ITER -- Will a weed eventually bear fruit?

A very interesting article on the International Torus Experimental Reactor (ITER) being slowly built in France. It might be subtitled “How not to do science & engineering”.

ITER fiasco will accelerate the progress of fusion - Asia Times

Key author quote: “In my view, the ITER project was ill-conceived from the beginning, predestined more to hinder than to promote the speedy realization of fusion power. Among other things, the preeminent status accorded to ITER in international fusion research has provided an excuse for defunding work in other directions.

An approximate timeline drawn from the article:
1986 - International agreement to build a giant Tokamak fusion reactor.
1988 - Conceptual work began on reactor design.
2001 - Final design approved.
2010 - Construction began, startup projected for 2016.
2023 - Reactor not yet finished, still having construction problems.
2025 - Current official (but infeasible) projected date for initial reactor startup/testing.
2035 - Current projected date for start of actual reactor operation with deuterium/tritium fuel.

In the meantime, a number of alternative approaches to fusion power have been shut down for lack of (government) funding. It makes one wonder what the situation would be if the Greenies who infest the halls of government had spent less money on subsidizing windmills and more on funding multiple lines of fusion research?


It is interesting to note, however, that most of the innovative approaches to fusion in the last two decades have been privately funded efforts, mostly outside the government-academia “big fusion” axis. I don’t think this is coincidental. Other than wartime crash programs driven by survival versus an adversary, government programs “succeed” by spending money (carefully spread around the territories of the solons who support them), creating lots of “jobs”, and producing incremental reports sufficient to justify their continued funding year in and year out unto eternity. What government programs must not do is engage in high-risk, high-reward experiments where “failure” is not seen as having learned yet another way that doesn’t work but rather reason to terminate the project and spend the money on something that more directly buys votes.

With regard to space exploration and settlement, Robert Zubrin said, “NASA used to spend money in order to fly missions. Now, they fly missions in order to spend money.” It is much the same in other fields of Big Science. Former NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said that NASA would never have developed first stage re-usability for its rockets as SpaceX did because NASA could not afford to fail as many times in a row as it took to figure out how to do it. SpaceX did not have to justify its failures to a funding agency or report them in its “progress” reports. Elon Musk could joke about “We’re getting back bigger and bigger pieces every time”, but a NASA administrator who said that would find himself being grilled by people who last did math in senior high school and quickly learn what “serves at the pleasure of the president” means when the president is displeased.

All of this is to say that if that government money were directed into innovative fusion programs, it is more likely to kill than to accelerate them. We should be happy independent groups are pursuing these different pathways with the market culling those that do not produce results.

Fusion energy or any other abundant and clean energy source is the Greens’ worst nightmare. As Robert Zubrin described in his 2012 book, Merchants of Despair, theirs is, at the root, an anti-human agenda, worshiping at the altar of Saint Malthus, despite centuries of evidence falsifying his doomsday prophecies.