Why the World’s Largest Nuclear Fusion Project May Never SucceedPosted: May 5, 2016
As cost overruns and delays plague the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, fusion startups are raising more capital.
Richard Martin reports: The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) project reached a critical phase last week, as a panel of experts convened to review the latest revised budget and time line to build the proposed fusion reactor delivered its findings. Launched in 2006, ITER has been plagued with delays and cost overruns as the challenge of bringing six countries—the United States, China, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea—together with the European Union to build an experimental reactor has proved nearly insurmountable.
The latest schedule put forth by the project’s director, French nuclear physicist Bernard Bigot, calls for the machine to be switched on by 2025 and to actually achieve fusion only in 2035—a dozen years later than originally planned. The panel found that timing plausible but said that the latest budget, which would add another €4.6 billion ($5.3 billion) in cost overruns to the project, was unlikely to become available.
ITER’s troubles are striking at a time when private-sector fusion companies, such as General Fusion and Tri Alpha Energy, are attracting venture capital funding and making apparent progress in building prototypes (see “Finally, Fusion Takes Small Steps Toward Reality”). Southern California-based Tri Alpha, which has received nearly half a billion dollars in venture funding from a list of investors that includes…(read more)