ITER on the Move, or White Elephants have Long Lives

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, is a prototype magnetic confinement fusion reactor currently being built at Cadarache in the south of France. According to a message by the new director of the ITER organization posted at facility’s Newsline,

The Baseline describes ITER all the way from the beginning of construction, through commissioning, and on to Deuterium-Tritium operation. The main milestones will be the achievement of First Plasma in November 2019 and the start of Deuterium-Tritium operation by March 2027 ultimately taking ITER to 500 MW of fusion power.

He adds that “The world is watching us closely.” If so, it appears we’re going to be watching closely for a very long time. Evidently the plasma physics guys are nursing this thing like an all day sucker. It sounds like the scheduled building time is already running neck and neck with the Great Pyramid, and will soon be giving some of the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages a run for their money.

With any luck, some bright physicist(s) will finesse Mother Nature out of her fusion secrets using some known (see, for example, here and here) or yet to be discovered alternative to the “traditional” brute force magnetic and inertial confinement fusion approaches well before they ever get around to feeding tritium to this white elephant. Failing that, maybe the upcoming experiments on the National Ignition Facility (NIF) will be a lot more successful than I expect. Either way, some excuse to pull the plug on ITER is sorely needed. If nothing else, it will encourage some very bright scientists to do something useful with their talents for a change. All complex cost analyses done using the most up to date methods to the contrary, ITER will never be able to compete with the available alternative energy sources in terms of cost any time in the next few centuries.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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