ITER vs the Stone Axe

Point out news stories, on the net or in mainstream media, related to polywell fusion.

Moderators: tonybarry, MSimon

MSimon
Posts: 14331
Joined: Mon Jul 16, 2007 7:37 pm
Location: Rockford, Illinois
Contact:

ITER vs the Stone Axe

Post by MSimon »

*

http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2008 ... reach.html

*
What you put in place with these vastly expensive research efforts is a "can't afford to fail" paradigm. Unlike trying to find the best plant material to weave into a mat, ITER, the Large Hadron Collider, etc., must succeed on first go-round. With ITER, there is no second kind of rock to be chipped away, no other plants to be woven, no different type of clay to be baked into a plate.

And that's what I so disbelieve about it. It's not really experimental science; it's risky, we-can't-fail, all-or-nothing science and I would respond to that paradigm with the wisdom of stone axe makers.

Sometimes your research should be based not on how glorious success might be, but on how little you will have lost if you screw up.
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

drmike
Posts: 825
Joined: Sat Jul 14, 2007 11:54 pm
Contact:

Post by drmike »

That's why there is the story about the Tower of Babel. While we may have figured out how to communicate, we still haven't figured out the utility of building shrines. If you look at science as a religion, then all the large operations are just cathedrals. Different times, different beliefs, same human actions. Nothing has really changed in the past 10,000 years.

Sit back and watch. It is interesting.

jmc
Posts: 427
Joined: Fri Aug 31, 2007 9:16 am
Location: Ireland

Post by jmc »

Hmm.. I'm not sure the human race can't afford to lose 20 billion dollars.

The world GDP per annum is about 40 trillion dollars.

ITER will spend 20 billion in 30 years.

Over that period the world will have earned 1200 trillion dollars.

Over the period of ITER's lifetime it will have spent 1.6e-5 of the world's GDP.

I agree if there's a similar chance of success for big and small operations you obviously try the small ones first. But in the case of fusion big operations have a considerably larger chance of hitting breakeven.

In order to get net energy, you have to minimize the rate at which heat leaks out of your vessel. The rate at which heat flows across any insulator is kapa*grad(T) thus to minimize heat loss you must minimize both the constant of conductivity and the temperature gradient. Assuming you have done all that is humanly possible to reduce the constant of conductivity, what's left is the temperature gradient.

You have two boundary conditions that must be satisfied, the centre of the reactor must be at fusion temperatures (100 million degrees) the edge must be at the temperature where solids can exist (less than 1000 degrees). Thus the only way to decrease the temperature gradient is to increase the distance between the reacting mixture and the container, I.e. increase the size of the vessel.

The other way is to magically reduce the heat transport coefficients. Since fusion-in-a-teacup ideas are much cheaper to try there's a case for giving them a whack. But at the end of the day they are just stabs in the dark. Even though it is definitely true that we haven't come even close to exploring all the possible magnetic configurations for confining a plasma. The fusion reactors that are by far and away the most likely to work in the near future are the ones which are quite large.

tombo
Posts: 334
Joined: Fri May 09, 2008 1:10 am
Location: Washington USA

Post by tombo »

At least they are spending it on scientists and engineers and builders.
-Tom Boydston-
"If we knew what we were doing, it wouldn’t be called research, would it?" ~Albert Einstein

MSimon
Posts: 14331
Joined: Mon Jul 16, 2007 7:37 pm
Location: Rockford, Illinois
Contact:

Post by MSimon »

jmc,

Yes bigger is better - once the known problems have been worked out.

However, the ITER edge instabilities were known for 20 years and nothing was done. So why go bigger until you have fixed known problems? The ITER design didn't even have a proposed fix until after construction had started.
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

JohnP
Posts: 296
Joined: Mon Jul 09, 2007 3:29 am
Location: Chicago

Post by JohnP »

However, the ITER edge instabilities were known for 20 years and nothing was done. So why go bigger until you have fixed known problems?
Because you can?

D@mn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

jmc
Posts: 427
Joined: Fri Aug 31, 2007 9:16 am
Location: Ireland

Post by jmc »

MSimon wrote:jmc,

Yes bigger is better - once the known problems have been worked out.

However, the ITER edge instabilities were known for 20 years and nothing was done. So why go bigger until you have fixed known problems? The ITER design didn't even have a proposed fix until after construction had started.
The problem with fusion is in many ways you, can't work out all the problems until you build them big. Ignited plasmas may well behave differently from non-ignited ones.

You might be right about ELMs, sawteeth and disruptions, though a significant body of work has been done on them with semi-satisfactory results, though I suppose there is a case that with 20 billion dollars on the line semi- isn't good enough. I suppose quite a few of the problems could still be solved on the smaller scale.

MSimon
Posts: 14331
Joined: Mon Jul 16, 2007 7:37 pm
Location: Rockford, Illinois
Contact:

Post by MSimon »

jmc wrote:
MSimon wrote:jmc,

Yes bigger is better - once the known problems have been worked out.

However, the ITER edge instabilities were known for 20 years and nothing was done. So why go bigger until you have fixed known problems? The ITER design didn't even have a proposed fix until after construction had started.
The problem with fusion is in many ways you, can't work out all the problems until you build them big. Ignited plasmas may well behave differently from non-ignited ones.

You might be right about ELMs, sawteeth and disruptions, though a significant body of work has been done on them with semi-satisfactory results, though I suppose there is a case that with 20 billion dollars on the line semi- isn't good enough. I suppose quite a few of the problems could still be solved on the smaller scale.
What makes me suspicious about ITER is that provisions for an ELM solution were not even included in the design. Nor was provision made to add them once a solution was proposed (the current solution is an after he fact proposal and is space constrained).

In other words the physicists were running a con on the funders.
Engineering is the art of making what you want from what you can get at a profit.

djolds1
Posts: 1296
Joined: Fri Jul 13, 2007 8:03 am

Re: ITER vs the Stone Axe

Post by djolds1 »

MSimon wrote:*

http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2008 ... reach.html

*
And that's what I so disbelieve about it. It's not really experimental science; it's risky, we-can't-fail, all-or-nothing science and I would respond to that paradigm with the wisdom of stone axe makers.

Sometimes your research should be based not on how glorious success might be, but on how little you will have lost if you screw up.
An excellent, and disturbing, point. There are large human motivations to find what you've decreed you'll find, regardless of whether its there or not.
Vae Victis

djolds1
Posts: 1296
Joined: Fri Jul 13, 2007 8:03 am

Post by djolds1 »

jmc wrote:Hmm.. I'm not sure the human race can't afford to lose 20 billion dollars.

The world GDP per annum is about 40 trillion dollars.

ITER will spend 20 billion in 30 years.

Over that period the world will have earned 1200 trillion dollars.

Over the period of ITER's lifetime it will have spent 1.6e-5 of the world's GDP.
The WORLD can afford ITER easily. High energy physics may not be so lucky.

As the joke goes, practical fusion has been "just 10 years away" for the last 50 years. Current standards of energy technology are comfortable if imperfect. Current understanding of physics is effective if incomplete. There is no fundamental reason that the wealthy governments of the world need to continue to fund boondoggles that do nothing more than employ and amuse the physicists involved, or fund the large national laboratories for that matter.

Duane
Vae Victis

Skipjack
Posts: 6051
Joined: Sun Sep 28, 2008 2:29 pm

Post by Skipjack »

Well having talked to a group leader at ITER a few years ago, it was 35 years and I am pretty sure thats what the joke was...

zbarlici
Posts: 247
Joined: Tue Jul 17, 2007 2:23 am
Location: winnipeg, canada

Post by zbarlici »

Skipjack wrote:Well having talked to a group leader at ITER a few years ago, it was 35 years and I am pretty sure thats what the joke was...
The ITER budget would be a non-issue if the us economy would have remained what it was during the 1980-2000AD period. Problem is that it is a HUUUUGE budget and the whole world is on the squeeze right now, blame it on overpopulation/ development of unindustrialized countries/ or corporate greed, whatever it may be, dont matter what it is but wallets are tightening up everywhere.

Oh yeah. Everywhere except the United Arab Emirates where oil is abundant. And maybe russia, and china, and India. - this squeeze we feel right now kinda starting to look like the redistribution of world riches(standard of living), going from rich to poor... maybe in the end itll be a good thing?

TallDave
Posts: 3114
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2007 7:12 pm
Contact:

Post by TallDave »

The version I heard was "always 50 years away," dating back to when fusion was first discovered.

TallDave
Posts: 3114
Joined: Wed Jul 25, 2007 7:12 pm
Contact:

Post by TallDave »

The ITER budget would be a non-issue if the us economy would have remained what it was during the 1980-2000AD period.
Nah, we're richer now than we were then; real GDP still grows almost every year in the G8. China and the oil producers are still relatively poor compared to us. Hell, Saudi Arabia can't even make their own drill bits.

The budget isn't the problem, the usefulness is the issue. The world can probably afford to spend $20B on building the world's largest meatball, but doesn't because it's not very useful.

Right now, ITER isn't much better than a meatball.

jmc
Posts: 427
Joined: Fri Aug 31, 2007 9:16 am
Location: Ireland

Post by jmc »

djolds1 wrote:
jmc wrote:Hmm.. I'm not sure the human race can't afford to lose 20 billion dollars.

The world GDP per annum is about 40 trillion dollars.

ITER will spend 20 billion in 30 years.

Over that period the world will have earned 1200 trillion dollars.

Over the period of ITER's lifetime it will have spent 1.6e-5 of the world's GDP.
The WORLD can afford ITER easily. High energy physics may not be so lucky.

As the joke goes, practical fusion has been "just 10 years away" for the last 50 years. Current standards of energy technology are comfortable if imperfect. Current understanding of physics is effective if incomplete. There is no fundamental reason that the wealthy governments of the world need to continue to fund boondoggles that do nothing more than employ and amuse the physicists involved, or fund the large national laboratories for that matter.

Duane
Government funding has allowed many technologies to get the "leg up" they need to become commercial.

The second Vacuum tube computer built in the world was funded by the government (the US military to be precise) for 5 million of today's dollars. If it wasn't for primitive less-than-economic vacuum tube technology there would never have been the same drive to develop transistors.

Public funding (again from the US military) is what allowed the jet engine to be developed to the point where commercial investors could see an end in sight with respect to designing a competetive economic product, if jets hadn't already existed, I very much doubt private money would have been capable of designing them from scratch.

With regards to rocket technology, just recently we seem to be seeing the same phenomenon, where technology developed at great cost by the state has finally reached a point in maturity where private investors can actually see an economic product at the end of the tunnel and invest in it.

--------------------------------------------------------------------

ITER will push plasma heating current drive and fuelling technologies to the very limit. Along with pushing the development of materials that can withstand has plasma fluxes and high energy neutrons.

If the ITER project was not planned IFMIF, would not be built. A facuility to investigate how materials can cope with high energy neutrons.

It may well be that the tokamak is not the route to economic fusion, but it is the most reliable route to burning plasmas. And I guarantee you, when another device is developed which is capable of economic fusion, they will utilize heat and fuelling technologies developed for ITER aswell as plasma facing materials and neutron shields developed by this programme.

The general public still ask the question "is controlled fusion possible?", while we in the community know that we've achieved high enough lawson triple products to be fairly sure that in principle a burning plasma DT device should be possible to build, many actually doubt even whether this can be done. If ignition can be reached, even inside a machine that can't hold together for long enough for remotely economic energy-production, then a major psychological barrier towards investment in and development of, nuclear fusion will have been overcome. I strongly believe that the success of ITER will have a positive impact in all areas of fusion research.

I agree with MSimon that you need a diverse approach to fusion development and as a scientist I too prefer the American approach with a wide range of different devices. But unlike MSimon, I'm not convinced that net energy can be extracted from a device that costs 100 million pounds. There are thousands of different possiblities out there that are all crying for more funding, most of them would fail even with more funding, a few might well be better than tokamaks, but which ones? Because the other approaches are so far away from burning plasmas developing them is like drawing lots. We could spend the rest of eternity fiddling around with an endless number of low-energy non-ignitable plasmas and not funding any of them on to the next level.

Its true that Europe has ignored many other fusion techniques in favour of the tokamak and in some ways perhaps its good that the US maintains its diverse approach and does not become ITER obsessed, but I'm still glad that th EU has taken upon itself to build ITER, if nothing more it maintains the momentum of the fusion programme.

Post Reply