Fusion power project launch date doubted

ITER, the international project to concept proof nuclear fusion technology, may be postponed. The agreed date of launch was put in doubt by some members.

At a project council meeting this week EU delegates told other participants that 2018, the planned launch date for the site, was no longer feasible, reports Nature magazine citing a source close to the negotiations. There was no official comment from ITER officials on the news however.

ITER is a multi-billion international collaboration to build a research fusion reactor. It will heat up heavy hydrogen isotopes deuterium and tritium to the temperatures of 150 million degrees Celsius, after which they will fuse in a similar manner to how what happens in stars releasing a lot of energy in the process. The heated plasma will be held together by powerful superconducting magnets.

The EU is to provide about 45% of the cost of the project, with the rest split between China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States. Originally the budget was set at $4.7 billion, but it may be exceeded by as much as double as the expenses mount up.

In June, the ITER council approved 2018 as the date for first plasma generation tests, but the schedule may be too optimistic, the magazine says.

Earlier there were concerns over participants’ ability to provide additional funding needed for the fusion reactor construction to go as planned.

The EU is responsible for buildings and other major infrastructure at the ITER site in Southern France, says Günther Hasinger, the scientific director of the Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics in Garching, Germany. «All the big European components are needed early on,» he says, warning that the 2018 date leaves little margin for error. «It's an extremely risky schedule.»

Planning such a complex project is difficult, says Neil Calder, chief spokesperson for ITER. «I think it is worth taking the time to get it right.»