The world’s biggest scientific experiment is on course to become the most expensive source of surplus power.
Components of the €20 billion ($24 billion) project are already starting to pile up at a construction site in the south of France, where about 800 scientists plan to test whether they can harness the power that makes stars shine. Assembly of the machine will start in May. Unlike traditional nuclear plants that split atoms, the so-called international thermonuclear experimental reactor (IETR) will fuse them together at temperatures 10 times hotter than the sun—150 million degrees Celsius (270 million Fahrenheit).
Its startling complexity, with more than a million pieces and sponsors in 35 countries, mean questions remain about over whether the reactor will work or if it can deliver electricity at anything like the cost of more traditional forms of clean energy. With wind farm developers starting to promise subsidy-free power by 2025 and electricity demand stagnating, even the project’s supporters are asking whether ITER will ever make sense.
“I’m dubious,” said Chris Llewellyn Smith, director of energy research at Oxford University who has spoken in favour of the research project. “The cost of wind and solar has come down so rapidly, so the competition has become harder to beat than you could have conceivably imagined a decade ago.” Read More…
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