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ITER nuclear fusion project faces delay over Trump budget cuts

Alternative Energy

ITER, an international project to build a prototype nuclear fusion reactor in southern France, said it is facing delays if the Trump administration does not reconsider budget cuts.

FILE PHOTO: A crane loads equipments at the construction site of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) in Saint-Paul-lez-Durance,Southern France, October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Jean-Paul Pelissier

Seven partners – Europe, the United States, China, India, Japan, Russia and South Korea – launched the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) 10 years ago but the project has experienced years of delays and budget overruns.

ITER hopes to generate power from a process similar to the nuclear fusion that powers the sun, unlike existing nuclear reactors that produce energy by splitting atoms.

ITER Director-General Bernard Bigot, in Washington for talks with the U.S. administration, said the U.S. 2017 contribution had been cut from a planned $105 million to $50 million and its 2018 contribution from a planned $120 million to $63 million.

The United States has already spent about $1 billion on the prototype reactor and was scheduled to contribute up to another $1.5 billion through 2025, when ITER is scheduled to run a first operational test.

“If we do not respect deadlines in the beginning, we cannot respect them in the end,” Bigot told Reuters by telephone.

Bigot said that following a letter from French President Emmanuel Macron to President Donald Trump in August, Trump had asked his administration to reconsider the issue.

“We hope for a decision this weekend or this week,” he said.

“If the U.S. does not provide the necessary funds in 2018, then there will be an impact on the entire project,” he added.

Earlier this year, ITER’s total budget was revised upwards from 18 to 22 billion euros ($21-26 billion), with a U.S. share of nine percent.

The Trump administration is conducting a review of civilian nuclear policy, including research and development, which will inform U.S. policy toward ITER in the future, said Shaylyn Hynes, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Energy.

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has told Macron that “we understand the history and the scale of the project,” she said.

Bigot said that after Trump cut the U.S. energy department’s budget, the department reduced funding for the U.S. companies making ITER components.

ITER member countries finance the manufacturing of ITER components via their own national companies. The parts are then shipped to France and assembled on ITER’s Cadarache, southern France site.

ITER’s main U.S. supplier is California-based General Atomics, which is building its central solenoid, an 18-metre tall pillar-like magnet that will be one of the first components to be installed by 2020.

The project is now half way towards the first test of its super-heated plasma by 2025 and first full-power fusion by 2035.

ITER says nuclear fusion will not produce nuclear waste like traditional nuclear power plants and will be much safer to operate.

But the challenges of replicating the sun’s fusion on earth are enormous and critics say that it remains unclear whether the technology will work and can eventually be commercially viable.

11 Comments on "ITER nuclear fusion project faces delay over Trump budget cuts"

  1. Anonymouse1 on Fri, 8th Dec 2017 6:31 am 

    LoL, something else to blame the hapless and inept ‘president’ trump for. Now we can blame trump for the stunning lack of progress harnessing fusion power on his stinginess, or..something. Because, you know, 50 million dollars would put the whole ‘fusion’ thing back on track. But here is something rooters would never tell its brain-dead readers. Trump could give them 50 BILLION dollars, (say , the price of typical uS failed uS weapons program, or two), and ITER STILL wouldn’t be able to produce any net electricity, much less produce a working reactor of any description.

    So, I think we can let trump off the hook for this one lol. Fusion has 60 years of failures to its name, so not really clear how trump withholding 50 million dollars this year is going to make any kind of difference.


  2. Shortend on Fri, 8th Dec 2017 8:31 am 

    We Don’t need Fusion…there is clean COAL

  3. Sissyfuss on Fri, 8th Dec 2017 8:40 am 

    General Bigot, meet President Bigot.

  4. Antius on Fri, 8th Dec 2017 9:16 am 

    Agreed Anonymouse1. Personally, I think Trump is unfairly maligned. If I were a US citizen, I would definitely have voted for him and I think he is a good choice for US president. His lack of progress is more down to deep state opposition and treachery than any failing on his part.

    I don’t have a problem with his politics. His attempts to limit Islamic extremist immigration into the US seem sensible to me, as do his attempts to bring US industry back to life (with some exceptions) and force a better trade balance with China. He wants a more cooperative arrangement with Russia, something that no sensible person should disagree with – there needs to be a better arrangement with Russia for the US foreign policy to remain effective in the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

    There are some genuine concerns over his competence and scientific understanding, but this is what advisers are for. The corrupt deep state obsession with Trump being in the pocket of the Russians is pathetic and not backed up by a shred of evidence. Indeed, we now know that Hillary sold 10% of US uranium to a Russian state owned company in exchange for a bribe! How can Hillary supporters still talk about Trump’s Russian collusion with a straight face?

  5. Antius on Fri, 8th Dec 2017 9:29 am 

    Tokamak fusion has little hope of ever being economically viable. Even if we eventually achieve breakeven and positive energy gain, power density would be 1-2 orders of magnitude lower than a fission reactor. Consider as well the amount of high technology and rare earth magnets invested in a Tokamak, all of it subject to intense, life-limiting hard neutron radiation.

    Fusion research is not necessarily a complete waste of time, though diffuse magnetic confinement plasma fusion is probably the wrong approach. Inertial confinement fusion at least has a cat’s chance of producing a power source with respectable power density. There are promising approaches that are under researched at present, such as kinetic impact induced fusion (using hypervelocity projectiles), explosively compressed muon catalysed fusion, polywell fusion and especially, the fission-fusion hybrid reactor. This final option is technically achievable in the near term, and would pay off quickly as a high burn-up fast reactor that doesn’t require expensive fuel fabrication or reprocessing.

  6. Cloggie on Fri, 8th Dec 2017 2:34 pm 

    Peak oil demand latest:

    European Utilities Commit To 100% Carbon-Neutral Electricity “Well Before” 2050 … Because It’s Cheaper

    Legacy fossil fuel power stations: the junk you are stuck with.

  7. Go Speed Racer on Fri, 8th Dec 2017 4:39 pm 

    Uh oh,
    Researchers might have to wait a year,
    on buying that new Volvo.

  8. Sissyfuss on Fri, 8th Dec 2017 7:23 pm 

    Concerns over his competency and scientific understanding, Antiup? He has never read a book, selects people to run agencies that they have ravaged during their careers, and has an atrocious business record. His hotels have been used by the Russian mafia for every form of criminal activity and unable to secure a loan due to his multiple bankruptcies his is now in their pocket. An inveterate liar and grifter he learned his political style from a TV stint. He was elected by manipulating the left out uneducated portion of the white
    middle class and the fact that Shillary could not have been a more unsympathetic choice. If you get the government you deserve then we should all be ashamed of ourselves.

  9. Cloggie on Sat, 9th Dec 2017 1:25 am 

    Both JFK and Trump took on the vile Swamp, the world’s foremost problem, as Henry Ford used to put it, head-on and hence they both are the greatest US presidents in history, regardless how many books they did or did not read or how many pussies they grabbed (JFK probably wins that contest). JFK had to pay with his life for it. The fate of The Donald is still unclear.

    Regarding fusion… research should continue, but on the backburner. Perhaps in 22nd century it will work, when we can take down hundreds of thousends of wind turbines. But before we can take them down, we have to build them first.

    Renewable energy is the energy for this century.

  10. Antius on Sat, 9th Dec 2017 10:52 am 

    Cloggie, that is certainly a bold assertion. Did you bother reading the post in which I estimated the cost of a wind / solar energy system with storage?

    Bottom line is, you can expect the cost of electricity to roughly triple if we end up using renewable energy and storage. Maybe that is something we can live with, maybe not. I think its a sure bet that life will be a lot less affluent.

    Interestingly, wind and solar appear to be reasonably cost effective, so long as they can be backed up by CCGT plants. These plants have low capital and low operating cost, but relatively high fuel cost. Assuming CCGT, wind and solar have similar LCOE before storage, then a hybrid system in which 50% of power is renewable and the other half is NG, will generate at a cost only 25% greater than CCGT alone. In other words, renewable energy is cost effective if backed up by natural gas, so long as total renewable contribution remains <50%. That reduces CO2 emissions at a modest price, but the electricity system remains tied to natural gas. A 100% renewable energy system would be substantially more expensive.

  11. Sissyfuss on Sat, 9th Dec 2017 4:19 pm 

    Clogturfuse, JFK not only read books, he wrote Pulitzer Prize winning ones. The one literary function the Orange Grifter possesses is his ability to sign a bankruptcy statement.

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