back to article Fusion reactor eats Euro science budgets

More than a billion euros will be channeled to the astronomically over-budget ITER fusion reactor rather than to a broad range of needy European research projects. "This will not make us friends," one senior fusion boffin, who declined to be identified, confessed to Nature, which reported the research-funding switcheroo. The …


This topic is closed for new posts.
  1. Mr Young

    They better try harder than a tokomak

    That LHC dial on 11 - can it chuck hydrogen into boron? Now that would be a coool test!

  2. Snert Lee

    Scientific solutions

    Obviously the ITER guys need to get the LHC folks to put the Higgs Boson on hiatus for a while and start focusing on that turning lead into gold problem.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      You can do it, and it has been done

      in a nuclear reactor.

      Unfortunately, it's bloody expensive- the amount of gold you produce doesn't pay for the energy and feedstock materials.

      It would be interesting to see what ITER could do if you fired stuff from the LHC into it. If it did more than nothing but less than blow up dramatically, it could be useful!

  3. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Spend it on cold fusion instead

    It's a lot cheaper and stands at least as much chance of working, if recent results are anything to go by:

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fire up the fusor

      Philo T Farnsworth's fusor has been around with modifications for about fifty years now. Unlike cold fusion where the results are still disputed it does produce reproducible results. They're also relatively cheap to build (you can make one at home if you don't mind irradiating the cat with fast neutrons), so it looks like a technology that should be investigated seriously:

      1. Chemist

        Re : Fire up the fusor

        Rubbish !

      2. Uncle Slacky Silver badge


        Bussard's Polywell looks like the Fusor done right:

        1. Chemist

          Re : Polywell

          Most of these 'references' seem more akin to religion than science

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I have every confidence in the ITER project

    and fully believe that at its conclusion cheap, reliable fusion power will still be a mere 10-15 years away

  5. bitten

    the modern philosopher's stone

    According to my great-uncle, who gave presentation of the great future of fusion in the fifties: fusion is the modern philosopher's stone

    1. ElReg!comments!Pierre

      aaaah, the fifties. But then again...

      In the fifties your great-whatsisface probably thought that we would have flying cars and non-cretinous managers and democracy in the US by now. All things that we all know will have to wait for waayyy longer than cheap commercial fusion.

  6. Prof
    Thumb Up

    Go for it

    As much as it is a shame to nick funds from other science projects, I believe there are few other things more needed right now than the clean cheap power that fusion will bring.

    Anything that advances its development has to be worth the extra cash.

    There are enough horror stories of huge budgets going to waste all over the place, at least this one is going to a decent cause

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    When they crack commercial fusion though

    It's going to make an immediate and massive difference to the world. I mean OK, so it's not a renewable resource, but it is a fuel so abundant that it's the most common matter in the universe.

    I've always been a fan of funding fusion research though, you can do nearly anything with enough energy and this could one day give us one hell of a lot of energy,

  8. batfastad
    Jobs Horns

    Not going to get any cheaper!

    When do you ever hear of scientific research like this ever getting cheaper?

    The sooner money is spent on projects like this, the closer we will be to either: 1) benefitting from cheaper cleaner energy; or 2) know that it's an impossible dream not worth chasing.

    1. veti Silver badge

      Which is likelier?:

      ... that a scientist who has built a career on nuclear fusion is going to say "We can do it, we're only 15-20 years away now, just keep feeding us the cash."

      ... or that she's going to say "It's an impossible dream not worth chasing. It's very sad, but there you have it. Might as well sack us all now."

      So while you're right - that this will never get any cheaper - we have to face the fact that no scientist, except possibly one who's on the verge of retirement, is *ever* going to issue the second of these two statements. So after >30 years of, basically, zero-rate progress, how does it make sense for us to continue writing blank cheques to these scientists? Perhaps it's time to grow up and realise that we have to draw assumption #2 ourselves.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    12 Billion is alot of cash, and any benefits - even if the experiment is successful - will be still 50 years off.

    Also the research funding comes from all over Europe, and was to be spent all over Europe - but now - once again it will all be spent on a small region of France.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      hey A/C

      the Dail Wail is calling your back to the editorial department....

      Euro waste, bloody foreigners....

      Chances are they are scientists, construction workers, designers, engineers from all over europe working on this, just as they were / are on the LHC.

      Or would you prefer the money being spent on big British projects, say the Olympics, employing nothing but ENGERLISH workers...Oh wait....

  10. ratfox


    Makes the LHC look cheap, with only 7 billions Euros or so...

    But what wouldn't we do to support the economy?

    1. Ian Michael Gumby
      Thumb Up

      Cheap energy means a lot.

      Cheap power means you have cracked a lot of other issues.

      You can grow food in green houses with grow lamps/leds.

      You have energy to make steel and other materials that you use in building shelters.

      You have cheap energy to heat/cool homes.

      You have cheap energy that will lead to space exploration of our solar system and then potentially our galaxy.

      1. Steven Jones


        Even if Fusion is cracked, then it's extremely unlikely it will be cheap. If it's anything like current design ideas the capital costs of any fusion power stations will be absolutely enormous. The costs of this would have to be amortised over the useful lifetime of the generator and that will not be an indefinite period. Any fusion reactor satruae with neutrons will eventually need replacement. Even the more conventional parts of a such a power station (turbines, generators, distribution and the like) still have a significant cost, although they are likely to be a fraction of the costs of nuclear parts.

        The best that can be said is the energy supply will (to all intents an purposes) be unlimited as we are not going to run out of deuterium. However, it's difficult to see how it will ever be cheap without an, as yet, completely new technology.

  11. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge


    > once again it will all be spent on a small region of France.

    No experience of ITER but the waste on most of these projects that I have worked on is because it ISN'T all spent in one region.

    Because all the spending gets pork barrelled back in proportion to each country's contributions you get different pieces of equipment doing identical jobs developed separately in different countries by different companies.

    Innevitably one of them doesn't work as well, so the better supplier ends up being paid to build a replacement for the second out of the spares budget - this means each bit of kit costs 2x as much as if you just let the best supplier build it.

    It's like being forced to build and support every app in Java and C# so that both Sun and MS will vote for it.

    1. Code Monkey

      Nice analogy

      [see title]

  12. Nater

    Not that much really...

    I wish the US had spend the trillion dollars we've blown invading Iraq on fusion power. I think longer term, it would have been a much better investment.

  13. Anonymous Coward

    Achilleas Mitsos?

    Is he Greek? Did he receive his pension at 55?

    Now that he is an OAP, he tells us that ITER is expensive?

    Thank you Mr. Mitsos!

  14. ElReg!comments!Pierre

    Well that's research...

    So a reactor that might open the way to groundbreaking scientific progress costs about the price of a useless fighterplane, or a fraction of a useless unarmed warship. Preposterous. Hang'em short and high!

  15. Anonymous Coward

    Nothing wrong with fusion

    As long as you know it's like rubbing sticks together then you’re fine.

    OK its very small hydrogen sticks that really don't want to be rubbed together and need to be very hot,

    But we have the technology and it's about fucking time we perfected it.

    It isn't like we ever failed to perfect anything else if we could be arsed.

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Hmmm they need $1.4 billion

    How much did saving Northern Rock cost us?

    What are the overruns on the NHS Spine?

    How much for one of BAE's crappy frigates/submarines/Nimrods?

    The UK, even in its current financial state could afford this and be seen as a visionary.

    But we won't.

  17. Graham Marsden

    Many of the world's problems...

    ... could be solved or mitigated by the availability of truly cheap power, so whilst it's a shame that other research projects may have to be put on hold, I think that putting the money into fusion is worthwhile.

  18. Noel Coward

    Not fully funded by Europe

    Europe contirbutes less than 50% of the funding for ITER. So in reality, that little corner of France is attracting significant non European invertment which will create many European jobs and generate tax revenue to prop up your ailing economies.

    Also, if it works it will be the single most important thing that has happened to the human race for a long long time.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    We will NEVER have cheap power

    Does anybody seriously expect governments/power companies to actually reduce bills even if generation costs drastically drop?

  20. Filippo Silver badge

    must have funds

    The troubling part is that the project went this much over budget. But, now that so much money has been spent, suddenly not renewing the funding would be insane - you have a massive initial investment that would go down the toilet. It'd be like buying a car, finding out it has a bad battery, and refusing to get a new battery because it costs too much.

    1. Dave 142


      Going over budget has many reasons here, largely because of delays in the money being made available has lead to large increases in the raw materials cost (particularly copper, which ITER needs a lot of). If it had been built when originally planned at the original design of pre-1998 then it would be less of a problem.

  21. Anonymous Coward

    What If Merkin Lazer ?

    If this were a merkin project to develop a new laser to evaporate someone's balls at 200 miles (not those wicked SI kilometers of course) distance ?

    That would be a great project worth 100 billions, naturally !

  22. BristolBachelor Gold badge

    Cheap at twice the price

    Now that the ID card scheme has been cancelled, and CfH is being scaled back, the UK should easily be able to afford this out of the cost overruns that those two projects would have had...

  23. Bob 18

    Economic Break-Even

    So suppose that ITER produces more energy than it consumes, the so-called Holy Grail "break even" point with fusion. If it costs $15b to build, then I have serious doubts as to whether we can ever make this stuff work in a cost-competitive fashion. Remember, nuclear fission can last us a VERY long time.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      (Thorium) Breeders

      ..could help with that. We already had the tech running here in Germany, but the soviet's incompetence in running THEIR power stations killed it.

      It was called "Thorium Hochtemperatur Reaktor" and was operating in Hamm-Uenntrop, generating 300MWe.

      Thorium would last for 5000 years at current energy consumption levels.

      And in addition, we could breed U238 into Pu239. The french had their SuperPhenix reactor doing that, but it proved to be politically inconvenient (even the frenchies have their Green Plague) and also very expensive.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: (Thorium) Breeders

        What a joke! Thorium is what everyone will turn to when the uranium runs out, but it's not a fundamental shift. If fusion is mastered, the only thing that conventional fission technology can contribute is the know-how around materials science, dealing with lots of neutrons, and stuff like that.

        And Superphénix and Dounreay weren't cancelled because of "political inconvenience" - there were serious operational problems with both of them.

    2. EvilGav 1

      Oh really ?

      $15Bn is buttons in the energy industry.

      That cost is for a scientific proving version of the technology, not a commercial version. If history has taught us nothing else when it comes to science, the first time you do something is the hardest and invariably most expensive.

      It's also only a low multiple of the cost GM spent on building a hydrogen-cell powered car.

      It's about the same cost that ID cards in the UK were thought to have ended up costing.

      The current shortfall (€1.4Bn) is about the same as NASA spent on building the lunar rover 40 years ago.

  24. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    But fuion *already* produces

    An inexhaustible supply of PhD's in Plasma Physics.

    Oh you want it to produce more electricity than it consumes.

    That's going to cost a bit more.

  25. AdamSweetman


    ITER is more a political activity rather than a scientific endeavor, its also one of the least promising approaches to fusion currently being researched. an awful lot of scientific careers are attached to ITER and its incredibly embarrassing that fundamental technical issues such as confinement still remain unsolved. Its a turkey.

    Bussard's take on the Fusor, Polywell, is looking exceedingly promising and is being funded by the US Navy, next year for the next set of results. EMC2 are looking towards commercializing the technology and seeking funding to do so. Its a more promising approach on a quicker path than ITER with a considerably lower cost.

    1. Anonymous Coward


      > its incredibly embarrassing that fundamental technical issues such as confinement still remain unsolved.

      More importantly, what do they propose doing with all those high-energy neutrons bombarding the sides of the reactor, day-in, day-out? When the tiny JET reactor fired up for less than one minute, didn't it make the vessel so radioactive that it couldn't be opened for a week?

      ISTM that even if fusion works it will be far dirtier than any fission reactor. So why waste money trying to make it work in the first place?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        re: Neutrons

        If the tokamak is running continuously it won't need to be opened :P

        Confinement and blanket material to shield the reactor are challenging, thus, this is a test reactor, to create and refine the technologies needed to produce power from fusion.

        What makes you say it'll be far dirtier than a fission reactor? Non radioactive fuels, non radioactive fuel waste, radioactive segments in machine (but then doesn't a fission reactor have, oh, i dunno, the same problem)

      2. Dave 142


        "When the tiny JET reactor fired up for less than one minute, didn't it make the vessel so radioactive that it couldn't be opened for a week?"

        No. You obviously don't have a clue.

        1. Anonymous Coward


          If it was safe to open only after a week, then may I suggest any radioactivity had a very short half-life and therefore not actually a practical problem.

  26. copsewood

    wind, wave and solar

    We've already got an excellent and relatively stable fusion reactor at a safe distance likely to burn for a few billion years called the Sun. Putting a fraction of this budget into research for better methods of harnessing the Sun's output either directly (solar) or indirectly (wind and wave) would get much better and more immediately useful results. Good fun to be able to start up your own fusion reactor for sure, and certainly worth spending a few bob on, but being able to mass produce them and being able to get the energy out of such systems at a sensible cost is likely to be another story.

    So what are the budgets for research into more probable renewable means of harnessing Sun energy outputs in comparison ?

    1. Anonymous Coward

      In Germany

      ...much more than 15 billion Euros is already being invested in Solar Power and all it did was driving up leccy prices dramatically, because utilities are required to buy it at excessive prices.

      It's not for trying, but the "renewables" are only there because the government mandates them (effectively). If you put a panel on the roof you get between 25 and 40 eurocent/kWh. Now have a look at your bill and don't forget that for each kWh of solar you need a kWh of Gas or Coal or Water to back it up in case - the sun doesn't shine !

    2. Daniel B.

      Inefficient on Earth.

      The only place where Solar energy is actually efficient is in Space, where you get the full juice without an atmosphere blocking it, no day/night cycles, and no bad weather to screw up the power output level. There is one project working on Space Solar stuff, though; it involves sending the harnessed energy as targeted microwaves to the surface.

      For Earth-based stuff, Fusion is the only thing that will be able to keep up with our power requirements.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    A vital pursuit

    We need to accept that our current civilisation will run out of power unless a new source is found - Renewables are not enough for the levels of consumption we have and the other sources are finite and running low.

    Moreover, if our civilisation should falter, we've raided the larder to such an extent that it would be impossible for a fledgling industrial civilisation to easily get started again - can you imagine the victorians managing to successfully drill a deep water well?

    So anyway, our current civilisation is probably the last chance we have and it needs power. So really we should put all the money into power research that we can instead of using it to shoot at people who bicker over religions..

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      It wouldn't be that hard to change the levels of consumption

      It has been demonstrated several times that it is possible to build a house so well insulated that it never requires heating, even in northern Scandinavia. There are plenty of opportunities to reduce energy waste in transport. Therefore, it is not inevitable that power consumption has to increase.

      I'm not opposed to research into new ways of generating power, but research into ways of saving power is probably more important, and more likely to give results in the short/medium term than fusion.

  28. richard 55
    Thumb Up

    Support this

    If there were any more deserving project, please let us all know. I can't think of one.

    1. bluearcus

      IEC Polywell Fusor

      Tokamak plasma containment fusion is a joke.

      The reactors are not clean, they (if they ever work) would be insanely big and expensive, and they make so much Neutron radiation that the reactors eat themselves alive from the inside and are essentially just as much of a danger (liquid lithium jacket!) and long-term nuclear waste problem as fusion. In terms of the physics plasma containment is like trying to make fire by rubbing sticks together, except you have billions of sticks, that are all trying to get out of your grasp, and only a tiny fraction of the damn things are hot enough that if they did rub together they might spark.

      There are other types of fusion that could really work though.

      Fusor technology has been around for decades in its original form, and one modern variant of the basic Farnswoth-Hirsch approach called Polywell could produce almost limitless totally clean, safe and cheap power with the first commercial generation underway very economically in just a decade. The research and proof of concept work is 90% done and only a small fraction of the money going into tokamaks would be needed to get it running.

      But it won't be funded because it has the potential to completely destroy the oil hegemony, and the plasma-containment funding gravy-train that currently exists in nuclear fusion physics.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        If it was that impressive

        then someone would invest in it. An oil Sheik who's running a bit low and wants to screw over his neighbours. An American who doesn't like BP. Elon Musk to ensure limitless cheap power for SpaceX and Tesla Motors. According to Wiki the inventor estimated £200M as an approximate cost for a new power producer. That's nothing in terms of big physics. And a working fusion generator would bring in returns in a short time frame. The hydrogen lot would like it. The enviro-nutter lot would like it. The space industry would like it. It would be very, very popular once the genie was out of the bottle.

        Either that, or the researchers really, really suck at promoting their ideas.

      2. brudinie

        Totally agree

        The question is not whether we have a replacement for oil - there are hundreds of potential replacement energy technologies. The real question is about political will. I would love to see the UK government grow some balls and invest in true alternative energy research - e.g. ZPE, H H O, Thorium Fluoride Fission, etc...

        Lets DITCH OIL NOW!

  29. Saopaulo101
    Paris Hilton

    money well spent?

    High risk, high pay off. if it works.

  30. Anonymous Coward

    Transfer money from climate "research"

    Piece of cake.

    Stop funding so called "climate change research" (they recently got 5 _billions_ from IPCC) and put that money something which is based on science, ie. fusion. There's several billions stolen from real sciences to that pet peeve of politicians, more than enough to fund ITER.

    The money will help climate more in there than in the pockets of so called "climatologists".

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Transfer money from climate "research"

      There's always someone whining about climate science when any vaguely related topic is under discussion. How about transferring money from the financial services business? You know, the people who invented all sorts of schemes to package garbage as "valuable" investments, have them rubber-stamped, and then traded as if they were gold, only for everyone to get ripped off when the packaging was opened. And I don't see many prosecutions, even though everyone knows who was involved.

      Climate science deserves funding because it can only improve - that's what science is about - and the alternative is just parading the Bush-crony "we ain't changing the planet, we're only one species" nonsense when, to be completely neutral, we cannot be sure what the extent of mankind's influence really is until we actually investigate it. So how about getting off your ill-informed high horse? There's plenty of money to go round if decision-makers aren't total stooges for the bankers, ratings agencies and fund managers who actually caused the economic crisis responsible for this shortfall.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    One Billion Euros

    Who really cares - money is invented from thin air, exists purely as an idea of value and has no inherent reality.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      is required.

      Hmmm .. you must be an economist!

  32. Anonymous Coward

    Only 15 billion?

    Hahahahaha ... cough, splutter!!!

    We've alread spent^H^H^H^H^H wasted more nearly that in Ireland alone ... rescuing just one b****y bank from it's own disastrous lending policies! And the taxpayer's "commitment" (huh? did I vote for this?) could even go as high as €22billion if recent reports are correct.

    Time for governments to get their priorities straight methinks!

    Bring on the scientists' revolution ... time to explain to the bankers and lawyers how useful they really are to society!

    Oops, sorry! <rant mode off>

    Nurse, it's time for my medication.

  33. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    If they

    need money for it, just get them to put a tractor on the roof

    The EU will think its a farm and then throw money at it via the CAP.

    As for the 'renewables' lot bleating about why dont we build windmills....

    to replace our power generators with wind turbines would take about 35 000 to 40 000 turbines

    Space them in a nice 10 deep row at 200 meters apart and thats a wind farm 2km wide by 600km long.

    And then we get a blocking high pressure system form.....

  34. This post has been deleted by its author

  35. elderlybloke

    Stop wasting Money

    on it.

    The Wright Bros in USA,and those in Europe around 1900,were trying to make a heavier than air flying machine .

    The mathematicians told them to stop wasting their time and money on this crazy idea, as it was clearly impossible for such a machine to carry more than two people.

    But the fools wouldn't listen .

  36. Stevie


    Eventually, so much cash will be poured into this boondoggle that it will collapse under its own weight, hopefully initiating fusion in the core of the cash pile. At least that way some results will be observed.

  37. Martin Budden Silver badge

    Focus Fusion

    I'm surprised nobody has mentioned focus fusion yet. The first reactor is under construction and has passed initial tests, it's cheap and small, and in theory it should work. Apparently.

  38. brudinie

    Waste of money

    Since the concept of fusion was first proposed all we have heard is it will be realised in another 15 years - 80 years later and we are still 15 years away!

    Here are some equally (if not more) deserving energy research projects

    1) Zero point energy (scientific FACT that it exists, debatable whether it can be utilized). Practical & theoretical scientist Arie de Geus claimed to have done this by creating a battery which forces electrons through a thin enough film to reduce the ground state of the electron and thus release ZPE. After securing a contract to manufacture the batteries he was allegedly executed whilst sat in the air port car park (just before signing contracts for manufacture).

    2) Thorium-Fluoride Nuclear Fission Reactor Tech - Actually successfully implemented by the US navy around the 50s or 60's. Much safer than enriched Uranium fission reaction technology, cheaper, more abundant, lower half life, etc... Hmmm, maybe that's why the US government bought up a lot of thorium in the 60's and then never bothered to develop it, we couldn't have the precious petro-dollar destroyed now could we?

    3) Mono-atomic Hydrogen / Oxygen technology (H H O - aka Browns gas). Proven to output a greater calorific value than the electrical energy required to create it. The trick here will be making it safe. Can be used to weld metal to glass and other weird things. Flame can turn tungsten to molten mess in a matter of seconds but is only warm to the touch. Some scientists are suggesting that the reaction with metal is actually an electrical reaction and hence why it is not dangerous when applied to the skin.

    4) Ultra-efficient H20 electrolysis - different than H H O technology described above. Uses overlaying pulsed electricity at specific frequencies to split H2 and O1 from H2O at lower energies than what can be harvested from burning the separated gas. Has been explained by Tom Bearden to potentially be using the negative-energy physics described by Paul Dirac.

    I could go on.

  39. Dave 15
    Thumb Down


    Poor show by the UK again, we already have a pile of scientists doing advanced research with fusion near Oxford - why are we going to donate yet more desparately needed UK tax payer millions to supporting foreign employment and governments? Time to keep our money at home me thinks.

This topic is closed for new posts.

Other stories you might like