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ITER is First of a Breed of Fusion Reactors that Could Produce Power without Nuclear's Risks

A fusion reactor could, within 30-40 years, harness the hydrogen power of the stars. An international agreement to build the first such facility has scintillated the scientific community and roused the rage of environmentalists. Successful fusion experiments could lead to a clean, safe, unlimited power source. Not everyone is convinced that it's possible, or a good idea.

A research facility called ITER could have long-ranging implications for electric power, although no electricity will be generated by ITER itself.

"Iter" is Latin for "the way." The ITER research facility is an experimental step between previous studies of plasma physics and the fusion power plants of the future. The first experiments are scheduled to begin in 2016, but the prospect of building a reactor is already energizing the scientific community and fueling some volatile reactions.

Fusion reactions energize scientists
A clean, safe, infinite source of electricity is the stuff of futuristic novels. One such reactor exists nearby -- at the center of our Solar System.

Great deals? We suspect not. Bidding probably starts at US$10 billion, and delivery would take a decade or more. (This Google ad actually appeared online.)

The Sun shines because of constant fusion reactions, and ITER hopes to recreate them here on Earth. Fusion research conducted since the 1950s indicate that this is possible. If scientists succeed, they will finally take the "fiction" out of what has been science fiction for a half century.

Hydrogen atoms combine within the Sun under extreme pressure and heat -- over 10 million degrees C -- and release tremendous amounts of energy. With the lower pressures possible here on Earth, the temperature must be closer to 150 million degrees C for fusion to occur. Since almost any manmade container would vaporize at those temperatures, a fusion reactor uses a magnetic cage to contain the heated particles.

Tiny amounts of fuel -- about a gram per 1,000 cubic meters -- are used to perpetuate the reaction. The fuel consumption of a fusion reactor would be quite low, compared to today's power plants.

Believed cleaner, safer than nuclear
A one-gigawatt fusion plant would need about 100 kilograms of deuterium and three tons of lithium to operate for a year, generating about seven million MWh of electricity. That's enough to power a modern city. To generate the same energy, a coal-fired power plant requires about 1.5 million tons of fuel and produces about four to five million tons of CO2.

Fusion could generate electricity without the emissions and greenhouse gases thought to cause the current phase of global warming. The recent reemergence of U.S. government interest in nuclear power is ostensibly fueled (pardon the expression) by this factor.

ITER represents a safer alternative to nuclear power. Fusion reactions are not self-sustaining, so a plant won't melt down or blow up. If the small amount of non-radioactive fuel is cut off from the reactor, the particles cool and the reaction stops within a few seconds. Modern nuclear plant designers are still searching for ways to achieve similar levels of safety.

Fusion does irradiate its surrounding reactor chamber, so there will be radioactive waste to dispose of when the reactor is dismantled. The waste is dangerous, but not as highly radioactive as what goes into or comes out of a modern nuclear power plant. Fusion's radioactivity decays and becomes safe to recycle on a human time scale, around a hundred years, compared to thousands for conventional nuclear waste.

This ITER reactor won't generate electricity, only heat. Even though the reactor will produce the equivalent of about 500 MW of energy, there won't be a turbine attached. Like most power plants, a fusion power plant would convert water to steam that would drive a turbine to generate electricity.

The reactor will give scientists a chance to learn about every aspect of fusion. The six parties are already planning for the experiments beyond ITER -- known as the Broader Approach -- to take fusion research the rest of the way to power generation.

True international cooperation
Six parties (the EU, the US, China, Russia, Japan and South Korea) are participating in the ITER fusion energy project under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The cooperation was launched in 1987 when the participants realized that no single country was likely to have all the scientific resources required, nor foot the expected $10 billion in costs, for the experiment. The US stopped contributing to the effort in 1999, but resumed its commitment shortly after China joined the alliance.

Japan and France have been competing for the site, and today's announcement by Japan seems to indicate that France has won the competition. The winning country is guaranteed to be the center of the scientific universe, along with thousands of construction and research jobs spanning 30 years. It is also on the hook for half the cost of construction. The losing country is guaranteed 20% of the construction contracts, along with promises of support for building the next facility in their country.

Fusion has its skeptics
The joke in the science world is that fusion has been a decade away for 50 years. It is theoretically harder to combine Hydrogen atoms on Earth because the densities and pressures on the Sun are so much greater. Scientists are confident that it will be done.

Environmentalists are concerned that the money spent on ITER is money that won't be spent developing more known renewable energy sources. They are also worried about the possibility of proliferation of radioactive materials. Given the French propensity to voice their objections through protests, the construction process is likely to have its challenges.

Local reactions are mixed
The town of Cadarache, near Aix-en-Provence, is a quiet village with 3,500 inhabitants. ITER promises to at least double that, which would bring some expansion of the town's infrastructure. That equates to big changes for an historic area, but it also means more jobs and spending. Nestlé and other plant closures in this part of France have left many unemployed.

The region around the proposed site in Provence is considered environmentally sensitive, and some feel it should be protected from the kind of development that is certain to ensue.

Cadarache already hosts the world’s largest super-conducting fusion experiment, Tore-Supra, at the CEA Cadarache Research Centre, one of the biggest civil nuclear research centers in Europe. Other nearby towns and cities are hoping for a shift in perceptions about their region, from the current tourist-trap image to one of industrial and scientific leadership.

Starting in late 2005, it's likely to be one big construction zone.


June 28, 2005: Cadarache, France, has officially been chosen as the future site of the ITER fusion energy reactor and research facility.

"Technology Review" magazine's September 2005 issue includes two items on fusion. One very short sidebar (p. 24) explains how fusion works in scientific terms, and includes an explanatory graphic.

MIT's head of head of the Department of Nuclear Science and Engineering, Ian Hutchinson, wrote "Fusion Research: What about the U.S.? http://www.technologyreview.com/articles/05/09/issue/invite.asp (p. 43). Hutchinson explains why ITER is a large step in fusion research. He notes that two fusion reactors in the U.S. -- one at MIT, which he helped design and build -- were crucial in preparing for the challenges that ITER faces.

Hutchinson makes a convincing case for increasing the U.S. federal fusion research budget to about 1/32nd the size of NASA's budget, so the U.S. can revitalize its fusion program and play a strong role in ITER's success.

A New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy

Over the past year many luminaries have made clarion calls for a concerted effort to solve the energy crisis. It is a crisis, with 300 million middle class Chinese determined to attain the unsustainable lifestyle we have sold them. Their thirst for oil is growing at 30% a year, and can do nothing but heat the earth and spark political conflict.

We have been heating the earth since the agricultural revolution with the positive result of providing 10,000 years of warm stability. But since the Industrial revolution we have been pushing the biosphere over the brink. Life forces have done this before -- during the snowball earth period ( Cryogenian Period ) in the Neoproterozoic toward the end of the Precambrian - but that life force was not sentient!

Thomas Freedman of the New York Times has called for a Manhattan Project for clean energy The New York Times> Search> Abstract. Richard Smalley, one of the fathers of nanotechnology, has made a similar plea.

We are at the cusp in several technologies to fulfilling this clean energy dream. All that we need is the political leadership to shift our fiscal priorities.

I feel our resources should be focused in three promising technologies:

1. Nanotechnology: The exploitation of quantum effects is finally being seen in these new materials. Photovoltaics (PV) are at last going beyond silicon, with many companies promising near-term breakthroughs in efficiencies and lower cost. Even silicon is gaining new efficienies from nano-tech: Researchers develop technique to use dirty silicon, could pave way for cheaper solar energy

New work on diodes also has great implications for PV, LEDs and micro-electronics Nanotubes make perfect diodes (August 2005) - News - PhysicsWeb

And direct solar to hydrogen, I was told they have hit 10% efficiency and solved mass production problems: Hydrogen Solar home

And just coming out of the lab, this looks very strong, it brings full spectrum efficiencies to PVs: UB News Services-solar nano-dots

1a. Thermionics: The direct conversion of heat to electricity has been at best only 5% efficient. Now with quantum tunneling chips we are talking 80% of carnot efficiency. A good example is the proposed thermionic car design of Borealis. The estimated well-to-wheel efficiency is over 50%. This compares to 13% for internal combustion and 27% for hydrogen fuel cells. This means a car that has a range of 1500 miles on one fill up. Rodney T. Cox, president of Borealis, has told me that he plans to have this car developed within two years. Boeing has already used his Chorus motor drives on the nose gear of it's 767. (Boeing Demonstrates New Technology for Moving Airplanes on the Ground)

The Borealis thermocouple power chips (and cool chips) applied to all the waste heat in our economy would make our unsustainable lifestyle more than sustainable.

You may find an extensive discussion on thermo electric patents at: Nanalyze Forums - Direct conversion of heat to electricity

2. Biotechnology: Since his revolutionary work on the human genome project, Craig Venter has been finding thousands of previously unknown life forms in the sea and air. His goal is to use these creatures to develop the ultimate energy bug to produce hydrogen and or use of their photoreceptor genes for solar energy. Imagine a bioreactor in your home taking all your waste, adding some solar energy, and your electric and transportation needs are fulfilled.

3. Fusion: Here I am not talking about the big science ITER project taking thirty years, but the several small alternative plasma fusion efforts and maybe bubble fusion - Is bubble fusion back? (July 2005) - News - PhysicsWeb

On the big science side I do have hopes for the LDX.

There are three companies pursuing hydrogen-boron plasma toroid fusion, Paul Koloc, Prometheus II, Eric Lerner, Focus Fusion and Clint Seward of Electron Power Systems. A resent DOD review of EPS technology reads as fallows:

"MIT considers these plasmas a revolutionary breakthrough, with Delphi's chief scientist and senior manager for advanced technology both agreeing that EST/SPT physics are repeatable and theoretically explainable. MIT and EPS have jointly authored numerous professional papers describing their work. (Delphi is a $33B company, the spun off Delco Division of General Motors)."

"Cost: no cost data available. The complexity of reliable mini-toroid formation and acceleration with compact, relatively low-cost equipment remains to be determined. Yet the fact that the EPS/MIT STTR work this technology has attracted interest from Delphi is very significant, as the automotive electronics industry is considered to be extremely demanding of functionality per dollar and pound (e.g., mil-spec performance at Wal-Mart-class 'commodity' prices)."

EPS, Electron Power Systems seems the strongest and most advanced, and I love the scalability, They propose applications as varied as home power generation@ .ooo5 cents/KWhr, cars, distributed power, airplanes, space propulsion , power storage and kinetic weapons.

It also provides a theoretic base for ball lighting : Ball Lightning Explained as a Stable Plasma Toroid

The theoretics are all there in peer reviewed papers. It does sound to good to be true however with names like MIT, Delphi, STTR grants, NIST grants , etc., popping up all over, I have to keep investigating.

Recent support has also come from one of the top lightning researcher in the world, Joe Dwyer at FIT, when he got his Y-ray and X-ray research published in the May issue of Scientific American. Dwyer's paper

And according to Clint Seward it supports his lightning models and fusion work at Electron Power Systems

Clint sent Joe and I his new paper on a lightning charge transport model of cloud to ground lightning (he did not want me to post it to the web yet). Joe was supportive and suggested some other papers to consider and Clint is now in re-write.

It may also explain Elves, blue jets, sprites and red sprites, plasmas that appear above thunder storms. After a little searching, this seemed to have the best hard numbers on the observations of sprites.

Dr. Mark A. Stanley's Dissertation

And may also explain the spiral twist of some fulgurites, hollow fused sand tubes found in sandy ground at lightning strikes.

The learning curve is so steep now, and with the resources of the online community, I'm sure we can rally greater support to solve this paramount problem of our time. I hold no truck with those who argue that big business or government are suppressing these technologies. It is only our complacency and comfort that blind us from pushing our leaders toward clean energy.

Dear folks:
Here's an email that is very good news for Paul Koloc's and Eric Lerner's work on P-B11 fusion.

He's referring to a power point presentation given at the 05 6th symposium on current trends in international fusion research , which high lights the need to fully fund three different approaches to P-B11 fusion . 1.) Prometheus II , 2.) Field Revered Configuration, and 3.) Focus Fusion http://www.focusfusion.org/about.html

It's by Vincent Page a technology officer at GE.
Email me and I'll send it to anyone interested.

from : Paul M. Koloc

Thanks for your update,

A friend of mine, Bruce Pittman, who is a member of the AIAA, recently sent me a copy of the attached paper by Vincent Page of GE. Please keep in mind that I have never communicated with Vincent, but he found our concept to have the highest probability of success for achieving a commercial fusion power plant of any that he examined.

A program manager at DARPA submitted a POM for sizeable funding of extended research on our concept, both here and at Los Alamos National Laboratory. However, it didn't stay above this year's cut line for the budget funding priorities.

BTW, I agree with Cox that the analysis done by Chen does not fit the criteria of the EST plasmoid that Clint produces. The poloidal component of current in his toroid dominates his topology, which means that the corresponding toroidal field, which is only produced within the torus, also dominates. Consequently, the outward pressure on the EST current shell must be balanced by some external inward force. The toroidal component of current is weak and cannot produce the external poloidal magnetic pressure that would bring the toroid into stable equilibrium. If the plasmoid lasts for .6 seconds without change of shape or brightness level, then it must be continuously formed with his electron beam source. Otherwise, the plasma would decompose within microseconds.

By comparison, our PLASMAK magnetoplasmoids (PMKs) have negligible change in shape, size or luminosity over a period of one or two hundred milliseconds after the initial tens of microseconds impulse that forms them has ceased. That may not sound like much of a lifetime, but compare that to the decomposition of Lawrence Livermore's spheromak plasma within 60 microseconds. The other interesting thing is that we have recently produced PMKs of 40 cm diameter (under work sponsored by DOD), and with the installation of our new, additional fast rise capacitors, we expect to obtain lifetimes of seconds.

Paul "

President Obama’s stimulus package has given a terrific boost for solar and wind energy, but we need to make a few big bets on some real game-changers, such as fusion, writes Tom Friedman in "The Next Really Cool Thing" NY Times, March 14, 2009 http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/15/opinion/15friedman.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

It is time to halt these boondoggles before they suck up more precious taxpayer dollars which are so desperately needed to help the ever-growing underclass of people living in poverty.

The taxpayer is being told to starve so these trojan programs can continue to leech away their livelihoods. Witness today's 'Austerity' programs beginning to spread through Europe and soon everywhere... there will be no money for your children or retirement as the elites are spending every Country into bankrupcy with their Wars and so-called Defense Spending and spending on toxic Fission and blackhole Fusion 'technologies'.

From its inception to today, fusion has been a gigantic blackhole welfare program for the rich corporations and their scientistic employees with the starving taxpayer footing the bill.

No more. Its time to end all public funding for these so-called 'energy' programs. If there's money in it let the so-called 'Free Market' fund it. After all, those richie private investors already have trillions floating around that they don't know what to do with, why don't they risk their own assets and asses instead of making the taxpayer the victim? Hypocrisy, hypocrisy, hypocrisy.