Why the World’s Largest Nuclear Fusion Project May Never Succeed


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.

Construction of ITER is underway, but the fusion reactor won’t be switched on for another decade.

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Why Do Libraries Have That Smell?

Greg Friedler/Getty Images

Greg Friedler/Getty Images

Popular Science has the answer: The musty smell is most likely cellulose decay. Since the mid-19th century, when papermakers began using groundwood pulp in place of cotton or linen, most paper has contained an unstable compound called lignin, which breaks down into acids and makes paper very brittle. Since 2001, the Library of Congress has treated at least 250,000 books every year with magnesium oxide. The chemical deacidifies paper and slows decay.

Lorraine Gibson, a chemist at the University of Strathclyde in Scotland, runs a project called Heritage Smells that will identify decay in its earliest stages. She is working on a handheld mass spectrometer, a sort of artificial nose that locates the molecules that cause the musty smell.

Molecules move down a flight tube, and the movement through the tube helps identify the mass of the molecule. Once researchers have identified the molecules that speed decay, they can work to stop it.