'Not at the point of picking a winner'
Michel Claessens, head of communications at ITER, echoed Prager. "We're not starting from scratch; simply ITER will be the biggest one," Claessens said. "The aim is to show the technical feasibility of fusion energy."
The project emerged from a meeting between President Reagan and the Soviet Union's general secretary, Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1985 to develop fusion power, with the premise that no nation can face the world's energy challenges alone. The European Union and several other governments are contributing cash, equipment and resources to the endeavor, which may end up costing more than €13 billion ($17.6 billion).
"Because the contributions are in kind and members are not obliged to tell us what it cost them, we will never have a detailed cost of ITER," Claessens said, adding that participants will likely have to wait until 2027 before they figure out for certain whether this is a game-changing energy source or just the most expensive way to boil water ever built.
NIF also has a commercial generator in the pipeline, the Laser Inertial Fusion Energy plant. Instead of using water to transfer heat, the plant uses lithium. When struck with a neutron, it produces tritium, the part of the fuel you can't get from the ocean.
According to Dunne, it will operate more like an internal combustion engine than a reactor: injecting the fuel, compressing it, igniting it and exhausting the detritus.
Though inertial and magnetic fusion scientists have a bit of a rivalry, Prager said both deserve support. "The need to have solutions to climate change is so severe that we want to pursue all promising approaches," he said. "We're not at the point of picking a winner. They should both be pursued, I would say."
Even as researchers at NIF inch toward higher energy yields every night, outside, another fusion reactor crests every morning between the wind turbines on the hills surrounding Livermore Valley, taunting them over the horizon. As close as they think they are to ignition, the sun has a 4.5-billion-year head start.
Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. www.eenews.net, 202-628-6500