It’s Not Exactly “Mr. Fusion”

Now, there's a scale that makes sense (even if it is based on a coffee grinder)

Now, there’s a scale that makes sense (even if it is based on a coffee grinder)

There’s been a lot in the cultural firmament this month about the second “Back To The Future” movie – the one where Marty and Doc Brown fly in the DeLorean time machine – now powered by a “Mr. Fusion” reactor – to the date of October, 21, 2015.  They arrive at a time where not only fusion power is a reality, but the Chicago Cubs have finally won a World Series.

So much for the predictive power of 1980s cinema.

So that was on my mind when my daily, multi-source info-feed delivered this article from LinkedIn:

ITER Is Not On A Commercially Viable Path – by Dr. Matthew Moynihan (on LinkedIn).

And what immediately struck me about the article (before I read it, of course) was this illustration that accompanies it:


I’ve been critical of the whole tokamak approach to fusion on the grounds that the approach produces massive, incredibly complex machines could fill a gymnasium.  I only arrive at this obviously negative (and perhaps ill-informed, since I’m hardly anybody’s idea of an expert) bias because my introduction to the subject comes by way of the Farnsworth Fusor, a device that sits on a table top.

Now comes the world’s joint effort to demonstrate magnetic containment – yes, another ginormous tokamak, only this time the largest one ever built, on a scale several orders of magnitude beyond anything that preceded it.

And just look at this photo of the campus that will house this behemoth.  My god, it’s not a gymnasium, it’s a whole fucking city!!  For one experimental reactor!!!

The  article makes a pretty solid case for why this project is little more than a monumental money pit.

Clearly ITER itself will never be commercial.  Supporters will argue: So what? ITER is a government experiment – not a commercial product – the next machine will work.”  There are several evils in this logic.  First, if you admit that ITER is not on the commercial path then stop treating it like it is.  Fund this experiment appropriately along with other experimental options; but do not risk everything on ITER.  That is a bet we already know will fail.  Secondly, delaying the change pushes the world into more dangerous climate realities, with a fusion option further and further away.  This is a dangerous path and it must change for humanity’s sake.

 So, yeah, it’s frustrating to see countless billions being poured down a rat hole when smaller scale projects don’t get serious consideration.  There is a mentality around this research that says “it has to be big.”

No, it doesn’t.

But that’s the mentality that governs the whole field.

And that’s what needs to change.