Friday, May 29, 2009

ITER scaled back - Big Fusion delayed

According to a report in Nature, the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) under development since 1989 and construction since 2006, has been formally scaled back because of cost overruns.

Geoff Brumfiel reports from the 40 hectare construction site at St Paul-lez-Durance in France, the "international experiment boldly aiming to prove atomic fusion as a power source — will initially be far less ambitious than physicists had hoped, Nature has learned."

"Faced with ballooning costs and growing delays, ITER's seven partners are likely to build only a skeletal version of the device at first. The project's governing council said last June that the machine should turn on in 2018; the stripped-down version could allow that to happen, but the first experiments capable of validating fusion for power would not come until the end of 2025, five years later than the date set when the ITER agreement was signed in 2006."

"The new scheme, known as 'Scenario 1' to ITER insiders, will be discussed on 17–18 June in Mito, Japan, at a council meeting that will include representatives from all seven members: the European Union (EU), Japan, South Korea, Russia, the United States, China and India. It is expected to be approved at a council meeting in November.

"Indeed, the plan is perhaps the only way forward. Construction costs are likely to double from the €5-billion (US$7-billion) estimate provided by the project in 2006, as a result of rises in the price of raw materials, gaps in the original design, and an unanticipated increase in staffing to manage procurement. The cost of ITER's operations phase, another €5 billion over 20 years, may also rise.

"In fact, the ultimate cost of ITER may never be known. Because 90% of the project will be managed directly by individual member states, the central organization has no way of gauging how much is being spent, says Norbert Holtkamp, ITER's principal deputy director-general. "They won't even tell us," he says. "And that's OK with me."

"Holtkamp says that the only way to get ITER built is to do the skeletal version first. Before scaling up to do energy-producing experiments, he says, "you really need to know whether the major components work. It's absolutely clear that this is the right approach." As to why Scenario 1 is being touted only now, Holtkamp says it took him time after joining the project to review the original schedule."

"Fusion researchers say that Scenario 1 is preferable to the alternative: a permanent smaller machine that would never produce significant amounts of power. "You can't build a half ITER because then you'll just go on and on not quite knowing what the answer is," says Steven Cowley, director of the UK Atomic Energy Authority's fusion laboratory at Culham."

The full Article can be read HERE.