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Construction underway at ITER

They say fusion is 50 years away. There were those who also said it was 50 years away two decades ago.

Either way, this week marks a significant date in whatever history fusion energy might have. Digging has begun at the ITER (thermonuclear was a bad word, so there's no longer an acronym) site in the south of France for the facility's Tokamak building. A tokomak is a torus shaped magnetic confinement device which is necessary to withstand the temperatures associated with fusion that are so high, solid materials can't hold them. As such, the building represents the future core of ITER.

The construction start comes after decades of research, bureaucracy, politics infused debates and massive cost increases. In fact, the estimated cost has already tripled. Yet, a contract agreement was reached in May of this year that paved the way for digging to finally begin - 25 years after efforts towards an international thermonuclear fusion reactor were first crafted.

From Fusion for Energy (EU branch of ITER):

Working is really picking up – the first excavation works for the complex Tokamak building on the ITER site have now started. This is a major step forward after the signature of contract... The start of the excavation works demonstrates that the F4E (aka Fusion for Energy) contribution of buildings is progressing full speed ahead and on schedule. In tandem, development of the tender design for all the other buildings that are part of F4E’s contribution to the ITER project is also being carried out.

While the ITER folks are showing optimism about the start of construction on the facility, even many physicists are skeptical of the reality of the thing.

MIT Professor Michael Driscoll told the Moscow Times:

"It's possible that it can be done from the scientific point of view, but I think the economics are going to be quite troublesome."The radiation damage inside the thermonuclear reactor — a machine that is also known as a "tokamak" — would be so huge it would require replacing the expensive surrounding first wall, which faces the high-temperature plasma, every few years, Driscoll said. Another problem is material for high-temperature-resistant superconducting wires to make magnets for the ITER, he said.

For more details of the construction check out ITER. Anatoly Medetsky of The Moscow times has a very in-depth recent piece about the issues facing the future of the technology and the ITER project as well.

Here's to hoping physicists don't dig anymore holes they can't fill.


  1. Didn't North Korea just announce they started building theirs a few months ago? Looks like the western world is playing catchup.

  2. if you watched the world cup, north Korea also said all their players had miniature cell phones in their ears and received advice from their glorious leader

  3. The Western World playing "catching up" to North Korea?? Do you think that beause North Korea makes an announcement in regards to Fusion that it will come to pass? Do you honestly think North Korea is a credible regime? North Korea is just barely out of the stone age my friend. Infact they have trouble feeding their own people.

  4. Why don't we use the fusion power source that doesn't need walls. The sun has another 5 billion years worth of energy left. I suggest we use it.

  5. Pretty sure we do, chief.

  6. I mean really use it. Solar accounts for peanuts of our current energy use because fossil fuels make the big bucks. But using these dirty fuels is killing us (cancer) and the planet (major disruption of food chains, etc) and we've got to change.

    If we invested what we spend on elections and wars, space based solar power could be easy, and just as profitable.

    A lot more profitable than silly tourist flights...

  7. If we invested what we spend on elections

    Yeah, that democracy is a real drag.

  8. Don't get me wrong, voting is good.

    I'm referring to the money companies (who are usually doing something bad) spend buying politicians, not to mention the ad money wasted on a small fraction of the population who usually vote for "their" party anyway.

  9. All you who diss north korea and the great leader are commies and spies.

  10. Haha, NK-supporting trolls? This is hilarious.

    It'll be so fun when his short butt dies. I look forward to it greatly. I expect pretty quick reform and modernization within a year or two of it.

  11. And what do you do when you've depleted the world's supply of iridium and the other few rare earth metals that are used in making solar panels? Not to mention that while green energy is a great idea, they are nowhere near efficient enough to be taking over the power grid anytime soon. As someone who has worked in the power industry for almost two decades, on nuclear, wind, coal, and gas turbine plants, I can easily say that nuclear is the best and greenest option we have at the moment.

  12. Solar thermal energy capture is not so complex as require fancy panels. We are pretty close as it is but if we get closer all you have to do is stick a metal rod out the "window" and you can use the thermal energy directly.

    This actually requires a rocket but the concept is not rocket science.

  13. Actually, Germany has already made headway towards using solar panels for all their electricity needs. The new solar panels being made now are supposed to pay for themselves within a year (thin-film tech and stuff I personally don't understand). They have calculated that only 1/4 of the roof-space of all buildings in the country will be enough to power the entire country. No putting stuff in fields, no need to build transmission lines out into the middle of deserts.

    Source: a documentary called "Here Comes The Sun". Go find and watch it. The sun is out there and working happily away, whether we bother to capture it's output or not.

    Personally though: I do like nuclear and fusion power. Technology for fission power has advanced tremendously since the accidents of Three Mile Island and Chernobyl: public fear is all that keeps it from being used properly in the USA. Check out the mini-nuclear-reactors being put out by Toshiba.

  14. With the current price of fossil fuels, solar power is actually becoming cost-effective (whether solar panels or mirror-thermal plants). You don't have to keep digging stuff up and tossing the residue into the atmosphere either. That's a bonus by itself.

  15. Actually, 'digging' began in 2009, but that was just overall site leveling. See

    Nuclear fusion would be a wonderful thing. If only there were not so many insurmountable problems with approaches like ITER.
    For example:
    ITER iterations By John Busby, 5 May 2009

    Fusion Illusions: Dangerous illusions of commercial energy production from deuterium-truitium fusion.


  16. Wow and I thought people where smart.
    Sun + water + pipe = steam power.
    easy cheap but NO! solar panels...

  17. "Where smart?" Clearly excluding yourself, then.

  18. I'm 52, fusion has always been 50 years away ever since I can remember and I'm completely confident it will still be 50 years away however long I live. The ITER project is just a boondoggle for otherwise useless scientists and academics and a money trough for government contractors. They may as well just pile up money and burn it for all the good it will do.

  19. I would put my monny on Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) thechnology for the Future.

  20. and what are u planning on doing with the waste that comes out of such reactors? fusion reactors are not effective yet, they use more energy than they produce.

  21. ITT: people who don't know jack about fusion, and think it's just like fission

  22. no i am just talking about two topics at once. ofcourse fusion dont produce any waste.

  23. Actually, Johnny, when I was working at the plasma lab at the University of Maryland in 1985, fusion was only 20 years away (they told me). Now it's 50. That's progress. In ten years, it'll probably be 75 years away.

  24. by the way i love the arguing part of discussion. it is so hilarious to always have to argue about everything, even though we are interested in the same thing. we humans are still so primitive.

  25. Yes!! waste!! The waste problem is one of the rely rely intresting thing with Liquid-Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR) thechnology.. :)

  26. quote: "Do you honestly think North Korea is a credible regime? North Korea is just barely out of the stone age my friend. Infact they have trouble feeding their own people."


  27. Solar energy is a pipe and is completely useless out in space. What do you think the reason for all this research is ? Duhr, Space Travel !!!
    Con Edison is still gonna provide the power lines ;-)

  28. to be honest, im perfectly fine with using energy from the second most abundant source in the solar system.... ie, the ocean...

  29. Another interesting tidbit -

    ITER will produce ten times more energy than it consumes (in short bursts). But because it's a research reactor and not a power plant, the energy will not be used in any way.

  30. Keep in mind that this is the road map after the LHC france is also not the first in this, china is also building one and is most likely the first one to be in operation. allready experimental versions (scaled down versions) do work, lessons learned from their tuning results in the bleu prints of these machines. And if a wall is a bit damaged its not such a big problem, simply replace shieldings. A robot could do that easily. And that would be little waste compared to the endles amounts of energy they can produce

  31. So why are all these people going hungry? Are others to blame or themselves? I'm not trying to lessen the effect or deny that people do indeed go hungry, especially children.

    But I would wager that many of these people spend more on booze, cigarettes and DVD rentals than on quality food for their children. The amount of money spent in 2008 on welfare needs (Welfare/UnEmp/Medicare) amounts to $533 Billion. Couple that figure with the cost of the so called health care reform being implemented by Obama would probably buy Prime Rib meals for every man woman and child in the United States for years to come.

    It all comes down to priorities, and evil desire for control. Watch your back - those in power want more.

  32. A xenon rare-polycrystalline dilatant material would be able to withstand the radiation pressure and optically displace it without considerable degredation.


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