157 – Fusion at ITER
This episode is about ITER, the international project to build an experimental fusion plant in southern France. While on vacation in that area, I had the opportunity to visit the site and talk to Richard Pitts about many aspects of the project. We focus mostly on the physics and the engineering challenges, but also address some of the organizational aspects of this huge scientific project. Note that this episode is essentially a continuation of omega tau 022 – Nuclear Fusion at MPI für Plasmaphysik; I recommend to listen to this episode first, if you haven’t done so yet.
- ITER – the way to new energy
- ITER (WP)
- Q Value (WP)
- ITER Components
- DEMO (WP)
- Tokamak (WP)
- omega tau 022 – Nuclear Fusion at MPI für Plasmaphysik
- Proton–proton chain reaction (WP)
- Fusion power, D+D, D+T (WP)
- Electronvolt (WP)
- JET Tokamak (WP)
- Tokamak Fusion Test Reactor (WP)
- Neutron activation (WP)
- Nuclear meltdown (WP)
- Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns (Book)
- Tritium (WP)
- Radiation Safety and ALARA
- Stellarator (WP)
- Wendelstein 7-X (WP)
- Lithium (WP)
- Küchenradio: Energiewende
- Niobium 310
- Toroidal inductors and transformers (WP)
- EAST (WP)
- KSTAR (WP)
- Tore Supra (WP)
- JT-60 (WP)
- List of fusion experiments (WP)
- Superconductivity (WP)
- Beryllium (WP)
- Bremsstrahlung (WP)
- quasi-neutral (WP)
- Eutectic system (WP)
- Neutral beam injection (WP)
- Ion Cyclotron Resonance Heating (WP)
- Electron Cyclotron Resonance Heating (WP)
- Gyrotron (WP)
- Space charge (WP)
- Tungsten (WP)
- Refractory (WP)
- CODAC Systems
- Plasma Disruptions (WP)
- Halo Currents
- Eddy current (WP)
- Inertial confinement/Laser fusion (WP)
- National Ignition Facility (WP)
- Cold fusion (WP)
- ITPA (WP)
Just when we published this episode, Lockheed Martin published some news of a breakthrough in fusion technology. So we ask Richard what he thinks about this. Below is his reponse. Please note that this is his personal opinion and not an official statement or position of ITER:
The answer I have for you is that I have no idea because no science is discussed in the articles we have seen. It looks like some kind of magnetic mirror device into which they shoot particle beams (neutral beams – we talked about these in the interview) and heat a small plasma maintained by magnetic mirror fields. The closest thing I could find after a quick search to any kind of description is here.
If it’s a mirror device, it won’t work in my view since we’ve looked at mirrors for a long time in the past and the end losses are enormous and the confinement poor. Big such devices have been tried in the past and been mothballed, notably one in the US a couple of decades ago.
Personally, I think it’s rubbish, but without more to go on it’s impossible to judge in a correct scientific way. They say they will publish in the open literature, but so far nothing for us to see. Obviously they are looking for patents … (see here). This last article is lightweight with nothing to go on. There are other private industry groups looking at similar concepts, but they never got a confinement time that would ever be feasible for generating fusion power as far as I know.
I think people at IPP Max Planck in Garching have been interviewed about this, notably Karl Lackner, one of the best known and respected plasma theorists in the world. He is just as sceptical. There is an article in German which I can only understand vaguely. Maybe that helps.
Frankly, I don’t feel like wasting much more of my time on this, but I shall be very interested to see the scientific publications.
Most of all, the concept of putting one of these on the back of a truck amuses me greatly. Very greatly. Even if the fusion core could be made to work (which it likely cannot), the amount of hardware you need to inject the beams, do the neutron screening and tritium breeding plus separation and recirculation would fill a football field. At least with today’s technology.
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Very long, but nevertheless, nice episode. Today i stumbled over these two press releases / articles. Probably there is some momentum in the near future to come…
Fusion in the conventional style ( like with ITER and all those other projects mentioned in the SPIEGEL article ) seems to be very far away today from every day commercial usage for societies all over the world.
Hope those two articles don’t try to push up click rates only. As mentioned in the episode, those kind of journalistic induced hypes can cause severe collateral damage. Rossi and the LNER thing might be another example for that.
I saw these Lockheed Results as well. Thanks for posting them.
I think Lockheed Martin wouldn’t need to ask for funding to prototype their concept, if that concept were certain to work. I’d expect any funding they receive to be either spent for some publically less appreciated military research (but declared as good research) or used as plain risk capital to build some machine that may or may not work.
Then again, it would appear to me that all pressing energy needs could already be solved with solar power alone (with virtually maintenance free modules built from unsuspicious raw materials) and that technologies to store energy would be a cheaper field to research.
Another fantastic episode! I really enjoyed this one and my hat is off to those that understand fusion and make experiments like ITER possible.
Great episode! Richard sure leads in the chase to talk faster than Anita in episode 110. ;-)
Concerning fusion science, I also found the following two episode from Resonator-Podcast very interesting:
Thanks for this episode!
Thanks Markus for another interesting podcast. I have just finished listening to this for the second time. I must confess that I drifted off to sleep half way through the first time only to wake near the end when you said that you hope that we’re still listening. I was in bed, though, after a grueling day.
Richard sure knows his stuff and articulated it very well. He just scratched the surface of his vast knowledge and it burst out one word at a time. Just as well he speaks quickly otherwise the episode would have been even longer.
I was okay with the toroidal magnets but I couldn’t quite get my head around the poloidal ones. I imagined they were rings orientated with horizontal axes and positioned like longitudinal lines but Richard talked about them being stacked. All became clear, though, when I went to the ITER site and checkout out bit on the magnets of the machine. Very interesting indeed.
It is heartening, though, to hear Richard talk and now know that there a lots of people like him all working on fusion. No doubt fusion will be operational sooner than a lot of people believe. Think about the years leading up the the LHC.
When Richard compared fusion and fission near the end of the episode I imagined that fission is sort of like low-hanging fruit but lacks the long-term benefits of fusion. What an exciting future.
Thank you Geoffrey for your “report” :-) I fall asleep listening to podcasts quite a bit. Luckily one can rewind!
What a wonderful episode. Keep them coming, I didn’t mind the length at all because it’s not like you were running out of conversation points.
Also, I’m donating again to help offset copyright infringements issues. Sorry you had to go through that. I can give more if you accept bitcoins.
Thank you for your comment. I appreciate it! (And thanks for the donation).
Excellent episode – many thanks for putting it together Markus. Richard Pitts is an excellent guest and extremely knowledgable and approachable.
Also a recent BBC In Our Time podcast covered this topic as well which I think makes a good companion piece to listen to…
again thanks a lot for a great episode. Also thanks for Richard for the details and the effort to enlighten this very interessting field of physics. And like many others I of course don´t mind the length. I guess this will be one of my favorite ones..
Glad you liked it, Thomas :-)
Thank you both Markus + Richard for a very interesting episode which made a long day going by car anything but boring… And even days later I am still very impressed on how much information and knowledge one can compress in such a short amount of time. ..;-)
You’re the first one to call this one “short” :-)
Hi Markus, inspirational episode. Great to hear about projects that have such lofty goals like this one. Keep up the stellar work.
Sam from gold coast Australia
Thanks Sam! Greetings back to sunny summer Australia. Wish I was on the southern hemisphere now :-)
Very interesting Episode – I listened to the generic Fusion episode before – For me you could have gone on and on and on going into the details of plasma confinement, electrical design of the supraconducting coils, tritium plant design etc.
It will, in fact, go on. I plan to record something on materials science for fusion reactors :-)
This was the best docu ever heared or viewed beside visiting the site with a private guide!
I liked the Details very much – but it could be even more. Questions like “where are the issues building such a huge vessel and brining it to 10e-9 mbar” or “how did you solve this and that Problem” would be very interesting.
Thanks Werner :-) Yes, I guess there’s always even more details ….
This is a fantastic episode. Learned a lot. Questions were great and Richard Pitts was superb at answering them, both in terms of his knowledge and the way he was able to explain things.