Fine progress for ITER.

Reflections on fusion history, current events, and predictions for the 'fusion powered future.
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Chris Bradley
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Fine progress for ITER.

Post by Chris Bradley » Wed Sep 14, 2011 5:52 pm

In the back of the latest IEEE Nuclear and Plasma Newsletter are some fine photographs of ITER progress: There are pictures of an enormous area of ground, dozens of football pitches in size, that is being 'milled' to the flatness of a billiard table, a poloidal coil winding hall under construction that could house an entire cathedral within it, and Japanese workers diligently working with a 15' diameter roll of cable that is of staggering size - given that it is all super-conducting material!

Having assembled my own humble experiments only to see a few of the configurations promtly go "pfffut" after devoting many hours of procurement, construction, assembly and days of pump-down (... experiment over... re-build...!) I cannot help but imagine all this $30 billion effort taking the decades of planning and construction only for folks to find that when they power it up for the first fusion run... it goes "pfffut... experiment over...re-build!!!"

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Re: Fine progress for ITER.

Post by Hector » Wed Sep 14, 2011 6:07 pm

Nostradamus here, I predict that after they workout all the bugs they will come to the conclusion that they need a bigger device with more power to achieve break even fusion. Just my prediction. This will buy the Fusor community at least 20 more years to catch up and pass the Tokamak Academic experiment.

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Chris Bradley
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Re: Fine progress for ITER.

Post by Chris Bradley » Wed Sep 14, 2011 6:41 pm

Hector wrote:
> I predict ...they will come to the conclusion that they need a bigger device

This is not a prediction, this is *part of the plan*!!

ITER is not designed to demonstrate useful power can be generated, this will come in the next 'step', called 'DEMO'.

I had the opportunity to discuss this with fusion folks a few years ago and I said to them, directly, that this is a fundamentally flawed piece of science because it means they have no specific objective. (That made me popular in the conversation, I am sure!!)

Either they know they can make a power source, in which case they should just build a power-generating working prototype, or they don't, in which case there is more work that can still be done with the likes of JET (which is being shut down soon) before moving on. ITER is a middling confused experiment with too much inertia to stop, but too inspecific a set of objectives to know its true direction.

ITER was originally planned to be what 'DEMO' is now planned to be (2050), but the pile of cash being asked for was too big for the politico's to swallow in one go.

This is an actual PLAN that has the effect of keeping the tokamak research gravy train running for 5 more decades, before there is even a suggestion of an attempt to put fusion-powered electrons through the grid.

Just consider that for a moment; the existing PLAN says that a fresh graduate researcher coming to work on ITER will have retired before the objectives of the experiment have actually been reached! What sort of motivation is that?!?!

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Carl Willis
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Re: Fine progress for ITER.

Post by Carl Willis » Wed Sep 14, 2011 8:42 pm

There are differences between garage science and publicly-funded professional science.

When you presage comprehensive failure of ITER because you had issues on a small-scale home apparatus, you're probably neglecting the processes of peer review, committee oversight, and adherence to methodological standards and quality controls that govern professional research--none of which appeal in a hobby. You're probably neglecting the rigorous reliance on prior findings and benchmarked models. You're probably giving short shrift to the professional training and education in the ITER workforce, the tools at its disposal, and the fact that labor is divided according to expertise. In short, you're probably neglecting the things that make professional science a JOB for which people are PAID. At home, you do whatever you want, do it yourself with whatever limitations you have, hope for the best, and of course accept a high rate of failures that are mostly inconsequential given the small scale and limited scope.

>This will buy the Fusor community at least 20 more years to catch up and pass the Tokamak Academic experiment.

The fusor community--I assume you mean us, the amateur fusion community--has chalked up demonstrable success toward capturing the passion of young engineers and scientists, toward popularizing a better technical understanding of fusion, and toward enriching many of our personal lives in the past 12-13 years of existence. If our history is any guide, though, we won't be giving a god-damn about "catching up" with professional tokamak research in the next 20 years either (other than superficially of course...everyone likes to roar and thump their little white chest). That's not a bad thing. It's just reality. Also, the fact remains that NO data substantiate the idea that the IEC approach is competitive with tokamaks, despite an always-enticing glimmer of plausibility.

We can go pound our chests and bruit about kicking ITER's ass and howl at the moon about its perceived shortcomings all we want, including to the researchers' faces, but my guess is that this just looks silly because it probably is.

-Carl
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Richard Hull
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Re: Fine progress for ITER.

Post by Richard Hull » Wed Sep 14, 2011 8:47 pm

Fusion power is just not going to go as swimmingly as did fission power which was a process of obtaining energy through the release of stored and not inherent energy. We are hunter gatherers and are good at turning stored potential energy into useful energy. Fission is a stored energy release as much as any chemical reaction. Fusion is not.

Fission is the delivery of a pregnancy. Fusion is a forced copulation in hope of an emaculate conception.

ITER Thermal (MCF), fusor (IECF), NIF (ICF), mirror machines, Stellarators, etc., are pretty much forelorn hopes, at least in anyone's lifetime reading this current posting.

Soon the public treasures will collapse on the most abitious of these professional efforts. The amateur efforts will forever remain amateurish. Hopefully it might create a cadre of folks who can really explain fusion in a public forum with some modicum of backgrounding.

For my money, there is nothing at all wasted in successful amateur fusion done here, even if repetitive and based on previous work.

As the motto at the base of the statue of Thadius Faber at Faber college in the movie "Animal House" quotes,......"knowledge is good"

Richard Hull
Progress may have been a good thing once, but it just went on too long. - Yogi Berra
Fusion is the energy of the future....and it always will be
Retired now...Doing only what I want and not what I should...every day is a saturday.

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Chris Bradley
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Re: Fine progress for ITER.

Post by Chris Bradley » Wed Sep 14, 2011 9:45 pm

Carl Willis wrote:
> There are differences between garage science and publicly-funded professional science.

But I don't actually think they are necessarily qualitative differences at the experiment stage. Everyone has limited budgets, limited time and the solutions to overcome these things are by the initiatives of individuals who get tired, make mistakes, then see things go wrong. Hubble's mirrors, LHC magnet quenching circuits, Mars Polar lander, to name just a few well-publicised in recent memory.

Overlooking important specification details is another 'common difference', like the height of how big tsunamis might get compared with how big voltage surges might get.

Overstating the likely outcomes of experiments and chest beating is also nothing unique to either, whether it is a proponent of NIF or a proponent of 'the latest gridless fusor design' talking.

And not forgetting that science is science, and should make no difference to the objectivity of a stated experimental aim just because one is paid for it. (Arguably, being paid to do an experiment may well mean a conflict of interest and the aim becomes *less* objective that amateur work, rather than more so.)

Science started with people doing their own experiments for their own interests, against the 'conventional wisdom' of the day. If the results of an experiment are known, then what's the point of the experiment? So neither professional nor amateurs know what will actually happen with their experiment, again nothing unique to either there.

The amount one can know about a new experiment is only a fraction of what can be known. The professionals have more opportunity to get higher up that ladder, but not knowing what you don't know is, again, par for the course.

Where the difference does begin to show the two apart is turning the results into material of archival value, by comprehensive analysis, discussion and cross-referencing.

I'm sure that ITER will go swimmingly, to a higher likelihood than an amateur effort. Of course! I was just contemplating the sense of how much work is going into this when, after all, it is still an experiment for which the immediate experimental outcome might turn out to be seriously 'sub-optimal'. I still don't understand how ITER is the right experiment for the stated scientific objective, though.

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Re: Fine progress for ITER.

Post by Hector » Thu Sep 15, 2011 1:40 am

Chris,

First I called it a Fusor because that's what everyone calls it here. In fact I call it IEC research. Second the Pollywell while grossly under funded is making progress and it is a professional effort. I myself have done work in the IEC field and have a very different approach that has not yet been tried, which when I'm finally done with what I'm doing now I will keep working on it.

Also more breakthroughs have their origins in amateur garage type research than most people know. I will NEVER concede that Academics have a clue as to what it takes to make something work and be productive in the real world that is what engineers, Inventors and entrepreneurs do, not Scientist.

Tokamaks are a dead end trail and ITER has no redeeming qualities, it has no practical use in vehicular application nor will it ever be a practical power solution and time will prove me right.

You believe whatever you want to believe but I guarantee you that the final solution to practical fusion will be simple and elegant and will come from a non Academic source.

An stop telling the people here that they can't make a contribution to the effort, that is for them to decide not you or me. You are the one that has the over simplified facts on how things are really accomplished in the world.

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Carl Willis
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Re: Fine progress for ITER.

Post by Carl Willis » Thu Sep 15, 2011 4:36 am

>Tokamaks are a dead end trail

Because a guy known only by his first name says so on a public Web forum, I'm utterly convinced. The voice of authority has spoken. That settles it! Or not.

>I will NEVER concede that Academics have a clue

According to you, you have a clue (i.e. that Tokamaks are a dead end), and academics don't have a clue. So one of the pieces of information you're sharing is you're not an academic. That I can believe. The rest of it I take with a grain of salt. It does seem you have a serious chip on your shoulder about "Scientists" and "Academics." Oddly, it seems that a person cannot be both an academic and an engineer, or a scientist and an entrepreneur, in your world.

>An stop telling the people here that they can't make a contribution to the effort

I never have said that. I simply make the observation from time to time that despite all the jawbone and hee-haw about fusion power plants and despite the occasional raspberry blown at ITER, that's not the direction that the community of hobby fusioneers has shown much tangible bona fide interest in exploring. Accordingly, such discussions tend to be dominated by stuff that's indistinguishable from pseudoexpertise and low-grade sycophancy. My point's quite simple, really. The day may come when you understand it.

-Carl
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Re: Fine progress for ITER.

Post by David Geer » Thu Sep 15, 2011 9:35 am

Richard Hull wrote:
> ITER Thermal (MCF), fusor (IECF), NIF (ICF), mirror machines, Stellarators, etc., are pretty much forelorn hopes, at least in anyone's lifetime reading this current posting.
>
> Soon the public treasures will collapse on the most abitious of these professional efforts. The amateur efforts will forever remain amateurish. Hopefully it might create a cadre of folks who can really explain fusion in a public forum with some modicum of backgrounding.
>
> For my money, there is nothing at all wasted in successful amateur fusion done here, even if repetitive and based on previous work.

One of the nice things about amateur work though, is someone might get lucky. Pretty much the basis of all groundbreaking discoveries is being accidental or an out-in-left-field attempt. Even with a lot of scientists (young and old) trying the same experiments over and over, they are all trying slightly different things to change the approach. The law of averages dictates that at some point, no matter the number of attempts, there will be a success.

With your statement of amateur efforts will forever remain amateurish... professionals stick within guidelines and protocols with limited freedoms beyond the budget, whereas, amateurs can test whatever they like when they can and take great pride in both positive and negative results.

I know I'd like to see an amateur get a bunch of funding like ITER or NIF to just try out their ideas on whatever scale they are comfortable with. Might get better or more promising results than the orthodox big leaguers.
- David Geer

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Re: Fine progress for ITER.

Post by chad ramey » Thu Sep 15, 2011 2:06 pm

I'd perhaps like to throw in my "two cents" as they say..

I think the best argument for amateur small-scale fusion efforts is that they are quick and nimble. I can wake up with a new idea for IEC fusion, walk down to my garage, and test the idea out. If the idea happens to be really tasking it might take months or perhaps a year to get the engineering aspect just right but, any idea I am likely to come up with will not take 20 years of my life or several billion dollars. With tokamaks you have the best plasma physicists, engineers, and physicists in the world collaborating but, a single project takes up the span of their entire career and tons of money. Those guys (and gals) get one idea, and thats it.

Even if the idea is a failure, I can collect (hopefully) significant data from the experiment and use it to make an educated guess as to where to go next.

Plus IEC fusion does have (or once had) a group of individuals collaborating to improve the design as a whole. So all in all you get:

many ideas+ability to test ideas quickly=lots of data available for improvement


Either way, tokamaks should not be viewed as evil. At the very least the are cool looking, massive plasma machines; what's not to love about them? We as a fusion community should support their efforts......while supporting our own as well.

Live long, and prosper
-Chad

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