3 or 4 times slower than initially anticipated, but the fact is that we are progressing towards it.

Re:Stop Now (0)

khallow (566160) | about 7 months ago | (#46731583)

Did you systematically disprove the theories used to underpin the construction of ITER, before you so vehemently claim that it won't pay off?

We can always see what they claim with ITER. Basically, that they're developing a hugely expensive test platform for fusion research which might be able to hit break even. That's not a pay off even if they hit their goals.

If you're going to dump a ton of money into a research project you need to learn some basic economics, like return on investment. I'm tired of people claiming that scientific research is the only human activity that never has to justify its existence. That's never been true, and we're better for R&D having to pay the bills.

Re:Stop Now (4, Informative)

nojayuk (567177) | about 7 months ago | (#46732471)

The ITER is designed to do more than "break even", it's expected to return 10 times the energy input for heating and controlling the plasma -- a return of 500MW for an input of 50MW and to sustain this for periods of thousands of seconds. This is just heat, not electricity, there's no plans to try and extract energy from the system yet. It's an experimental platform, not a prototype power generating system.

Whether ITER succeeds in this aim we won't know until it actually runs. One school of thought is that bigger tokamaks make it easier to control the plasma generated. Pessimists think more problems will crop up as the engineering scale increases. That's why they're building it, to find out.

Re:Stop Now (2)

jafac (1449) | about 7 months ago | (#46730657)

the annual cost of securing us fossil energy sources pays off for the shareholders.
I wonder why they aren't the ones footing the bill?

Re:Stop Now (1)

hey! (33014) | about 7 months ago | (#46731559)

Well, it shouldn't be a question of some random person pulled of the Internet vs. the scientists *working on the project*. It should be a matter of what an educated person would think if all the pros and cons were laid out impartially then intelligently explained to him.

The problem with GP isn't that he thinks that ITER is a "massive and pointless waste of money" that will "never lead to a practical source of energy." The problem is that he hasn't explained the reasoning he used to arrive at that conclusion, and shown that he has thoughtfully weighed the contrary argument. He may well have done so and formed a very sound opinion of the project. We just don't know.

Re:Stop Now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46729909)

Concluding it will not lead to a practical source of energy would be a huge scientific result, and worth the money. The theory says it will work, so disproving that is a great way to further our knowledge, that is the reason ITER is being built.

If you meant to say it won't be practical because the money could better be spent elsewhere, that is simply politics.

Re:Stop Now (0)

khallow (566160) | about 7 months ago | (#46731661)

Concluding it will not lead to a practical source of energy would be a huge scientific result, and worth the money.

How about that it won't lead to a practical source of energy because of the money? I could make a million dollar car with lots of expensive fancy stuff, but it would as a result be a terrible prototype for a ten thousand dollar car. In order to build an effective prototype, the costs have to be near the final product. Since the US is paying 9% of the cost, that means the overall cost of ITER is currently well over $40 billion and climbing (perhaps to around $65 billion, if the cost inflation continues to a share of $6 billion for the US).

In addition, what is the cost of the next generation of fusion research reactors going to be, given how they inflate in cost from generation to generation? It's not sane to consider $100 billion current dollar commercial fusion reactors unless their cost is a lot cheaper than $1 per watt.

Re:Stop Now (4, Insightful)

serviscope_minor (664417) | about 7 months ago | (#46732365)

You're compring the drive-away cost of a car to the entire R&D program here.

ITER is the R&D program.

Re:Stop Now (1)

khallow (566160) | about 7 months ago | (#46732409)

You're compring the drive-away cost of a car to the entire R&D program here.

No, I'm comparing the cost of a car to a single prototype (which is what I said). The entire cost of fusion R&D is much greater than the cost of ITER.

Re:Stop Now (3, Funny)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 7 months ago | (#46729981)

This is a massive and pointless waste of money. It will never lead to any practical source of energy.

All true. Besides, the F-35 project needs the money even more. ;)

Re:Stop Now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730125)

This is a massive and pointless waste of money. It will never lead to any practical source of energy.

All true. Besides, the F-35 project needs the money even more. ;)

A functional F-35 is closer than fusion power, which was "40 years away", 40 years ago... and is still 40 years away.

Re:Stop Now (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about 7 months ago | (#46730943)

Well, they've thrown a lot more money at it than anyone ever has on fusion, or am I wrong?

Re:Stop Now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731137)

40 years ago it was 40 years away because with the budgets they had back then it could have been.

unfortunately as the energy crisis of the 70's ramped down so did the funding. its a order of magnitude smaller now then it was predicted to be back then. so huge delays are pretty much inevitable.

its not a problem with the science of the technology, its primarily the funding.

Re:Stop Now (1)

backslashdot (95548) | about 7 months ago | (#46731349)

But we are closer today to controlled fusion than ever before .. we ARE making steady progress. Also, "uncontrolled" fusion has been acheived in the 1950s (ask the residents of Bikini Atoll about it).

Re:Stop Now (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731391)

We already have controlled fusion. It just doesn't generate any excess power.

Re:Stop Now (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730011)

Good. Leave. The rest of us will pull this cart as well just like all the others and your international influence and respect will continue to drop like it has the past 30 years.

The only time Americans get involved in anything it's either dropping bombs on brown people one week or dropping food on them the next. That or bitching about the French like it's the national sport.

$3.9 billion? (3, Insightful)

Tailhook (98486) | about 7 months ago | (#46729785)

$3.9E+09.... about four days of Fed money printing.

Perhaps we could forego half a weeks worth of bubble inflation and fund it that way.

Re:$3.9 billion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46729921)

Do you really feel all special for putting the number in scientific notation? To me it's poseur and sad.

Re:$3.9 billion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730231)

Do you really feel all special for putting the number in scientific notation? To me it's poseur and sad.

Saves typing though.

Re:$3.9 billion? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730387)

$3.9B

No it doesn't.

Re:$3.9 billion? (2)

CrimsonAvenger (580665) | about 7 months ago | (#46730367)

$3.9E+09.... about four days of Fed money printing.

Unless they've slowed the presses down while I wasn't looking, more like two days worth....

Jeff Freidberg said it best (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46729795)

Jeff Freidberg [pppl.gov] laid out the cause of the problem at the last FPA Meeting [pppl.gov] .

Can't the US follow their plans? (1)

loufoque (1400831) | about 7 months ago | (#46729807)

How hard can it be to make a budget plan and stick to it?
Why are things costing more than estimated? Estimating costs is much easier than the science at work here.

Re:Can't the US follow their plans? (1, Informative)

Tailhook (98486) | about 7 months ago | (#46729951)

How hard can it be to make a budget plan and stick to it?

I'm afraid that is naive. In the real world the figures are low-balled to get signatures knowing that once the commitments are made and the real figures are revealed backing out will be politically difficult for the funding parties.

This isn't the last cost bump either. There will be more as the years pass, each carefully calculated to be just feasible politically.

Right now they can get away with bigger bumps because Obama et al. have never seen a demand for money from Europe they weren't eager to cover. This extra few billion might involve one whole phone call from Hollande if things get rough. More likely it will be pencil-whipped through by the NSF or whatever other TLAs are involved.

Re:Can't the US follow their plans? (1)

loufoque (1400831) | about 7 months ago | (#46730069)

I do a lot of work that is funded by the government, and that's the opposite to how it works.
You have to budget for more than you think you'll need, because the government will never give you more than what was agreed on.

Re:Can't the US follow their plans? (4, Insightful)

Tailhook (98486) | about 7 months ago | (#46730163)

the government will never give you more than what was agreed on

Contractors routinely soak [politico.com] the federal government for billions in overruns. You happen work for a peon outfit that lacks the leverage to get away with it. France et al. have a little more pull.

Re:Can't the US follow their plans? (1)

BitZtream (692029) | about 7 months ago | (#46730685)

Reality shows the exact opposite of what you're saying.

My wife is in research currently, and I was not to many years ago. You give them a number thats way low for cost, a number thats WAY high for return on investment, then ... unforeseen things happen ... inflation, unexpected difficulties (that you expected but didn't mention in the original proposal) and who can argue that those things don't happen ... because you'll also run into actual things that you didn't expect that will raise the cost ... and thats something we all know happens, so telling them no more money isn't really productive.

You're just wrong in every way in your post, the article that this thread is about is a demonstration of you being wrong. You know ... since the government is, in fact, giving them more money!

This one is going to have a hard time with more money because its so far away and congressmen typically like to approve things that will put money in their home state, not in France's coffers.

Re:Can't the US follow their plans? (1)

mspohr (589790) | about 7 months ago | (#46730689)

Unless you are on a military "cost+" contract. Then you have a license to print money.

Re:Can't the US follow their plans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731737)

I do a lot of work that is funded by the government, and that's the opposite to how it works.
You have to budget for more than you think you'll need, because the government will never give you more than what was agreed on.

Unless you're a private contractor.

Re:Can't the US follow their plans? (5, Insightful)

mwvdlee (775178) | about 7 months ago | (#46729971)

Reality of projects budgets 101:
If you give the correct high estimate, they won't give you the money.
If you give the fake low estimate, they will give you the money and pay extra later on because they're already invested.
Especially if budgets have to compete, they will most likely be too low.
When budgets are that high, nobody controlling investments really has a grasp of the value of the money.

Re:Can't the US follow their plans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46732053)

The payers should require that an insurance company is involved with the project.

1) If the project goes underbudget, then then insurance company pockets the difference
2) If the project goes overbudget, then the insurance company has two choices:
    a) pay extra money to finish the project
    b) cancel the project and reimburse the payers.

That way the estimate will be good and the payers will be safe.

Re:Can't the US follow their plans? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46732413)

Are you high? Why would anyone ever complete a project under-budget in the scenerio you've provided? To do a favor for the insurance company?

What insurance company would ever volunteer to bear 100% of the financial risk with essentially 0% upside potential? They would have to be insane!

This reminds me of people who believe that health insurance on average costs less than paying for medical care out of pocket. Hint: if that were true it wouldn't be called health "insurance", it would simply be called welfare.

Re:Can't the US follow their plans? (2)

BitZtream (692029) | about 7 months ago | (#46730663)

... Well, considering the US is a MINOR partner, they aren't in charge of 'the plan', which ... is costing EVERYONE on the project more money than expected ... well with the exception of the few countries that didn't lie about the expected cost of front ... which is pretty much SOP for science these days.

You can't show me any research project of any size building something that has never before been built that stays on budget.

The intentionally low ball it so they can get funding, then use the 'well, we've already thrown $XXX at it, which will be wasted if we don't throw another $XXX/2 at it ... and then, repeat that in next years budget. There is also of course the lack of adjusting for inflation that drives the budget up. They price it in 1997 dollars when making the request ... then start in 2008 ... even if they got the pricing right in 1997, inflation means its higher in 2008 for the same thing as 1997.

Remarkably difficult, actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730871)

Suppose you and your SO were responsible for a joint home budget.

Now suppose that your SO were a psychotic lunatic who openly wants to destroy your relationship, while raving about how destroying your relationship proves that your relationship is broken. The last time you pointed out that paying the rent is a non-negotiable requirement, it ended in a hostage situation. Congratulations, this is basically the situation the Democrats in Congress are facing right now.

Re:Remarkably difficult, actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731685)

It's sad that the Republicans have such a psychotic lunatic for a partner...

Re:Remarkably difficult, actually (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731771)

It's sad that the Republicans have such a psychotic lunatic for a partner...

To which partner are you referring? The Tea Party, the Religious Right, Fox News...? They have quite a few.

Re:Can't the US follow their plans? (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 7 months ago | (#46731677)

How hard can it be to make a budget plan and stick to it?

Getting a new pair of shoes - easy.
At the cutting edge of high energy physics, wait, you didn't think before posting did you?

Is that a lot of money? (4, Funny)

hawguy (1600213) | about 7 months ago | (#46729835)

$4B over 20 years is $200M/year -- does anyone in congress even track such a small amount of money? I bet that if a few congressmen looked under the couch cushions in their office they could find more money than that.

Re:Is that a lot of money? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46729849)

But that's 4 billion that could be going to their defense contractor buddies! Who wants cheap clean energy when you can buy more million dollar bombs to drop on dirt farmers.

Clinton (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730035)

story [huffingtonpost.com]

If we didn't have H. Clinton in charge of the State Department for 4 years we would have an additional 6 billion that they lost. Yep, a single department lost that much over 4 years and no one is accountable, once again.

Re:Clinton (1)

thaylin (555395) | about 7 months ago | (#46731187)

Yes, because I am sure it was Clinton herself that lost the files and no one else would have been capable of losing them if they were in charge...But dont let logic stop you from being completely asinine.

Re:Clinton (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731303)

You saying she wasn't in charge? Now a DNC staffer can be appointed to a cabinet level position, steal $6 Billion and shouldn't have to answer any questions on where it went? How much is Kerry now allowed to steal without any record now. Perhaps if people like you weren't giving people a pass for stealing billions there would be plenty to fund this project. Instead now we have a theif and someone like you calling me names for pointing it out.

I'm sure your mother is proud to see you sticking up for theives.

Re:Clinton (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731623)

Yawn, you can get back to us when the 100 billion lost in Iraq is tracked down.

Oh wait, you won't bother to care about it now.

Politics, your name is all over it.

Re:Is that a lot of money? (3, Funny)

fermion (181285) | about 7 months ago | (#46730459)

No, it's not. It is just that they can't rent hotel room to meet their hookers and keep their mistresses on staff [csmonitor.com] .

How much is this really. As a comparison, our football stadium was supposed to cost $400 million in today's dollars. It actually cost closer to $600 million, also in today's dollars. About $350 million of that is paid by extorting fees from visitor to the city. I can't imagine how making visitors pay for something they have no use for makes, sense, but there it is.

This reminds me of people who complain about the $400 million cost to launch the Space Shuttle. The same amount of a high end movie. But what does a movie give us?

Re:Is that a lot of money? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731781)

This reminds me of people who complain about the $400 million cost to launch the Space Shuttle. The same amount of a high end movie. But what does a movie give us?

More explosions.

Should have gone with thorium (0)

denis-The-menace (471988) | about 7 months ago | (#46729875)

If they would have TRIED with something like LFTR (liquid fluoride thorium reactor) we would have something by now. They HAD a reactor working but moth-balled it in the 70s.

Bravo 1%'rs. Profits are in. Progress is out.

Within 10 years China/India will sell us thorium-based solution for a massive profit.
Just watch.

Re:Should have gone with thorium (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 7 months ago | (#46729931)

You think that a commercial scale Thorium reactor could be developed and built for $4B? You're about an order of magnitude off.

I'm not sure why I'm bothering to correct someone who thinks that Obama created the TSA.

Re:Should have gone with thorium (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730159)

If $40B is all it would take then we should do it without delay! Commercial Thorium reactors would solve so many problems it's not even funny. If we built another 240 nuke plants we could stop using coal and natural gas altogether for power generation in the US. The national security implications alone would make it worth the investment. At a cost of a mere $1.2 Trillion that would have cost FOUR TIMES LESS than the wars in Iraq & Afghanistan.

Re:Should have gone with thorium (1)

Ralph Wiggam (22354) | about 7 months ago | (#46730261)

Yeah. But unfortunately the money for Iraq and Afghanistan has already been spent.

Good luck getting even $4B for science based R&D out a Republican controlled House.

Re:Should have gone with thorium (2, Informative)

TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) | about 7 months ago | (#46731005)

You think that a commercial scale Thorium reactor could be developed and built for $4B?

Yes.
Because fusion is hard [youtube.com] ,
and LFTR is easy [youtube.com] .

Comparatively speaking.

The second one would cost half as much. The 20th one might cost as much as an airplane.

And using closed cycle Brayton it could be sited anywhere, even far away from a major source of water. And as far away from people, who tend to congregate around water, as desired.

The present regulatory apparatus, which is wholly oriented to a solid fuel water reactor technology that carries risk of decay heat meltdown, steam and hydrogen explosion, large scale venting of radioactivity -- needs to be reevaluated and adjusted rationally for this technology -- which carries none of these risks.

With due and fond respect for the things that helped us become civilized people... it is time to end the age of steam and fossil fuel.

___
Obligatory bump to the Thorium Alliance [youtube.com] and my own letters on energy,
To The Honorable James M. Inhofe, United States Senate [scribd.com]
To whom it may concern, Halliburton Corporate [scribd.com]

Re:Should have gone with thorium (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 7 months ago | (#46731695)

India seem to be doing it on that sort of budget.
Oh you mean in the US - no that would challenge established uranium interests so unlikely to happen with any budget unless the military are firmly behind it and can tell the nuclear lobby rent seekers to fuck off.

Re:Should have gone with thorium (1)

guises (2423402) | about 7 months ago | (#46730063)

These things are not mutually exclusive. Most of the proponents of nuclear power recognize it as an interim step - something a lot less dirty than fossil fuels, but still not the goal. We would need to be doing the fusion research regardless.

Re:Should have gone with thorium (5, Informative)

nojayuk (567177) | about 7 months ago | (#46730151)

No "they" didn't have a LFTR reactor working in the 70s. Nobody's EVER had an LFTR working. There is no liquid-fluorine thorium Santa Claus, just a lot of grad student Powerpoint presentations.

There was a molten-salt reactor, a laboratory-scale device fuelled with U-233 and later U-235 in intermittent operation at Oak Ridge National Laboratories for a few years in the 1960s. It never used thorium and wouldn't have been any good if it had because it couldn't breed thorium up into U-233 to fission for energy. It took a long time to decommission this small reactor in part as several bad things had happened to the piping inside it. Folks reckon the corrosion could have been fixed with a little tweak but you don't get to "tweak" sizeable reactors. Chernobyl 4 is a worked example of "tweaking" a large reactor.

China might sell you their CAP1400 light-water reactor design (an upgrade of the Westinghouse AP1000) or maybe their HTR-PM modular reactors; they're actually building one at the moment to test the concept and they have a small testbed gas-cooled pebble-bed reactor running at the moment. India is working on using thorium in regular heavy-water reactors as part of the fuel mix, not in molten-salt systems and nobody else is really interested in buying into what they're doing. Other folks are looking into pebble-bed reactors which can burn thorium as part of the fuel mix but the previous history of attempting this is not a success, mostly -- the Germans are still trying to figure out how to decommission their thorium-mix pebble-bed reactors. They've been filled with concrete for the moment to stop the leaks of radioactivity.

There are also experiments going on to see how thorium works in regular light-water reactors. The physics says it will work, it's not as energetic as regular uranium fuels though. Baby steps baby steps.

Re:Should have gone with thorium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730401)

What about Breeder Reactors? The US had one in Arco, Idaho back in 1955 (still there, though not in operation). Purportedly makes its own fuel, and could supposedly go on for EVER. One teensy problem is that it produces weapons-grade nuclear material as a side effect, but HEY - it's FREE electricity!

Re:Should have gone with thorium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730665)

We had one in France but pro coal pro oil pseudo ecologists had it shut down.

Re: Thorium Sanity Clause (2, Funny)

TheRealHocusLocus (2319802) | about 7 months ago | (#46731595)

No "they" didn't have a LFTR reactor working in the 70s. Nobody's EVER had an LFTR working. There is no liquid-fluorine thorium Santa Claus, just a lot of grad student Powerpoint presentations.

Thank you for calling the Thorium hotline. YES THERE IS A THORIUM SANTA CLAUS! I've ridden on his sleigh, he even let me ring the jingle bells. Even if you are a sourpuss you are welcome to come along for a ride too: the Thorium Remix 2011 [youtube.com] . It's two hours long so bring some snacks.

I grew up amid Cold War fear and graduated to fossil fuel angst, coal concern. Then over the years I have witnessed a parade of 'renewable' wind and solar energy farm dreams where an absurd complexity of grid interconnect, tiny yields and moveable parts scales up to power -- a medieval society, maybe. A bad dream we should do the math and awaken from. So I resolved that our future should be nuclear... because modern civilization followed me home and I decided to keep it.

So it was with astonished relief that I learned that there was more than one way to do nuclear.

Dr. Alvin Weinberg PhD, one of the original patent holders of the Light Water reactor was slightly more than a graduate student. He was so obsessed with the idea that liquid fuels delivered greater safety and scalability, he sacrificed the remainder of his career in a vain attempt to convince the Navy (Rickover was running the show) to pursue liquid fuel and then, brazenly, went directly to the public -- a prominent scientist of the Atoms For Peace program warning about safety issues of water reactors was very embarassing. He soon lost the battle and his position as director at Oak Ridge.

I'm no diplomat apologist. I am pissed off by Admiral Rickover's lack of forward vision in 1973. With one phone call he could have prevented Weinberg's dismissal, preserved molten salt research and set human kind on a much better course.

There was a molten-salt reactor, a laboratory-scale device fuelled with U-233 and later U-235 in intermittent operation at Oak Ridge National Laboratories for a few years in the 1960s. It never used thorium and wouldn't have been any good if it had because it couldn't breed thorium up into U-233 to fission for energy.

Because the plumbing and the scale was wrong. They did not put a Thorium blanket around the test reactor because they already knew that Thorium breeding would work, and wanted direct access to the core to make neutron measurements. The ARE [wikipedia.org] and MSRE were projects to prove that the chemistry could achieve criticality and remain stable... also refine the engineering.

In terms of ground covered between theory and finished commercial product, the 1965-1969 MSRE was an masterpiece 'hack' of high-tech (more chemistry than nuclear engineers were accustomed to) -- and low-tech (salt plug drain), delivered.

Anyone in any industry who makes such progress with a single experiment in so little time should feel rightfully proud.

There are also experiments going on to see how thorium works in regular light-water reactors. The physics says it will work, it's not as energetic as regular uranium fuels though. Baby steps baby steps.

Thorium as solid fuel in water reactors is 'several hundred years doomed' commercially. Uranium works better as a solid fuel and will not be scarce for awhile.

In regards to LFTR I respectfully think it's time to take big steps, big steps. As concerted an effort as those steps on the moon.

Corrosion schmoesion. We're not talking safety issues here in a system that carries high pressure, inherent steam and hydrogen explosion risk. LFTR will be just a bunch of standard bolt-together plumbing at normal atmospheric pressure. Replace and recycle everything every ten years until the corrosion issues are solved, if they arise.

Irony number one: in the extremely unlikely case that the molten salt plug fails, one could manually shut down a LFTR with a small explosive charge to blow the drain plug assembly apart, allowing the salts to drain naturally into the lower tank. Try suggesting that to the operator of a water reactor.

Irony number two: As to that complexity and cost of decommissioning the Molten Salt Experiment, ORNL just casked everything up, did not defuel the salts as Weinberg had suggested.

___
Obligatory bump to the Thorium Alliance [youtube.com] and my own letters on energy,
To The Honorable James M. Inhofe, United States Senate [scribd.com]
To whom it may concern, Halliburton Corporate [scribd.com]

Re: Thorium Sanity Clause (4, Insightful)

nojayuk (567177) | about 7 months ago | (#46732487)

Like I said, nobody's ever run a thorium-cycle liquid-salt reactor and there is no Santa Claus. As for a "thorium breeder blanket" add-on to the Oak Ridge reactor, huh? The LFTR concept mixes thorium into the molten-salt stream, breeds it up to U-233 and then fissions it within a moderator to slow down the neutron flux. There is no separate blanket, it's all in one stream, salt, kickstarter fuel (U-233 or U-235/Pu-239), thorium and waste products all at 700 deg C and more, mindbogglingly radioactive, radiochemically very complex and being continuously moved around lots of piping and heat exchangers and chemical processing plant and it has to generate electricity at about 5 cents per kWh to be competitive.

Any such reactor is going to require a neutron flux way higher than the ORNL reactor ever experienced, a mix of fast neutrons to do the breeding and slower neutrons to fission the resulting U-233. This isn't a problem for existing well-tested light-water and heavy-water reactors delivering about 15% of the world's electricity demand right now, of course. In their case the ceramic fuel sits in zirconium tubes and water circulates around them to transfer heat and in some cases moderate the neutron flux, no fast neutrons specifically required for breeding purposes (although some breeding does happen anyway). Much simpler and more reliable, no explosives required.

I agree that uranium will not be scarce for decades, at least one conventional and proven light-water/heavy-water reactor operation cycle of about 60 years. It's possible it would never be scarce at all if the process to extract from seawater can be operated commercially -- it's been tested, its cost is estimated at about three or four times the price of conventionally mined uranium today. Some countries don't have much uranium within their boundaries so ongoing supply is not guaranteed. India is one such country hence their interest in developing a fuel cycle involving thorium for their heavy-water reactors. They're still building and operating conventionally-fueled reactors too though.

Re:Should have gone with thorium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730477)

We don't bother with Thorium since it's not an offshoot of our military nuclear industry.

And we'll never use it. The military-industrial complex is by definition invested in uranium-based solutions.

Make a Thorium bomb and suddenly the United States will become interested.

keeping a budget (0)

epyT-R (613989) | about 7 months ago | (#46729889)

Why is it that it's the american taxpayer who has to fund these global bridges to nowhere while they are simultaneously called bigots/ignoramuses/warmongers by the people whose countries are also involved, but whose politicians are too pantywaisted to get their hands dirty? Hell, why does the US federal government think it has the privilege of operating outside the scope of a budget in the first place, driving up inflation and destroying future financial security in the process? This country should renege on any expensive treaty agreements until it has the deficit under control, or one day, there won't be a USA for everyone to fall back on when the going gets tough.

Even if the fusion project ends up producing viable technology, we can't afford the cost right now.

Re:keeping a budget (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46729943)

We'd have the money if we'd kick the trailer trash and hood rats off of welfare and sent the illegals back to their shithole country.
 
We need real leadership, not the shitbags that the moron on the street has elected.

Re:keeping a budget (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730005)

trailer trash and hood rats

Most of it goes to mostly white grandmas and grandpas and they've got the AARP, so dream on buddy. They won't see a dime cut.

Until the crash that is.

Keep printing Janet. Keep printing.

Re:keeping a budget (1)

deathcloset (626704) | about 7 months ago | (#46730061)

We'd have the money if we'd kick the trailer trash and hood rats off of welfare and sent the illegals back to their shithole country.

http://uptownmagazine.com/2014... [uptownmagazine.com] Be careful who you kick and where you kick them. This guy might actually figure out fusion energy - eh? This dude is why we have welfare. When you mine for gold there is mostly dirt...but there's gold too. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. And a penny saved is a penny earned. And make yourself a bowl of soup and wrap a hot towel around your head. And don't stay out too late! Ah, whatever.

Re:keeping a budget (1)

Rockoon (1252108) | about 7 months ago | (#46730867)

This dude is why we have welfare.

Really? "His parents, Zarina (an elementary school principal) and Mubarak Ahmad (a mechanic for AC Transit), raised all six of their children with good values."
Stop being a dishonest fuck.

Re:keeping a budget (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731815)

Actually, we'd have the money and not have to kick out half the country if the rich paid their fair share of taxes, rather than half the rate at which the poor are taxed, like we have now.

Re:keeping a budget (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730039)

This country should renege on any expensive treaty agreements until it has the deficit under control, or one day, there won't be a USA for everyone to fall back on when the going gets tough.

You might want to look where the federal money is really being spent. And don't look at one of those cop-out right-wing charts that leave of social security and medicare. Either way, you'll see that science and foreign aid (which is mostly military aid) is a tiny drop in a very big bucket. While we're at it, what inflation?

Re:keeping a budget (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730097)

At $3.9B out of a total budget of $21B, the US is paying for roughly 19% of ITER.
GDP of the USA is about 22% of the entire world's GDP (based on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L... [wikipedia.org] .
Even if the entire world is paying the rest of the bill, the US is paying less than average.
Those other involved countries' taxpayers are paying more than the american taxpayer.

Re:keeping a budget (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731743)

The US should pay zero dollars. Fuck Europe. I am sick and tired of those entitled assholes whose entire since of pride comes from hating the US right up until they want something. Why should we cooperate with shitheads who hate us? They love to claim that they are so much more progressed and that Americans are all a bunch of fat cavemen, so let them fucking do it on their own.

Fusion, the Great White Whale of technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730165)

Along with manganese seafloor nodules, submarine rescue systems and the SSC. Two of those three turned out to be cover stories for "dark" projects. Anyone want to bet that in 20 years, fusion still won't be a viable energy source?

Put it on Craig's List! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730215)

Fusion Power Plant For Rent : in a beautiful rural area, southern France, giant Tokamak for fusion experiments and (possible) energy production. Co-renting with countries from EU, Japan, etc, only 3.9$ BN! (not refundable)
Available fall 2020!

Go to hell, Congress. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730249)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_budget_of_the_United_States

One wonders why the costs are going up? (1)

Karmashock (2415832) | about 7 months ago | (#46730319)

Government programs have a tendency to have inflating budgets that often don't have anything to do with their actual purpose.

If we're throwing this sort of money at an international science project then I'd like to know that large sums of it aren't going to pay for hookers and cocaine.

And yes... that has happened before and I'd just assume not have it happen again.

ITER disproved itself (1)

Eravnrekaree (467752) | about 7 months ago | (#46730397)

It seems, ITER long ago disproved that at least this kind of Fusion can be cost effective.

Re:ITER disproved itself (2)

Firethorn (177587) | about 7 months ago | (#46730517)

I've come to the conclusion that it's likely a scaling problem. IE once we can do continuous fusion(or at least pulse/'diesel' fusion fast enough for steady power), it'll be a matter that the energy costs will scale by the square, but power production will scale by the cube.

Going by the size of ITER, considering that many research nuclear reactors had generators hooked up to them but ITER has no provision to ever produce electricity, ITER isn't big enough.

We may be looking at needing something crazy like a 10GW facility before it makes sense.
(not an expert)

Personally, I'd almost rather put the money(and a lot of money from other sources, such as the F-35 program) to start building new fission plants - stop the majority of our CO2/power plant pollution.

Do the research necessary to develop liquid thorium to remove that restraint. Put solar panels on buildings south of the Mason-Dixon line where they'll do the most good, solar water heaters, etc...

Employing all the people it'd take to do this would help solve our employment problem for a long time, and it actually benefits the country.

Re:ITER disproved itself (1)

towermac (752159) | about 7 months ago | (#46730987)

"new fission plants"

That's the key right there. For 2 reasons.

One, we need the power. The greenies can take their country-wide windmill blanket and shove it up their ass. If you take offense that, then all birds and bats hate you, just so you know.

Two, we've got thousands of tons of highly radioactive waste witting all around the country right now. And we have no plan on what to do with it. New Mexico ain't taking it, and in the long run; that's probably for the best. The only thing that can be done with it is to burn it up in a nuclear reactor. New designs; not old ones.

We have no choice. The longer we delay, the harder we are going to have it in the interim.

Sort out waste AND build capacity instead of magic (1)

dbIII (701233) | about 7 months ago | (#46731729)

I'd forgotten that "new nukes burn up all existing waste" is the new "duck and cover". Reprocessing creates MORE waste (it's a fuel recovery process not a waste management one), just a different sort which actually lasts longer so we can't just ignore waste management.
We'd be better off just managing the waste we have properly as well as building the best nukes for the job instead of pretending that it's part of a waste management system, especially since the best nukes for the job are going to be different to the ones that squeeze as much as possible out of old fuel.

Re:ITER disproved itself (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731287)

while its true that iter is never going to produce electricity (that isn't what it is for) it IS big enough.

at peak it is planned to produce 10 times as much energy(500MW) as it needs to operate.

Not Rocket Science (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730515)

This is not rocket science.

Re:Not Rocket Science (2)

BitZtream (692029) | about 7 months ago | (#46730747)

No, its nuclear physics ... which makes rocket science look like 3rd grade math.

20 years away... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46730855)

It's ALWAYS been 20 years away. In the 70s... in the 80s... in the 90s and the 00s.
Every generation of fusion scientist has stretched out the timeline to coincide with their retirements.
They should have turned this Ponzi scheme over to the military and told them it was a national priority like they did with the Manhattan Project.

20 years away... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731201)

that's primarily the case because each decade since that time the budgets for fusion research have gotten smaller and smaller.

after the energy crisis of the 70's ending fusion research funding has only gone down.

Re:20 years away... (1)

backslashdot (95548) | about 7 months ago | (#46731385)

Sign your name to the fact that we will never achieve controlled fusion. Publicly apologize when you are proved wrong.

Initially Worth 10x Present Value (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731041)

Overprinting and the neverending Depression mean that the US$Dollar is really worth about a quarter of what it was worth in the beginning of 2008. The continuing trend means that, to maintain real value, the nominal value has to go up exponentially. But it's a very, very bad idea to abandon the practice and production of technological know-how and expertise - and the off chance of a really great technological breakthrough (among all the "minor" ones). That could bring in a "fall of Rome" Dark Ages collapse in technology and knowledge.

lofty goals or waste? (1)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about 7 months ago | (#46731555)

I'm all for lofty science projects with a moderate likelihood of failure but it seems like every one of these large scale projects of late fail to live up to their promises, don't provide significant scientific information AND cost 4 times what they were originally projected to cost. One of those conditions every other project would be quite acceptable but all three of them on a vast majority of projects? Sounds like either a massive waste of taxpayer money or a "legalized" form of embezzlement to me.

ridiculous (1)

slashmydots (2189826) | about 7 months ago | (#46731671)

20 years out?! They company doesn't state that. The government doesn't state that. The investors don't say that. Not even the critics say that. Every number I've ever heard says it's a lot closer.

Safety, my ass.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 7 months ago | (#46731887)

Well this sure proves once and for all that traffic enforcement is all about money and has nothing to do with safety. If it were safety it wouldn't matter who was doing the speeding (aside, of course, from emergency vehicles hurrying to a legitimate call,). There;s no way they could ever argue now that the motivation is anything but financial.

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