ITER Nuclear Fusion Project: First Burn Delayed until 2035

Laboratory scale Z-pinch showing glow from an expanded hydrogen plasma. Pinch and ionisation current flows through the gas and returns via the bars surrounding the plasma vessel.

Laboratory scale Z-pinch showing glow from an expanded hydrogen plasma. Pinch and ionisation current flows through the gas and returns via the bars surrounding the plasma vessel. By Sandpiper at English WikipediaOwn work, Public Domain, Link

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

A new ITER Nuclear Fusion timetable has been agreed, which slips the first scheduled Deuterium / Tritium burn to 2035 – 8 years after the original scheduled date. But an exciting and unexpected US breakthrough has just breathed new life into one of the oldest approaches to achieving controlled nuclear fusion.

New schedule agreed for Iter fusion project

An updated schedule for the Iter fusion project has been approved by the Iter Council, which represents the countries taking part in the project. Under the new schedule, first plasma is now slated for 2025 and the start of deuterium-tritium operation is set for 2035.

A two-day meeting of the Iter Council at the Iter headquarters at Saint-Paul-lez-Durance in France unanimously approved the project’s baseline – its overall schedule and cost. The project is to build the world’s biggest tokamak fusion reactor at Cadarache in southern France. It should be large enough and hot enough to reach ‘ignition’ and maintain a stable heat-generating plasma for minutes.

“The overall project schedule was approved by all Iter members, and the overall project cost was approved ad referendum, meaning that it will now fall to each member to seek approval of project costs through respective governmental budget processes,” the Iter Organization said in a statement yesterday.

The Council concluded that project construction and manufacturing have sustained a rapid pace for the past 18 months, “providing tangible evidence of full adherence to commitments”. The successful completion of all 19 project milestones for 2016, on time and on budget, is “a positive indicator of the collective capacity of the Iter Organization and the Domestic Agencies to continue to deliver on the updated schedule”, it said.

Read more:

The year 2035, with the possibility of further schedule slippages, seems an awfully long time to wait to know whether large scale nuclear fusion is viable.

Thankfully there are other possible approaches which don’t involve vast UN administered bureaucracies.

Breakthrough in Z-pinch implosion stability opens new path to fusion

Researchers have demonstrated improved control over and understanding of implosions in a Z-pinch, a particular type of magneto-inertial device that relies on the Lorentz force to compress plasma to fusion-relevant densities and temperatures. The breakthrough was enabled by unforeseen and entirely unexpected physics.

Recently, however, researchers using the Z Machine at Sandia National Laboratories have demonstrated improved control over and understanding of implosions in a Z-pinch, a particular type of magneto-inertial device that relies on the Lorentz force to compress plasma to fusion-relevant densities and temperatures. The breakthrough was enabled by unforeseen and entirely unexpected physics.

According to existing theory, however, the imposed magnetic field should not have significantly impacted the growth of the instabilities that normally shred the liner and prevent high levels of compression during the implosion. But, while fusion plasmas are subject to various forms of instability, referred to as modes, not all these instabilities are detrimental. The pre-magnetized system demonstrated unprecedented implosion stability due to the unpredicted growth of helical modes, rather than the usual azimuthally-correlated modes that are most damaging to implosion integrity. The dominant helical modes replaced and grew more slowly than the so-called “sausage” modes found in most Z-pinches, allowing the plasma to be compressed to the thermonuclear fusion-producing temperature of 30 million degrees and one billion times atmospheric pressure. The origin of the helical modes themselves, however, remained a mystery.

Read more:

Z-pinch is one of the oldest experimental approaches to controlled fusion, because it is so simple. Z-pinch is essentially a giant electrical transformer, but instead of a secondary coil, the fusion plasma forms the secondary. Triggering a pulse of current through the transformer primary induces an enormous current in the plasma, which in turn generates an extremely intense magnetic field, squeezing the plasma (hopefully) to nuclear fusion temperatures.

The downside of Z-pinch is the force tends to be applied like squeezing a sausage – all the goodness squirts out the ends of the Z-pinch. But the researchers at Sandia National Laboratories claim to have found a way to fix this problem.

Obviously we’ve all been here before, nuclear fusion research is littered with exciting breakthroughs which never fulfil their early promise. But given the long wait until ITER is finally switched on, there is plenty of opportunity for clever attempts to research exotic approaches to nuclear fusion to leapfrog the multi-decadal UN project.


136 thoughts on “ITER Nuclear Fusion Project: First Burn Delayed until 2035

      • As a confirmed cynic, could the delay be so that ‘action has to be taken now’ to prevent cagw? After all, if reliable fusion energy was just around the corner, who in their right mind would invest in renewables?

    • In the 1970’s it was “We’re thirty years away from commercial nuclear fusion… and always will be.”

      At RPI, a friend in nuclear physics postulated a “tokamak bomb”, which consisted of a compilation of all the research on fusion power. Once dropped on an unsuspecting target, the commercial allure would be so great that they would compelled to continue the research. Ultimately, that research would grow to absorb all the available resources with no meaningful return, leading to the economic collapse of the target country. She went on the spent nearly 40 years at MIT working on nuclear fusion.

    • Aren’t they afraid that their violet glow tube will suddenly go critical and blow itself to bits.

      Can you light the match a bit earlier than 2035.

      I’m planning on going somewhere else before they can flip the switch on that one.

      But I can tell them now what the result will be, if they would send me a stamped self addressed envelope.

      Oh, put a hundred K in there , so’s I know you really want to know if it will work.


  1. And thus ITER is dead as a project. Anyone with a shred of sense should divert the funding to small scale fusion and let ITER die, it never was a good idea to attempt megaprojects of this scale.

    Is fusion also dead with ITER? No. Not even close. ITER is in fact outdated technology wise. It’s like building the worlds largest supercomputer with hardware from 1995, with the completion goal for 2025. It makes no sense at all and you can do the same in a much smaller scale by starting 2020.

    In fact you can already build Tokamak reactors with the power density of ITER with a fraction of the funding at a fraction of the price. Today.

    ITER was based on the concept that superconductors won’t improve so the reactor have to be huge. Superconductors however have massively improved and thus reactors don’t have to be huge. Further improvements will lower the size and costs even more.

    See this talk for details:

    With a goal date of 2035 ITER will never be turned on. A smaller tokamak with the same or better energy density will be proposed, funded, built, turned on and declared a success before ITER have a chance to even be turned on.

    • But that 2035 date likely gets most of the current scientists and administrators to their retirement age in Europe. So it has that inertia going for it.

  2. Now they are not even pretending that controlled fusion energy is only a few years away. The search for controlled fusion is looking more and more like looking for a penny in the corner of a round room.

  3. What this means in lay terms is “not in your lifetime”. Mostly not in the lifetimes of your great-great-grandchildren lifetimes as taxpayers. Which means funding should shift from taxpayers to private donors, such as the Sierra Club. Meanwhile, taxpayer funds should be shifted to things that will work and produce cheap(er) energy such as fusion, coal, synfuels, etc. I.E. What will actually help people, especially to help the underdeveloped nations get some much needed energy for such items as electricity to drive pumps for sewage.

    • I’m surprised by the pessimism regarding longevity escape velocity. “Not in your lifetime” measured in decades will in a couple decades be measured in centuries.

      • Right. I remember a smart guy telling me in 1985 that if you make 20 years more you will live forever. He died about 10 years ago.

    • cedarhill – at 5:05 am
      …funds should be shifted to things that will work and produce cheap(er) energy such as fusion, coal, synfuels, etc. I.E.

      Am I the only one who caught that, or is there something I don’t know?

    • I don’t understand your statement: “…produce cheap(er) energy such as fusion,…” This article is about fusion.

      • The article is about a single multinational fusion project. There are several other fusion projects that are smaller, lower cost, and higher chance of success.

  4. One wonders if controlled fusion is just a phantom; I hope somebody has whispered “thorium” into Trump’s ear.

    • The Indian Ambassador has probably already done so. They would very much like us to develop this technology so that they can use their large supplies of thorium to generate electricity.

      • Thorium reactors have already been built and operated. Thorium fuel bundles exist for the current light water reactors and the CANDU reactor can run on Thorium. Using Thorium requires no new reactor.

        Now IFF you meant molten salt reactor, you ought to have said so…

    • One wonders if controlled fusion is just a phantom

      Just look up at that yellow ball in the sky, or all those twinkly things

  5. They said: “It should be large enough and hot enough to reach ‘ignition’ and maintain a stable heat-generating plasma for minutes.”

    You said: “The year 2035, with the possibility of further schedule slippages, seems an awfully long time to wait to know whether large scale nuclear fusion is viable.”

    Minutes makes it viable? Let me know when they sustain the reaction for months or years. Only then might the concept be viable, subject to solving innumerable engineering problems.

    • There is also the possibly insoluble problem of the vacuum chamber walls seeing a high neutron flux. There may not even *be* a wall material that meets the structural, cleanliness, and neutron absorption requirements.

      • The problem is even bigger. (And the neutron flux issue is a major problem.)

        The 2035 goal is for a few minutes of operation. Note that this does not include generation of power in excess of the power to start the fusion or the capture of the generated power. This is an interesting stage in research and development but a long way from commercially useful designs.

        Think of the 2035 goal as a candle which stays lit for a few minutes and produces no light or heat when lit yet requires a blast furnace to light it.

  6. Search for novelty is important. It’s the only way that we are likely to get the breakthroughs we need. Greatness Cannot be Planned The incremental approach is clearly not working.

    The unexpected discovery of the helical modes’ stability is an example of the kind of breakthroughs we need. A bunch of such breakthroughs make it much more likely that fusion will become practical. In that light, spending a disproportionate amount of the science budget on megaprojects is counterproductive.

    • There is a sensible post commieBob! All these guys on this thread bemoaning “fusion is always ten years away” are ignoring the discoveries in REAL science and engineering that happen when studying and attempting to control a fundamental state of matter. Sort of makes me think of those tribesmen saying untold millennia ago “why are you trying to make fire when we know for sure lightening will strike and we can capture some”. On the Iter:why would you depend on putting all of you eggs in one theoretical basket if you are really trying to understand the phenomenon?

    • Yeah. I have always wondered if instead of trying to achieve steady sate fusion, we shouldn’t be content to have it pulsing or oscillating with fusion happening at nodes of peak pressure

      • Pulsing/cyclical systems avoid problems associated with plasma in thermodynamic equilibrium. There are several. In addition to Polywell, there is Dense Plasma Focus, Reverse Field Configuration, and these are only off the top of my head. All look much more promising then ITER.

  7. Forget nuclear fusion until they prove it superior to molten salt nuclear reactors (they can’t – molten salt reactors will never run out of fuel and have such low costs that they can never be undercut, in my opinion. They also burn nuclear wastes as fuel, thereby essentially solving our nuclear waste issues). We have almost at hand a proven technology (operating for decades, experimentally) that only required a few relatively simple modifications to become fully practical and become the most cost efficient power generator on the planet. Anyone unaware of the enormously vast advantages of this technology has no business offering any opinions on the future of power production. See Transatomic Power for the MIT design approach, and Moltex Energy for an equally innovative approach that takes a somewhat different path, using many components already in production.
    The Chinese govt is taking an unknown approach in their crash development program. Allowing
    the Chinese to dominate this technology would prove how stupid and ignorant our “advanced low carbon energy experts” really are – trying to saddle the U.S. with grid-inefficient solar/wind. How about demonstrating some basic intelligence, Federal energy officials, rather than lining your friendly political pal’s pockets with subsidized monopolies?

    • Cheap clean energy is not the real goal. If we had that, there would be no ability to control the ‘population bomb’. The UN is the ultimate cock-block and the political hacks in this country are their ugly step sister.
      I hope Trump physically boots them off US ground, then the brain power and ingenuity of actual scientists can be unleashed.

    • To assess whether something is moving ahead, I google for web sites updated in the last month.
      molten salt reactor 2,260 results
      thorium power 37,100 results
      ammonia fuel 36,200 results
      aquion battery 707 results
      fusion energy 3,500,000 results
      photovoltaic 113,000 results
      solar power 27,400,000 results
      wind power 44,400,000 results

      FWIW, YMMV

      • dan no longer in CA on November 23, 2016 at 1:30 pm

        If it makes more fuel than it consumes, that’s my idea of a ‘renewable, resource.

        Ever heard of Superphenix, the french breeder plant which produced far more unsolvable problems than electricity?

        It hat to be shutdown in 1997 because its sustainment was bypassing 10 billion $, mainly due to the impossibility to contain 5,500 tons of liquid sodium at 550 °C within the primary cooling system.

        Ten years later, its decomissioning got started, and if all goes well, that activity will end in… 2027.
        The major problem was to get rid of the liquid sodium, which had to be transformed during several years into 12,000 tons of contaminated salt and 70,000 tons of concrete around it.

        Superphenix never achieved a breeding level even in the near of what it consumed!

        Beloyarsk 4 operates with MOX fuel, in use in a dozen of french and japanese LWRs since years.

        One fixpoint about MOX: upon fuel exchange, burm fuel doesn’t rest for little 5-8 years before reprocessing! The official french nuclear experts speak about… 60 years, due to the plutonium’s harsh activity.

        In other words: there will never be any MOX reprocessing, all the stuff will remain in the “high activity long range” waste and stored 500 m below ground.

      • “It hat to be shutdown”

        Fake news, did not happened like that; Superphenix was scrapped because it was working fine (after many incidents).

        The greens simply couldn’t live with the idea of not having been able to derail this project. It was their arch nemesis. The socialist power made everything possible to delay restarts after every incident.

        At the end, the moronic political judges of the Conseil d’Etat (know-nothing “elite” leftist civil servants) refused a restart of the reactor with other goals, saying it required an “enquête publique” meaning years of trolling by antinuc pseudo-experts.

  8. There will be more solar energy (or any other energy source) until 2035 than fusion can ever produce! Its a waist of money and enginering time!

    • By 2035, all the solar cells currently deployed across the world will be at or past EOL. The choice is simple. Either to get fusion working or further expand the Chinese economy by buying solar cells and the rare earth metals used in wind powered generators. Why do you think China is giving lip service to presumed climate change cause by man while at the same time deploying coal fired electric plants at an astounding rate, despite that their capacity already far outstrips demand. They need lots of cheap power for a future where they can make all the silly things the developed world thinks they need to combat a problem that physics precludes from occurring. Consider that the raw materials that go into a solar cell are literally cheap as dirt. It’s all the electricity required to make semiconductors that makes solar cells expensive.

      • “Absolutely true. Unfortunately none of it will be usable at the earth’s surface.”

        Shhh! Don’t tell the plants!

  9. The best of all these people talking about “controlled fusion” is this strange claim of “bringing Sun’s power down to Earth”:
    – Sun’s power per m³ is less than that provided by a 30 years old human resting;
    – The Sun burns hydrogen, and not this stoopid deuterium/tritium mixture.

      • Well, SMC: if you intended to demonstrate us your lack of knowledge in the field, then you perfectly succeeded.

      • But you didn’t fail in telling us what they are, SMC! It was simply a somewhat redundant communication.

        Best for you would be to read about Coulomb barrier, Lawson criterion, cross sections, ejected neutron energy, etc etc. You then will see that you were here explaining the wrong matter: only very few combinations of hydrogen isotope variants make sense to use.

        And D+T actually is both the only possible choice and the worst one as well:
        – tritium doesn’t exist on Earth (about 5 kg over the oceans) and therefore must be breeded out of lithium;
        – D+T’s neutron is of really violent energy, what is a problem for the long range stability of confinement material (blanket structures for example).

        That’s the reason why “bringing Sun’s power down to Earth” is either bare nonsense or impudent manipulation.

      • Yawn yawn yawn…troll troll troll!

        The dumb skeptics’ by far preferred signature, as I repeatedly had to experience. And of course perfectly fitting to that: no arguments.

    • The first step in the proton-proton reaction is for the weak nuclear force to convert one of the protons in a collision into a neutron, thus synthesizing deuterium. This reaction requires a stellar mass of ~72 Jupiters in order to occur fast enough to sustain deuterium fusion. This is what determines the smallest size of M class dwarf stars. Not something we can imitate.

  10. Since my days in research for nuclear materials, I’ve been convinced commercial fusion far away. I’ve said it is inevitable, but our grandchildren won’t live to see it. The smartest man I have ever known agreed, but not quite so pessimistic. He thought 50 to 70 years was a good estimate. Few even today are better qualified to guess then he was.

    • Leonardo da Vinci was sketching aircraft designs in the 15th century. If he had had a petrol engine, he might have managed to make one, but we hadn’t even got past ‘renewable energy’ then ;-)

      Fusion cant be pushed, and it too might take 400 years until the right technique or material turns up. Or it might be tomorrow, or science itself might be ditched for religious and political reasons and it will never be developed.

  11. ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor and Latin for “the way”)

    Had to look it up. Is there some reason people use undefined acronyms?

  12. Have they trialled a means of extracting heat energy from device such as this?

    If the plasma is sitting at 30 million degrees, how do they connect that heat to a heat exchanger?

    I have a sneaky feeling that 30 mil is a little above the temperature of most engineering materials available today.

    If we can not extract/use the heat, why create it?

    • The fusion reaction emits high energy particles. They wrap the reaction in blanket that absorbs the high energy particles and in the process gets hot. The heat of the blanket is used to generate electricity.

      • OK, so what material is your blanket made of? And can withstand 30 mil degs of heat?
        Genuine question.

      • OK, so what material is your blanket made of? And can withstand 30 mil degs of heat?

        Donald Trump’s “hair”.

      • Fusion reactors have a small sun in the middle. The sun is very hot, but it is held together by a magnetic bottle. The bottle is purely formed of magnetic fields in a vacuum.

        So the small sun is surrounded by a vacuum.

        How much heat transfer via conductance in a vacuum? zero

        How much heat transfer via convection in a vacuum? zero (if the magnetic bottle is perfect)

        In reality some high energy particles escape the bottle and get across the vacuum, thus there is some convection. That’s what the blanket catches. But the rate of energy flow across the vacuum isn’t as strong as you seem to think.

    • at 30 million degrees, how do they connect that heat to a heat exchanger?
      TBD – To Be Determined.

      Sometimes we look at the whole project and try to solve any “Show Stoppers” right at the outset. Other times people shove critical issues under the rug, and hope someone else will somehow, some way, solve the problem before it is too late.

      Hope is not a plan.

      • at 30 million degrees, how do they connect that heat to a heat exchanger?

        Radiation. Surround the thing with solar panels. At last a use for solar PV ;-)

    • steverichards1984 on November 23, 2016 at 6:48 am

      I have a sneaky feeling that 30 mil is a little above the temperature of most engineering materials available today.

      You are right!

      If (!) I have well understood the technique, heat containment in fusion plants is of pure magnetic nature, as no matter would ever be able to survive any contact.

      The huge kernel problem is less to get heat out of the plasma than much more to keep that plasma alive despite heat extraction :-)

      gregfreemyer’s explanation is more than strange.

      The blankets of course do not contribute to heat exchange; they are “far away” from plasma and fusion heat, and contain stuff (lithium, beryllium) to get tritium breeded out by fusion neutrons.

      • The magnetic force must be very strong. It works as pressure and must push evenly from all sides. If this is even possible physically it must be mainained during the whole burning time. Otherwise guess where the little sun will be milliseconds after the faintest deviation somewhere in the supply chain. How to add more fuel and keep that even pressure?

        Seems that solar panels and windmills are the optimal energy sources to start up the whole process. /s

  13. I’m surprised it wasn’t slipped. It’s an old design and I doubt it ever gets finished.

    MIT is working on a much smaller “room size” fusion reactor. And Lockheed is separately working on a small fusion reactor. The one in France will be much larger and much, much more expensive than the room size devices.

    The key to the smaller units is much stronger magnetic fields. You can now buy “commercial-off-the-shelf” superconducting tape. Wrap it around a coil and submerge it in liquid nitrogen and you can produce a world class strong magnetic field with much less effort. It allows a lot more experimentation with the magnetic field design.

    They achieved a 2 second fusion reaction in Sept.

    At least for now, they are out of funding, but the world isn’t going to wait another 20 years for ITER to be built. Fusion’s reality as a energy source seems to be closer than that.

    Lockheed is trying to move fusion from the lab to commercial reality:

  14. I love these stories, but never invest much hope. I went to the University of Texas in 1964 to study physics specifically because the were cranking up a Tokamak project, and I was convinced that was the future. It was the future alright…

  15. The Council concluded that project construction and manufacturing have sustained a rapid pace for the past 18 months

    The part they left out was due to this rapid pace they were able to limit their fall-behind-time from seven years to only eight years. By 2035 they will just be 21 years behind schedule.

    • Thank you Fred – Agreed and I’m glad someone brought this forward on this thread. Dr Eric Lerner’s pioneering work with advancing DPF tech will perhaps be one day recognized. I like how it’ll fit in both spaceships and small neighbourhoods, like on the back of a pickup truck, decentralizing control of energy. Here’s nice video

  16. Back in the 1970’s, “Science” ran a series of articles on tokamak machines. They concluded that even if such a machine could be built (dubious even then), it would be so complex and so large that the cost of its electricity would be an order of magnitude higher than that of a fission reactor, which then were quite expensive (better now). They also scuttled the fairly tale about no nuclear wastes. The impurities in the steel in the tokamak gradually become neutron-activated radioisotopes.

    Along with AGW, ITER is one of the great scientific scams in history. Piltdown was some much more elegant and dirt cheap, too.

    • They also scuttled the fairly tale about no nuclear wastes.

      This has always been put in question. But 50 years ago nobody told us about the nuclear waste generated in fission plants!

      The german nuclear scientists and engineers working on the planning for ITER’s successor DEMO told in 2006 (ten years ago!) that this fusion reactor would generate at least 60,000 tons of nuclear waste in 30 years of operation.

      The two main sources of that:
      – the necessity of breeding tritium out of lithium in 1,200 ton blankets each containing 300 tons of lithium, 100 tons of beryllium (as neutron replicator) and 800 tons steel, to be exchanged every two years;
      – the huge amount of contaminated waste at decommissioning time due to the aggressivity of the D+T fusion neutrons.

      As tritium is a highly volatile matter easily passing even steel, I still do not understand how it could be contained in these blankets till processing time after two (!) years.

      • But 50 years ago nobody told us about the nuclear waste generated in fission plants!

        I’m surprised to hear that. Growing up in the 70s in Germany, I found enough stuff to read about the risks and unsolved problems of fission reactors. The book “Friedlich in die Katastrophe”, or “Peacefully toward disaster”, by Holger Strohm (1972), described the problems with nuclear waste, the risks of breeder reactors, and the consequences of a reactor meltdown in great detail. The Chernobyl disaster played out pretty much as outlined in that book, and the abandonment of the breeder reactors built in Germany (which built one to the turnkey stage but never actually turned the key) and in France (whose project was actually started up but later ended in failure) suggest that Strohm was on the mark about these as well.

        Another influential book was “Der Atomstaat” (“The Nuclear State”) by Robert Jungk, which focused on the political consequences of nuclear technology. Jungk argued that the task of managing a high-risk technology like nuclear power would induced the state executive to usurp ever more power over the citizens, ultimately giving rise to a full-blown police state. (I found this political argument less convincing than the technical ones.)

        The anti-nuclear movement in Germany got underway at that time and never let up until the German government finally capitulated.

  17. The Molten Salt Reactor is the way forward. 1/3 the cost of LWRs due to its low pressure design and buildable in 1/4 of the time. Cheaper energy than a coal plant. The big downer is the Obama DOE gave the keys to the ORNL MSRE to China who intends to own the patents to our design.

    I welcome any contacts into the Trump Transition Team to bring this issue up. Walter Horsting 1-916-213-1724

    • 99% waste reduction? In a molten salt reactor?

      50 years ago, nuclear waste did not exist yet outside of the companies who built LWRs.

      And LMFBRs were told not only to generate more plutonium than they ever might burn, but to literally crunch away all LWR waste as well!

      Today, we all are a bit less naive, Mr Horsting…

  18. The whole point of all this effort is to do what? Boil water, to create steam, to move a turbine. Coal and oil do a much better job without having to spend a trillion dollars trying to develop a more complicated technology to.. boil water. All fusion research money should be transferred into developing thorium nuclear reactors. Burn coal until you can replace them with nukes. Mic drop

  19. Speaking from experience, when one attempts a feat never before achieved, proposing any realistic schedule is completely useless. One might succeed, one might not, but the date of the success is anyone’s guess.

    • MM,
      I’m reminded of the story that if Conestoga Wagons could have flown at the speed they traveled over land, and one had departed for the moon in 1849, it would still not have arrived by the time that the Apollo astronauts arrived. Sometimes, it takes a technological breakthrough, or at least significant evolution, before difficult things become feasible. That is what is interesting about the Skunk Works experiment. The problems with the F-35 not withstanding, they are taking a different approach from the big government projects that are probably hampered by bureaucracy and thinking inside the box. The culture at the Skunk Works has always been one of thinking outside the box.


    article from Aviation Week and Space Technology – video follows
    Lockheed Martin aims to develop compact reactor prototype in five years, production unit in 10

    Hidden away in the secret depths of the Skunk Works, a Lockheed Martin research team has been working quietly on a nuclear energy concept they believe has the potential to meet, if not eventually decrease, the world’s insatiable demand for power.

    Dubbed the compact fusion reactor (CFR), the device is conceptually safer, cleaner and more powerful than much larger, current nuclear systems that rely on fission, the process of splitting atoms to release energy. Crucially, by being “compact,” Lockheed believes its scalable concept will also be small and practical enough for applications ranging from interplanetary spacecraft and commercial ships to city power stations. It may even revive the concept of large, nuclear-powered aircraft that virtually never require refueling—ideas of which were largely abandoned more than 50 years ago because of the dangers and complexities involved with nuclear fission reactors.

    Yet the idea of nuclear fusion, in which atoms combine into more stable forms and release excess energy in the process, is not new. Ever since the 1920s, when it was postulated that fusion powers the stars, scientists have struggled to develop a truly practical means of harnessing this form of energy. Other research institutions, laboratories and companies around the world are also pursuing ideas for fusion power, but none have gone beyond the experimental stage. With just such a “Holy Grail” breakthrough seemingly within its grasp, and to help achieve a potentially paradigm-shifting development in global energy, Lockheed has made public its project with the aim of attracting partners, resources and additional researchers.

    Although the company released limited information on the CFR in 2013, Lockheed is now providing new details of its invention. Aviation Week was given exclusive access to view the Skunk Works experiment, dubbed “T4,” first hand. Led by Thomas McGuire, an aeronautical engineer in the Skunk Work’s aptly named Revolutionary Technology Programs unit, the current experiments are focused on a containment vessel roughly the size of a business-jet engine. Connected to sensors, injectors, a turbopump to generate an internal vacuum and a huge array of batteries, the stainless steel container seems an unlikely first step toward solving a conundrum that has defeated generations of nuclear physicists—namely finding an effective way to control the fusion reaction.

    Full story here:

    PS: Here’s a link to a google search-results page on the CFR:

    Ken Robinson October 15, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    It isn’t just Lockheed working on the problem. There are several startups doing R&D on small-scale fusion. Some of them are quite well-funded (funding sources include NASA, the Navy, the Canadian government and various VCs), and some include former DOE lab scientists as founders or in senior technical positions. Their approaches are all different. I remain skeptical of all of them until something is clearly demonstrated and replicated, but there is increasing interest in the idea that fusion can be achieved without a gazillion-dollar tokamak or similar equipment. Some names for you to Google:

    Lawrenceville Plasma Physics / Focus Fusion
    General Fusion (funded to the tune of $55 million)
    EMC2 Fusion
    Tri Alpha Energy (very heavily funded, apparently $100 million +)
    Helion Energy
    Muon Fusion / Star Scientific

    I sit on the board of a poorly-funded fusion startup that has its own unique approach with a plausible theoretical foundation based on supersonic collapse of a cavitionally-induced bubble of a specific gas inside a heavy liquid. I’ve always thought that the chances of a commercially viable product resulting from its efforts are low, 5% or less. Even if the theory proves to be sound, it’s a big jump from a lab demo to commercial reality. But the investment required (couple of million or less) to confirm or refute the concept) is ridiculously low in comparison to the money that’s been spent on “big fusion” yet all our grant applications are routinely denied, so we’re left trying to garner interest from angel or VC investors. Please note that I am NOT soliciting any sort of investment from anyone here and therefore haven’t included my startup’s name on the list. Every company listed above is a competitor of ours.

    The basic point is that the age of fossil fuels will end only when a technology comes along that can genuinely compete with it on an economic basis, and there are at least glimmers of such tech on the horizon. I agree that fusion’s been 30 years away for 60 years, but I believe that in the next five years or so someone will confirm whether fusion is possible at small scales. The debacle over Cold Fusion crippled research in this field for decades (even though most of these companies are researching “hot” fusion, just at small scales). The way that the mainstream physics community responded to the concept was shameful in many regards and has eerie parallels to the way that climate “scientists” respond to skeptics.

    • “The way that the mainstream physics community responded to the concept was shameful in many regards and has eerie parallels to the way that climate “scientists” respond to skeptics.”

      Yes. It’s almost a given, scientist or not, that people are predisposed to be skeptical when its in the best interest of the status quo and not otherwise. If they depend on that status quo and it’s seriously threatened their skepticism turns into self righteously driven criticism of the messenger because the message is too disruptive for consideration.

    • LPPFusion is extremely promising, expecting short-term results. This tiny company has achieved two of three Lawson Criteria for fusion… and the LPPFusion reactor has achieved outputs that place it between 1st and 5th among all fusion devices. The company is soon to install the final configuration using beryllium anodes and cathodes with a hydrogen-boron fuel.

      This is an aneutronic machine that operates at billions of degrees C and prodices no radioactive waste.

      Meanwhile ITER is a dog that likely will never work (The torroidal radius is too large to sustain fusion reactions) … But ITER does excel at chewing up vast sums of cash.

      The smart money is on the non-Tokamak configurations like the LLFusion focus fusion configuration, stellerators etc.

      • yah sarastro92…sad though that the LPP folk intend to basically give away the tech, and that the costs are so low that the era of centralized control of energy sources would be past us all. Because big money won’t fund what they can’t control, generally-speaking. That said, Dr Lerner himself said that beyond a few million to solve the last hurdles (mostly finding robust anode materials or something like that), it was time not money that was the issue to reach prototype and production. He predicted about 4-5 years, a few years ago. They appear very close now, certainly ahead of the other main competitors. Agreed also that ITER and Tokamak dead-end tech.

      • Tiburon… you’ve misconstrued the business strategy of LPPFusion… the company plans to license the reactor technology to ensure the entire world can benefit from electric rates 100 times cheaper than current US rates… and yes the reactors are so small and compact they can be sited the way sub-stations are.

        But still there is huge money to be made in replacing the entire power generators and distribution network globally… Once installed, however, the only real costs are maintenance.

        It’s true that rent-seeking monopolists will oppose something close to “free energy” … but anyone who gets in now for pin-ball money will be sitting on a multi-trillion dollar venture. As the LPPFusion project creeps towards real ignition, investors will emerge. The bonanza is just too large to ignore. And if not in the US, then overseas.

  21. All hot fusion projects have been made obsolete by two recent developments. One is the work by Randal Mills at Brilliant Light Power, and the other is by A. Rossi with the QuarkX and e-cat. Both have been demonstrated, but are still a way from sales.

    • … and the other is by A. Rossi with the QuarkX and e-cat

      Are you serious? Rossi did never manage to demonstrate anything. He permanently refused to let independent testers reproduce his “experiments”. Bluff.

  22. “Forget nuclear fusion until they prove it superior to molten salt nuclear reactors (they can’t –…”

    Forget MSRs until they can compete with LWRs (light water reactors), hydroelectric, biomass, coal, and natural gas. These established power generation technologies account for 98% of the world’s power generation. The remaining 2% of generation with a few exceptions are technologies promoted by clueless idiots.

    I have a hard time understanding the fascinations with things that do not work very well or not at all. The power industry does not have problems safely meeting our customers needs with existing resources. We do it with insignificant environmental impact.

    While electricity is an exceeding reliable, useful and beneficial; it one of the cheapest commodities to produce.

    In other words, established technologies can not be beaten.

    For the record, wind and solar are not yet established technologies. They are example of things promoted by clueless idiot. It is a credit to the power industry that they work at all. There is nothing bad about the small amount of power that they provide.

    • From Germany:

      Many many thanks to all these “clueless idiots” who developed wind energy… simply because we lack place to store all the nuclear waste produced by our 19 LWR plants!

      Germany holds 80 millions of humans on small 350,000 km². No deserts available like in the US, India, China, Australia…

      Unfortunately, the politicians actually heading the land literally live hand in hand with the electricity producers, what has tremendously slowed down offshore wind plant building to the benefit of the coal maffia.

      • Germany does not lack the space, they lack the political will. Isolating spent fuel from human takes very little space. About the same as the hazardous waste generated from from the manufacture of wind turbines and solar panels.

        Finland is putting the waste in bore holes into granite under the existing plants. There are many viable solutions. Pick one.

      • Retired Kit P on November 24, 2016 at 12:47 am

        Germany does not lack the space, they lack the political will.

        Tell me where you live, and I’ll give you the answer appropriate to the location.

    • Retired: You are leaving out the heavy water CANDU reactors. “Today, there are 31 Candu power reactors in seven countries, as well as 13 ‘Candu derivative’ reactors in India, with more being built. Export sales of 12 Candu units have been made to South Korea (4), Romania (2), India (2), Pakistan (1), Argentina (1) and China (2), along with the engineering expertise to build and operate them. Three of the Canadian units are undergoing major refurbishment.” Some of these are burning fuel made from old bombs as part of their fuel, which is a good thing. Source:

  23. D-T fusion is bad idea because the fast neutrons it releases are actually more damaging to equipment than those from a uranium reactor. Boron and proton is a better bet.

    Other thing is, most of the projects aim to achieve ignition through compression and heating. In fact, it is much, much easier to achieve fusion by electrostatic acceleration. As little as 10kV can produce D-D fusion. The difficulty with electrostatic fusion is that the energy used in accelerating the ions is typically greater than the fusion yield. This is mainly because of the relatively small collision x-section, which means that many fail to collide in such a way as to fuse, instead liberating their kinetic energy on the walls of the vessel as heat.

    It’s a much more promising field than thermal ignition, though. For a start, it’s easily demonstrated to work. Yes, that’s right, it does work. Not in 2035. Now. The challenge is to design a machine that achieves a net energy gain. The Polywell might be one such possibility.

  24. A delay in practical fusion power would have seemed worse, had we not found a motherload of oil under TX…

    • So from 2025 until fusion takes over, we should be burning nuclear waste in molten-salt reactors if we have any sense at all. Certainly not covering the countryside in low-energy-producing gadgets that create as many social and environmental problems as they supposedly solve.

      • I’m afraid you misunderstand what happens.

        What might at best be burnt isn’t waste: it is the 5% useful fuel rest (U235, Pu239, U233) you obtain upon reprocessing the rods.

        The waste: that’s the remaining 95% (contaminated steel and U238; you can’t use the U238 as it is contaminated with U232, which is highly toxic, is neither fissile nor fertile, and acts as a fission blocker).

  25. I’ve solved the engineering problems with fusion, but for the sake of humanity haven’t published them because continued burning of fossil fuels is so critical to the survival of humanity, faced as we are by the need to green the earth and forestall the next glacial advance.

    But I’ve put the results in a time capsule, just in case.

  26. “managing a high-risk technology like nuclear power”

    Actually nuclear is a low risk high consequence technology. Release of radioactive material could hurt people. Americans have been doing it since 1955 with LWRs . No one has been hurt by the release of radioactive material under our management system.

  27. “Tell me where you live, and I’ll give you the answer appropriate to the location.”


    Nice try at deflecting the issue that Germany lacks the political will to pick a good technical solution.

    We live in a motorhome and are currently in the Mojave Desert not far Yucca Mountain. Worked on the evaluation that found that Yucca Mountain was suitable as a long term storage location.

    The lack of political will wrt to spent fuel just ended in the US until the next time we elect a democrat president.

    Before heading south for the winter, we were in Washington State near the Hanford reservation where we lived for many years. Putting high level waste in basalt formations was not acceptable because the area was covered with glaciers during the last ice age.

    I have also been responsible for spent nuclear fuel at a nuke plant.

    Based on 40 years of experience, I think nothing will happen. Store high level waste is not an engineering problem. Dry cask storage requires the area of a few tennis courts at each nuke plant.

    The interesting thing highly radioactive material is it does not stay highly radioactive for very long. After 300 years you can hold it in your hands because it becomes low level waste. It could be buried in any landfill after the useful parts are mined out.

    I do not know what the topic of fear mongering will be in 300 years and I do not care either.

  28. Nuclear FUSION is not the source of the power (light element fusion) in stars! The center of stellar bodies being under enough pressure, create “super heavy nuclei” and “deep potential wells” in which matter is converted to anti-matter, and the antimatter combines with the matter and releases energy in a pure E=mc^2 result.

    For information on this see: Read this “booklet” and realize that the Xray spectra from their “impulses” creating the SUPERHEAVY nuclei match stellar Xray spectra.

    According to the work of Proton21, stellar bodies are actually SHN accumulations at their cores, which convert matter into anti-matter by forming “deep nuclear potential wells”, see theory by Walter Geiner (RIP, 2016, October..thank you Walter!)

    I would also like to point out that in this interview of the head of Proton21 (here: The Explosive Inversion photo on Page 10 is of a dense polyethylene insulator (original form shown right). One was left near by the discharge electrodes in their test chamber. When they opened it, they found the insulator had taken the form shown on the left.

    BECAUSE the insides of these are THREADED, and the outside, SMOOTH you are able to figure out that the insulator is turned INSIDE OUT.

    Now, there are people who repeat things they are just told and believe them. There are people who go on heresay. There are people who think the NYT’s is “gospel”.Let me tell you why I’m quite sure this is real…that picture (page 10, Ademenko interview) was taken by ME at the Proton21 facility in Kiev Ukraine in August of 2005. I’ve felt it, seen the set ups, know where it was and also was able to participate with the PROTON21 staff in a couple hour speculation on what could have caused it. (Everything we came up with was FLAWED in one way or another!)

    So it’s not only a matter of the “perennial con job” of the HOT FUSION folks, but also a matter that the “standard model” is wrong. So forget nuclear fusion, it ain’t happening!

  29. Any project that has been delayed for an incredibly long time and has no results to show should be shut down. I remember once being shown as Tokamak at Princeton and wondereing why no one was working with it. The answer was and is simple: They still haven’t figured out how to make fusion work.

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