One of the technologies that I have been following for a few years is the Polywell fusion reactor, first proposed by Philo T Farnsworth and recently ressurrected by the late Dr Robert Bussard.
I am delighted to report therefore, via the IEC Fusion Technology blog, that the machine appears to be coming along pretty well.
Alan Boyle has a new report on the goings on in New Mexico at EMC2 Fusion Labs.Emc2 Fusion's Richard Nebel can't say yet whether his team's garage-shop plasma experiment will lead to cheap, abundant fusion power. But he can say that after months of tweaking, the WB-7 device "runs like a top" - and he's hoping to get definitive answers about a technology that has tantalized grass-roots fusion fans for years.
Dr Nebel has been rather quiet lately in the usual forum he frequents, so this update is very welcome to all us grass-roots fusion fans."We're kind of a combination of high tech and Home Depot, because a lot of this stuff we make ourselves," Nebel told me today. "We're operating out of a glorified garage, but it's appropriate for what we're doing."
The Emc2 team has been ramping up its tests over the past few months, with the aim of using WB-7 to verify Bussard's WB-6 results. Today, Nebel said he's confident that the answers will be forthcoming, one way or the other.
"We're fully operational and we're getting data," Nebel said. "The machine runs like a top. You can just sit there and take data all afternoon."
Now compare "We're operating out of a glorified garage..." with ITER's 30% cost over run so far.
ITER is, of course, the tokamac style fusion reactor that a number of countries (including the EU) have agreed to fund.
On November 21, 2006, the seven participants formally agreed to fund the project. The program is anticipated to last for 30 years—10 for construction, and 20 of operation—and cost approximately US$ 9.3 billion, which would make it one of the most expensive modern technoscientific megaprojects. It will be based in Cadarache, France. It is technically ready to start construction and the first plasma operation is expected in 2016.
Those who have been paying attention at The Kitchen will remember that the WB7 Polywell reactor achieved first plasma back in January of this year. When one looks at the cost of ITER, it is also worth remembering what the EMC2 Corporation are estimating in terms of costs.
Fusion R&D Phase 1—Validate and review WB-6 results:
1.5–2 years / $3-5M
Fusion R&D Phase 2—Design, build and test full scale 100 MW Fusion System:
5 years / $200M
Successful Phase 2 marks the end of fossil fuels
If the Polywell model works—and it does seem to be bowling along nicely or, as Dr Nebel put it, "The machine runs like a top"—then we have a real possility of being able to generate cheap, clean power for the forseeable future. It will be nothing less than a revolution.
There certainly seems to be little hope as far as the ITER is concerned, as Power and Control blog puts it.
Let me see if I can guess a little about the problems. This phrase "coordinating between the participant nations" particularly stood out. Usually what that means in government speak is lavish parties disguised as conferences at exotic destinations.
And the redesign? Some of the problems were known for twenty years. They were only addressed after the initial design was completed. First you sell the sizzle. Then, when the customer has bought in, you advise that the steak will cost extra.
I hinted at this in my piece The Secret Of The Tokamak.Here is the dirty little tokamak secret—"The last one didn't work, shows no promise of working, and new difficulties have been encountered. I have a plan. We will make the next one 3X bigger." For 40 years.
Eventually the marks wise up.
The US cut ITER out of the Federal Budget earlier this year. Maybe it was not just a move by Congress to PO Bush. Maybe it had something to do with Congress actually paying attention to the real experts.
Hmmm, so the US marks seem to have wised up: have our politicians done the same? Have they fuck.
I have heard rumors that Congress is interested in the Bussard Fusion Reactor. If it works out (Bussard Fusion Reactor Funded) ITER (a tokamak design) would be a waste. Or as Plasma Physicist Dr. Nicholas Krall said, "We spent $15 billion dollars studying tokamaks and what we learned about them is that they are no damn good."
I think the problem with the Euros is that they are slow learners. Stephen Dean nails it at the end of the piece quoted above:Dean anticipates that the new budget will ultimately be approved. “This thing has gotten a life of its own—it’s almost irrelevant how much it costs or what it’s for.”
At least it is on their dime. Mostly.
Strangely, that quote reminds me of another EU technical endeavour: the Galileo satellite system which is also completely pointless, massively expensive and will be utterly superannuated by the time that it is completed. Oh, and like ITER, Galileo is part-funded by the cuddly People's Republic of China.
Meanwhile, the Polywell fusion reactor has been funded by the US Navy for some years now, a fact that is rumoured to be not entirely unconnected with the awesome power needed to fire an effective rail gun of a type not unadjacent to the one fired by the US Navy in February this year.
Anyway, let us hope that the Polywell does work out; I shall continue to follow its progress with a great deal of interest. And, if you have a few grand to spare, you could even have a go at starting a fusion programme in your home town...