Energy

French Fusion Reactor Will Be Another 10 Years Late And $4.6 Billion Over Budget

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Cost overruns have set back plans to build the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) fusion reactor in France by another 10 years and an additional $4.6 billion, according to a Monday report by the French newspaper Les Echos.

“The previous planning, which foresaw first plasma by 2020 and full fusion by 2023, was totally unrealistic,” Bernard Bigot, the head of ITER, told Reuters Monday. Bigot estimates the reactor will not start initial tests of super-heated plasma before 2025 or create full-power fusion before 2035 and that cost estimates will likely rise by another $4.6 billion.

The project has a long history of delays and cost increases. ITER was originally expected to cost approximately $5.7 billion, but overruns, design changes and rising raw material prices saw the amount almost triple to $ 14.9 billion last year. The total estimated cost overruns will add up to almost $20 billion, which will be paid for by the project’s financial backers, including the U.S., China, the European Union, Russia, India and Japan.

Other recent breakthroughs in fusion could restart the atomic age, an era when nuclear progress was lauded as a pinnacle of human achievement.

In America, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works is developing a compact fusion reactor small enough to fit in a truck, which could generate enough electricity to power 80,000 homes.

A fusion reactor in Germany began testing last December. German engineers from the Max Planck Institute successfully activated an experimental nuclear fusion reactor and successfully managed to suspend plasma for the first time. The German reactor was reasonably priced compared to ITER, as it only took 19 years and $1.1 billion to build. The reactor passed the major technical milestone of generating its first plasma, which had a duration of one-tenth of a second and achieved a temperature of around one million degrees Celsius. It could demonstrate the first stable artificial nuclear fusion reaction sometime later this year.

Operational fusion power would put most other forms of electricity generation permanently out of business and could occur very soon. Fusion power could be “too cheap to meter,” meaning the cost of generating new power would be below the cost of determining how much power an individual was using, effectively making electricity generation nearly free. Unlike existing nuclear fission reactors, which produce energy by splitting atoms, fusion reactors would generate power by combining atoms.

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