Sunday, March 23, 2008

ITER project - The only real problem is time

ITER is joint international research/engineering project that has its goal to provide future electricity from fusion power. Fusion reaction releases energy when two light atomic nuclei fuse together forming heavier nucleus and this released energy could well be main future energy source. ITER's main goal is to harness nuclear fusion as the future energy source and if all goes well this project should be enough to satisfy future energy needs. ITER research team includes scientists from all over the world as they try to build first electricity-producing plant that would use nuclear fusion to generate electricity.

Countries participating in ITER project. Click on picture for full size.

ITER construction costs are very high (around 10 billion Euros) but are relatively small compared to potential this project carries. Countries involved in ITER project are European Union (represented by EURATOM), Japan, People’s Republic of China, India, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation and USA, all big time players on energy market.

ITER is a tokamak, in which strong magnetic fields confine torus-shaped fusion plasma. The device’s main aim is to demonstrate prolonged fusion power production in deuterium-tritium plasma. ITER should also produce more power than it consumes because most of the plasma heating comes from the fusion reactions themselves resulting in a reduced need for outside heating source. ITER should be capable in providing test technologies and other processes needed for future fusion power plants - including superconducting magnets, components able to withstand high heat loads, and remote handling.

Big day for ITER project was 21st November 2006 when ITER agreement was officially signed when ministers from the seven Parties of the international nuclear fusion project ITER sign the agreement to establish the international Organization that will implement the ITER fusion energy project. It's true that success of this project could stop dependence on fossil fuels and their harmful environmental effect if and when ITER becomes economically viable and since fossil fuels emit greenhouse gases this could really be a turning point in fight against global warming.

However there are some opponents of ITER project saying that nuclear fusion has the same problems as nuclear power (nuclear waste, possible nuclear accident and danger of terrorism) and that we should really turn our sight and funds to renewable energy sources that are safe to use and are already available and not needed to wait for, like ITER project is. This all looks to be true, especially the last part about focusing on renewable energy, especially since climate is changing rapidly and renewable energy is really all we have to fight global warming at this moment, and focusing on ITER is really putting billions of dollars toward a project that could show its worth in only 30-50 years.

Can we wait that much, or to put it even better, can Earth wait that much to something that indeed has a great potential but is not 100 % sure to be economically viable nor fully functional? These reasons despite great potential of ITER project really deserve more attention from ITER involving countries as we may not have enough time to invest huge funds in something that could show its full potential after couple of decades.

Cutaway of the ITER Tokamak. Click on picture for full size.

Time is the biggest reason why ITER doesn't deserve full focus because time isn't currently on our side and main focus (funds) should be set to renewable energy sector where there's already enough knowledge to start fight against global warming and where we could start immediate action.

All other reasons concerning the same problems as the ones of nuclear power are really secondary problems because ITER has much safer working principles than nuclear power stations (and even new nuclear power stations have proven to be very safe with maximum safety measures on). Of course there will be always potential danger as soon word "nuclear" is mentioned but benefits of ITER (if it comes true and current progress is positive) should more than exceed these negative sides. But as mentioned before, ITER needs time and this is ITER's main flaw because humanity needs immediate action before it's really too late. Of course ITER is great project with tremendous potential, but it shouldn't be getting all the attention and the funds that follow; it should really be a second hand project, just behind renewable energy projects which really need our full attention, not in 30-50 years, but right now.

1 comment:

hawk said...

I predict that there will be problems in containment and inner contamination of the fields. Like most areas where you are on the cutting edge, there are unintended consequences of being bold and some might say reckless.