Homepage Forums The International ITER project ITER fails to renew funding

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  • #1044
    BreakableBreakable
    Keymaster
    #9309
    Avatartcg
    Member

    Most interesting. Could it be that economic problems in the European Union may contribute to choking off funds for ITER? This project always was a giant black hole for money with an absurdly long timeline. Starving it for cash at this time will only lengthen the time to results, opening a better opportunity for a dark-horse, low-budget project. I can think of one. . .

    #9311
    BreakableBreakable
    Keymaster

    While failure of ITER makes other energy projects more competitive, the overall environment for fusion funding might degrade, as more investors will think of fusion as unreachable.

    #9312
    Avatarvansig
    Member

    unfortunately, that may be precisely true.
    thus, ITER has now fulfilled its covert purpose

    #9315
    AvatarAugustine
    Member

    Breakable wrote: While failure of ITER makes other energy projects more competitive, the overall environment for fusion funding might degrade, as more investors will think of fusion as unreachable.

    I disagree. Anyone who is investing in fusion right now is betting against ITER (and with good reason). It may also be the case that the possibility of ITER being a success (lol) crowds out venture capital because venture capitalists don’t like to bet against government programs. I’d take the money being spent on ITER, use half of it to reduce the debt and the other half to give to alt-fusion research.

    #9316
    AvatarRezwan
    Member

    ITER hasn’t failed here. Per the article, their finance plan was rejected for the 2010 budget and,

    “The commission will put forward a proposal for the budgetary resolution of Iter next year.”

    I feel for them. That’s a lot of scientists whose work also has value. There are many parts to the whole of ITER and interesting experiments taking place that have crossover value. If you think cutting a few university programs is bad for the fusion endeavor, cutting ITER and giving half that money to debt will pretty much mean reducing the number of fusion scientists by half. So now you have an even smaller pool of minds working on fusion. That goes in the wrong direction.

    Before you give away half of the fusion budget “windfall” from ITER cancellation to debt, get half the defense budget. AFTER you successfully negotiate with the Defense military-industry, come for energy research money. Alternatively, increase energy research funding over all, and watch the need for defense shrink.

    Yes, if LPPX works out, then all this budget struggle is moot and we can all relax. But unless and until it’s proven conclusively to work, we live in a world of uncertain fusion outcomes. And for that world, fusion is woefully underfunded, as are other energy innovations.

    Come to think of it, LPPX is underfunded. I feel empathy with ITER. LPPX is just at a smaller scale. At any scale, funding for fusion is hard to procure.

    I wish this world was more supportive of fusion research in any form and would table all discussion of budget cuts until AFTER the amazing fusion solution is developed.

    Discussion of expanding to bring more alternatives online and funding a broader base of basic plasma physics research is more constructive.

    #9317
    AvatarRezwan
    Member

    In fact, my mantra is not to cut ITER/fusion funding, but to come up with a proposal that covers all the alternatives we want to see funded. The dream fusion budget. Would the EU paradoxically fund a bigger fusion budget?

    The argument would be that funding a broader range of alternatives would increase the odds for a “pleasant physics surprise” – something that can lead to a reactor that comes online sooner than ITER and also have an end cost/size/complexity less than ITER (smaller, more attractive power plants, etc.)

    Unfortunately, at this point, the alternatives are even more speculative than ITER (most because we simply don’t have enough data). So this is a gamble. What you can win: hedging the bets will lead to a better solution, in less time. Once that happens, you can retire ITER. We’ll save money and the world will have fusion sooner.

    What you can lose: Perhaps fusion is really flipping difficult, and none of these alternatives will work. Perhaps they will work, but not that well. Perhaps ITER is as good as it gets. If so, hopefully it has its own breakthroughs and cost reducing ideas down the line. The NIF crew certainly has come up with elegant size reductions for LIFE. ITER is working on some mega problems. These are some amazing scientists. And will NIF work? Moses is confident, but also says, “it will either work, or we’ll learn some interesting physics”.

    Unfortunately, that’s the bottom line with any fusion approach. It will either work, or we’ll learn some interesting physics. ITER, NIF, LPPX. The choice here is, do we commit to a parallel course of discovery, or to a linear course?

    Parallel: We spend on a diverse array of approaches. many of which won’t work and which will raise the cry that we are wasting money on speculation. NIF and ITER are part of this.

    Linear, starting with NIF & ITER: We keep the focus on NIF & ITER in the hopes that they show some success that fusion is at least achievable. Their success will open up funding for alternative approaches and improvements down the line. But you’ve wasted a lot of scientists lives who wanted to try other fusion approaches and who might have done something amazing in the interim.

    Linear, starting with alternatives: The course some of you are suggesting is to cut ITER and just fund alternatives. It could work. But it could backfire. We can’t guarantee LPPX will succeed, or any other alternatives. If we badmouth the ITER fusion flagship and then promote something that turns out not to work, it further discredits fusion. And now you’ve got a reduced fusion budget overall, since you axed ITER. Because it runs the risk of hurting fusion, I’m against it.

    It’s all about timing.

    I support the parallel approach. The logic of hedging your bets. More jobs for physicsist : ) More incentive for students to study science. More funding for fusion, explicitly including alternatives, especially LPPX! The sooner, the better.

    And don’t cut off any options until you have the sure thing, proven, in your hand. Now is not the time to “down select.”

    #9319
    AvatarIvy Matt
    Participant

    ITER has hit funding snags before, but I’m a bit concerned about the fallout should it hit a show-stopper. Possible headline: “The dream of fusion is over”. If that becomes the narrative, investors may find it more difficult to justify risking their money on alternative fusion projects.

    I’m generally content with things as they are: civilian government funding for big projects like ITER and NIF, and for university research; military funding for skunkworks projects like Polywell; private funding for private alternative projects like LPPX and Tri Alpha. I’d like to see more private investors take up the slack from government funding for fusion projects, but that probably won’t happen until fusion becomes something more than interesting physics. Where is the AT&T Bell Labs, Xerox PARC, or IBM Almaden Research Center of the fusion world?

    #9322
    AvatarBrian H
    Member

    Eric has been promoting the idea of an “X-prize” -like fusion incentive for some time. It’s amazing and frustrating that this is so hard to get support for. The cost is minuscule if no one wins, and not significant even if they do (by comparison with the payoff).
    Such a prize would quickly (IMO) attract private support for FF, as it has such a low $$ barrier to entry, and such a short timeline for results.

    #9323
    AvatarBrian H
    Member

    Just as an historical note, ITER got the political nod originally because it was so “simple”: just make the donut big enough, no big new physics hurdles.
    But as the tripling of estimated costs already demonstrates, containment is a beotch. And, IMO, always will be. Note that the wee “short-term hole” in the 1-yr. budget is equal to ΒΌ of the TOTAL projected cost at the beginning.

    As an interesting political side-note, observe that the “member states” (? their legislatures, or bureaucracies?) had approved the plan, as had the EU Council of Ministers — but the Parliament rejected it. I am actually somewhat heartened to see that said Parliament is more than a toothless rubber-stamper. Since it cannot propose or legislate anything, only opine and approve (or not), I guess this is the only way it can have any actual influence.

    #9325
    Avatartcg
    Member

    I believe that what Rezwan says about the spinoff benefits of projects like ITER is true. A similar case: out of SDI (Star Wars), a failed endeavor, came adaptive optics, a giant boon to astronomy. But at what cost? Both ITER and NIF are primarily for discovering new physics rather than adding to the useful store of technology, and they gobble up enough funds to run a small country. However, if these projects disappear, the cause of fusion research will be harmed, and the damage could be especially telling during this time of global economic weakness.

    The difficulties of these two major projects must be managed carefully. We should be advancing the cause of FUSION power, stressing that there is no obvious best method yet, that the expenditure of funds is good and necessary, but that financing should be spread around a bit more to hedge our bets. That ITER and NIF are considered to be THE fusion projects is dangerous, and they should be reduced in stature, but not down to zero.

    #9353
    AvatarTulse
    Participant

    Brian H wrote: Eric has been promoting the idea of an “X-prize” -like fusion incentive for some time. […]
    Such a prize would quickly (IMO) attract private support for FF

    I don’t know the history of the other X-Prize contests in this regard — was that the case there? For the Ansari version, it seemed like there were a huge number of entrants that were paper-only enterprises, and never really had the funding to bend metal. The major contestants were funded by deep pockets entrepreneurs who were already space enthusiasts, so it’s not like there was typical VC money involved. Things may have been different for the auto prize, however — does anyone know?

    I think prizes are an excellent motivator, but I question whether they really get investors stoked, as the prizes are by definition for very high risk enterprises, and even if won the monetary value rarely (if ever) covers the actual invested capital. They are great publicity, but I have doubts about their effectiveness for fundraising.

    #9354
    AvatarBrian H
    Member

    Tulse wrote:
    I don’t know the history of the other X-Prize contests in this regard — was that the case there? For the Ansari version, it seemed like there were a huge number of entrants that were paper-only enterprises, and never really had the funding to bend metal. The major contestants were funded by deep pockets entrepreneurs who were already space enthusiasts, so it’s not like there was typical VC money involved. Things may have been different for the auto prize, however — does anyone know?

    I think prizes are an excellent motivator, but I question whether they really get investors stoked, as the prizes are by definition for very high risk enterprises, and even if won the monetary value rarely (if ever) covers the actual invested capital. They are great publicity, but I have doubts about their effectiveness for fundraising.

    Typical VC money is not the issue; that’s a very iffy source, anyway. The focus of most Vulture Venturists is the quick flip once a company or project has reached some nominal level of “success” — and they cut off and dump 10+ for every one that makes it. There are now at least 4 or 5 viable metal (and composite) cutting firms in play in the orbital game. They did indeed have wealthy enthusiast backing, generally. But that’s just fine.

    The ones that were paper-only didn’t cost the prize-offerers or the gubmint anything.

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