Nuclear fusion power plant under construction: ITER

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Nuclear fusion power plant under construction: ITERThe construction of the experimental fusion reactor ITER in southern France is still on schedule despite the budgetary challenges of recent years. But they will have to work hard in the coming years for ITER before the deadline of 2020.

Experts in the fusion gathered in Liege for the 27th edition of the biennial SOFT meeting (Symposium on Fusion Technology). It was a mandatory process if you do research in this complex matter. The atmosphere among the audience was noticeably good. That does little surprising, because after a period of budgetary worries, the ambitious ITER project, which is still accepted as the frontrunner of the fusion community, finally got the wind at their back. After the meeting at the site at Cadarache in Provence in southern France, the outlines are becoming clear about one of the prospective greatest technological achievements of mankind.

The first stone of ITER (nuclear fusion reactor, but not the supporting facilities) was laid in February 2009.  However, international project has to survive within the wake of crisis facing the world economy. End of 2010 suddenly became a surprisingly bad year on aspects of economy.”The administrators of ITER spoke worried about a hole in the budget for 2012-13 of up to 1.4 billion Euros. It was a hole that had to be removed by an additional contribution from the EU member states. The EU was the largest lender of ITER with 45 percent of the total cost so far. That message was not at all well received, though the size of the fiscal gap is not even the biggest stumbling block.  Several Member States, and also a large part of the MEPs were disturbed with serious questions about the lack of transparency and the question of whether it is worth or not. On the drawing board fusion reactor initially took ten billion, of which a small five billion thus accounted for by the EU. Meanwhile, the cost of building the reactor to 2013 – so before it was only half finished – had already risen to 15 billion Euros (for EU: € 7.2 billion). In other words, the costs began to rise and from political angle were increasingly align to unplug ITER while it was still good to pull back. “

Nuclear fusion power plant under construction: ITER

Nevertheless, the European Commission came with a solution at the last minute with a solution. Funds from other programs – especially from the pot of agricultural subsidies – were transferred to the budgetary gap of ITER. The chance is small that in the foreseeable future is a similar scenario will play, because now the construction of ITER is in full swing. The unforeseen costs go on to increase. Experts have warned that the construction of ITER to 2016 will cost one billion Euros annually.

The Director General of ITER, the Japanese Osamu Motojima, said in his opening speech at the SOFT Symposium in Liege the current state of affairs. Motojima illustrates the progress of the work on ITER happy with the number of milestones that accomplished over the past years and months.  One of those milestones is the installation of the last of all 493 seismic stabilizers on the bottom of the deep pit where the huge fusion reactor will be placed. An important part, because although France now is not exactly known as an earthquake prone country, the smallest vibrations in the ground makes it harder to control millions of degrees hot plasma core. Another important milestone was the upgrading of the local road network in and around the site. This seems at first sight trivial, but not when you realize that soon heavy parts of twenty will arrive here. Motojima also mentions the installation of the electrical substation through which daily 400 megawatts of electricity will be delivered to the fusion reactor. Until further notice: ITER is not designed to produce electricity, but it is important that we can maintain a fusion reaction and control for a long time.

The ITER boss insists constantly in his speech that it is of the utmost importance for the success of ITER that they should keep up with the schedule and be ready for surprise unforeseen costs. Schedule keeping is the most efficient way to keep costs manageable, “said Motojima. The Japanese also warns the fusion community, “Failure is not an option.  If ITER fails, there will never be another fusion reactor to be built. The success of fusion reactors depends on the success of ITER.

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