Fusion power: now even more futuristic!

Paul Raven @ 29-05-2009

Fusion power is just around the corner, it’s often said… but my father told me they told him the same thing when he was an apprentice back in the early sixties. It seems to be fusion’s destiny to have its reality date rolled back perpetually – the latest example being the announcement that the France-based ITER international experimental fusion project is being scaled down, with the prospective date for its first actual power-generating experiments delayed by a whole five years from the original schedule:

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.


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.

Bit of a bummer – but then maybe we’d be better off investing in energy technologies that we already have working versions of. €10 billion could probably make a huge difference to the current state of play in solar, geothermal and other sustainable energy sources , I’d have thought. [via SlashDot]

But don’t despair, fusion fans – the wonderfully-named National Ignition Facility in California is working on a laser-fusion method that comes with all the too-cheap-to-meter promise of those thast have come before. I’d love to see fusion arrive in my lifetime, and perhaps I will – but in the meantime I think I’ll stick to pragmatism. The Chinese seem to be on a similar wavelength, as they’re suddenly ploughing a whole lot of cash into developing renewable energy sources like solar power. Place your bets, ladies and gents, place your bets…