The ITER Test
A simple low-cost test for viability of the
International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor
First, even to
those of us who are not very technically inclined, the test proposed here is
very much analogous to the following.
The high-octane gasoline molecules in your
automobile tank are breaking up en route to the cylinders due to conditions in the feed line; and a good part of the fuel is splitting into
butane and even lower alkanes before reaching the plugs – now with hard
evidence from a reputed garage.
It is simply the
reason for the fuel’s poor antiknock performance and the car stalling no sooner
it’s on the road.
Going for a
bigger-sized car is obviously not
the solution. Hence, my request is
Start up the car;
let it idle awhile; shut down and cool the engine; extract a fuel sample from
the feed line;
and convince yourself
– it is still the original gasoline.
(I'll pay the mechanic and the garage time upfront!)
Albrecht …He received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1967 for his work on
the production of energy in stars. …In 1939 Bethe calculated the Sun's
energy production, which results from the fusion of four
hydrogen atoms (each of mass 1.008) into one helium atom (mass 4.0039). No
direct fusion is possible, but Bethe showed that the probabilities of the four
steps of the "carbon cycle" can account for the energy output. A
carbon isotope of mass 12 reacts successively with three hydrogen nuclei
(protons) to form the nitrogen isotope of mass 15; energy is produced through
the fusion of a fourth hydrogen nucleus to release a helium nucleus (alpha particle)
and the original carbon isotope.
And so came to be writ large the doctrine that the Sun and
stars are fusion machines. The ITER Project today is based on that belief.
Sadly, though, observations now are revealing to us an
entirely different picture of the workings of the stellar reactor.
Here, however, we consider a more urgent and
down-to-earth problem relating simply to fuel stability – in light of
disturbing reports from a closely related field. After reading this page, even
a non-technical taxpayer may want to ask the ITER funding agencies just three
Are you quite certain of the stability of fuel particles,
deuterium and tritium, up to or near temperatures where they are expected to
If yes: Does any literature anywhere carry this empirical
verification for these two specific particles?
If no: How is it even ethical then to build the ITER before unequivocally
confirming that these particles will be there at all, intact at around a
hundred million degrees Celsius, to fuse and produce the energy – especially in
view of conflicting findings in a closely related field?
JET [the Joint European Torus,
situated at Culham in the UK]
is the world's largest nuclear fusion research facility…
JET is the only tokamak in the world capable of
operating in a tritium environment with ITER-relevant plasma facing components.
[The ITER is to be located in the southern French town
The goal of fusion research is a "burning
plasma" – fully ionised gas self-sustained in an extreme state by power released
from fusion reactions of its atomic nuclei. The burning plasma would then
provide a new powerful, clean and safe source of energy. To achieve this, we
need to overcome two major challenges. First, to ignite the plasma,
temperatures in the order of hundreds of millions of degrees centigrade must be
reached i.e. the plasma must be heated sufficiently. The second, more difficult
challenge, is to sustain the plasma at these temperatures by confining and
controlling it in order to maintain its density and ensure that it does not
suffer excessive heat losses.
Focus On: JET and Fusion
Ladies and Gentlemen:
With all due respect to your lofty goals and related
endeavors, there is yet a third challenge.
It is a submicroscopic one, much more unyielding, to say
the least, than the two macroscopic ones you highlight above.
Without much further ado, let us start with a very simple
test to also understand what it is.
A simple and low-cost test of the high-energy fusion theory
The primary fuel
today in many high-energy fusion experimental labs is deuterium.
In the tokamak, for
instance, the working plasma is usually composed of 50/50 deuterium/tritium,
the fuel mix required for practical
production; and refueled by injection of high-velocity frozen D-T pellets. (T
is bred separately from the tokamak.)
The plasma temperature
for commercial fusion is now reckoned at 100 million degrees Celsius.
facilities, it may well be worthwhile to perform the following simple, yet
critical, make or break test.
1. Fire up the nuclear boiler and bring it to only about 30 million degrees
Celsius (well below fusion temperature).
2. Shut down the boiler, but not completely.
3. Maintain the plasma at minimal temperature and extract a sample of the
fuel material from the boiler.
4. Cool the sample down and determine the fractional weight content of
deuterium and tritium in the sample.
5. Repeat the above four steps at least twice but without adding
any fresh fuel to the plasma.
It is hereby predicted that, classically inexplicable
though it be –
a progressive decline in the content of D and of T will be observed,
the fourth state of matter here, such tests are not easy; the next box suggests
a procedure more practical.)
In the plasma, the fuel material is in the form of ions – nuclei (deuterons and
tritons) and electrons.
Classically, since the binding energy of the deuteron will be sufficiently
greater than its kinetic energy in the (low-temperature) plasma, the deuteron
should not dissociate. In a like manner, the half-life of the radioactive
triton, too, should not be affected, that is, according to prevailing theory
(on which the ITER is based). The samples retrieved for analysis, therefore,
should remain prime and not show signs of premature depletion – such as any
undue amounts of helium-3 from increased decay of tritium. However, as
explained in Fusion Energy,
the latter will be seen to be the case, since, contrary to current thinking – environment does influence life; half-life not excepting.
Since our concern
here is primarily stability of D and of T half-life with temperature rise, one
could consider simpler tests such as the following.
At the various plasma labs already experimenting with
tritium, presence of any undue helium-3 could be checked out in the plasma
chambers when each experiment is over; that is, for any classically
unaccountable amounts of He-3 from the premature decay of T. This would entail
analyzing the chamber walls as well. [Note: Detection of any excess He-3 would
confirm that T half-life had indeed dropped; but its absence, though, would not
conclusively bear out stability – since T (and any He-3) could have instead
dissociated completely into its constituent nucleons. Hence, the presence of
He-3 only would be of consequence here, not its absence.]
Other plasma labs, too, could investigate the half-life of
T, and even the stability of D and He-3, with increasing temperature, say, in steps
of 10 million degrees Celsius. (Classically, T has a half-life of 12.4 years;
and D and He-3 are both stable and occur in nature.)
International Atomic Energy Agency
With the advent of a heavy-ion storage
ring at GSI, it has become possible to strip all outer electrons from an atom.
For some ionized atoms, the nuclear decay characteristics; e.g., T
1/2, level scheme, etc. undergo major changes. Two main
examples published in recent literature are for 187Re b- decay  and 163Dy b-
decay . The half-life of fully ionized 187Re decreases by a factor of about a billion from that of
the neutral atom while neutral 163Dy is stable and occurs in nature.
Since these factors have implications in nuclear structure as well as in
astrophysics, these must be included in ENSDF with appropriate retrieval
Rev. Letters, 77, 5190-5193 (1996); “Observation of Bound-State b-
Decay of Fully Ionized 187Re: 187Re-187Os Cosmochronometry”
F. Bosch, T. Faestermann,
J. Friese, F. Heine, P. Kienle, E. Wefers, K. Zeitelhack, K. Beckert, B.
Franzke, O. Klepper, C. Kozhuharov,
G. Menzel, R. Moshammer,
F. Nolden, H. Reich, B. Schlitt, M. Steck, T. Stöhlker, T. Winkler, and K.
Rev. Letters, 69, 2164-2167 (1992); “First observation of
M. Jung, F. Bosch, K.
Beckert, H. Eickhoff, H. Folger, B. Franzke, A. Gruber, P. Kienle, O. Klepper,
W. Koenig, C. Kozhuharov,
R. Mann, R. Moshammer, F.
Nolden, U. Schaaf, G. Soff, P., Spädtke, M. Steck, Th. Stöhlker, and K.
Report of an IAEA Advisory Group Meeting, March 1999; pp 99-105
[Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung, Darmstadt,
Germany] is presently the only facility
where unstable, highly charged ions far from stability can be produced by
in-flight fragmentation and subsequently stored and cooled in an ion storage
impact of nuclear masses and lifetimes for both nuclear physics and
astrophysics is also addressed.
mass- and lifetime-spectrometry of unstable, stored ions, Fritz Bosch, J. Phys. B: At. Mol. Opt. Phys. 36, 585-597
Says geochemist Douglas Hammond of the
University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles: "Everybody always assumes radioactive decay to be
totally independent of temperature, pressure, and chemical form. It
seems there are some exceptions." ...When Fritz Bosch and his colleagues
at the Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung in Darmstadt, Germany, stripped
away all the electrons from rhenium nuclei, something that might happen in a
star's harsh interior, its half-life plummeted from 42 billion years to 33 years [that's from
42,000,000,000 to a mere 33]. But, until now, researchers have detected only
tiny variations (or none at all) in the decay rate of beryllium and other atoms
under Earth-like conditions...
Tweaking the Clock of Radioactive Decay, Richard A. Kerr, Science
286, 882-883 (1999)
Dr Hammond: There are no
physics, if there is even a single exception to a rule, then that rule is
exception tests the rule." Or, put it another way. "The exception
proves that the rule is wrong." That is the principle of science.
there is an exception to any rule, and if it can be proved by observation, that
rule is wrong.
(Nobel 1965), The Meaning of It All,
Addison-Wesley (1998); p 16
the tokamak, the radioactive tritons, too, would suffer the same fate of a
shortened half-life, not to mention the “stable” deuterons.
test here is simply to find out, not if, but, rather – to what extent.
When a cosmic particle hits the nucleus of an
atmospheric atom (nitrogen or oxygen), new particles are produced which are
called mesons; their mass is
intermediate between that of the proton and the electron. These primary mesons,
called π-mesons, are unstable
and decay after a short lifetime into another, lighter type of mesons and
electrons and other light particles. The π-mesons
can also be produced artificially with the help of the large, modern
accelerating machines (cyclotrons, etc.); these artificial mesons are
relatively slow and their lifetime is practically the same as if they were at
rest. Thus one knows the proper lifetime To
= 10-8 sec. of the π-mesons.
Now if the velocity of the cosmic mesons were as large as that of light, the
distance travelled by them would be only cxTo = 3x1010x10-8
= 300 cm. But π-mesons of very
high energy are observed on sea level. How is it possible that they penetrate
the atmosphere, travelling a distance of about h = 30 km. = 3x106 cm. during their lifetime? This
paradox is resolved by taking into account the dilation of time…
Max Born (Nobel 1955), Einstein's
Theory of Relativity, Dover Publications, New York (1965); pp
Dr Born, Dr Einstein,
in Newtonian space and time, keep the mesons in their high motions of origin,
and they'll have an extended life.
reduce the speed of any such decay-prone mono-nucleonic shrapnel or whole
particle, and death comes sooner.
the lab, this is easily demonstrated today with (the mono-nucleonic) neutrons
by reducing their ambient temperature (and, thereby, their speeds).
next box bears testimony.
also ‘The Life of the Neutron’ in The Neutrino for more
on the basics.)
The ultracold neutrons can be stored in "neutron
bottles,"… Populations of about 100 neutrons have been retained in such
vessels, but the storage times are considerably shorter than the
half-life of the neutrons against their natural radioactive decay, and the
nature of the extra loss mechanisms is not yet fully understood.
Encyclopedia of Physics, Second Edition, USA (1993); p
Tower of Babel
The fuel in high-energy fusion
reactors does not remain prime up to the time fusion temperature is reached.
The test outlined above is best done, without delay, at the Joint European
Torus (JET), being the only device capable of operating with the same fuel and
materials planned for the ITER.
Simple and low-cost, the test is
at least to convince ourselves that this premature depletion of deuterium and
tritium does not occur, as current theory would have us believe, and that their
nuclei do indeed remain wholesome to collide with one another indefinitely and
at the required number and intensity for reactions to proceed at a useful rate
for power production.
However, the fact remains that,
so far, not a single hot
fusion reactor worldwide has ever even notched anywhere close to breakeven
point. It goes only to show that what we are feeding instead is mostly turbulence
in these machines. The sudden drop in the rising temperature in a saw-tooth
manner is but the consequence of the fuel particles absorbing (so-called
binding) energy as they spontaneously dissociate in the violence of their
environment (that also lacks the all-important rhythm for systematic fusion and
product discharge). In other words, the very fuel we feed for fusion
proliferates into contaminants in the confining medium that strives to prevent
impurities from defiling the plasma and reducing the fusion efficiency.
It's over sixty years now; but
the only consistent result we have had to date is this increasing instability
in the working fluid. It took less time from Kitty Hawk to the Sea of Tranquility,
in aviation research using classical mechanics. Isn't something fundamental
amiss here with fusion research using modern quantum mechanics? A €10-billion
sum of taxpayers' money for a trial, unproven reactor seems most unreasonable
under the circumstances. Regrettably, the ITER is only destined to go down in
history as the Tower
of Babel of
as Tokamak's achievement was, the $1.6 billion machine [the Tokamak Fusion Test
Reactor at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory] generated only one-eighth as much
power as it consumed [in the four
seconds or so that the test lasted]. The next day the reactor managed to
generate more than 5 million watts. But even its eventual goal of 10 million
will still be only half of the incoming
energy... When scientists began working on fusion half a century ago, they had no idea the process
would be so hard.
Blinded by the
Light, Michael D Lemonick, Time, 20 December 1993; page 54
Sustainable nuclear fusion is not
a random or a blindly ramming process. It's a highly precise and rhythmic
one. Moreover, high-energy fusion can never sustain itself in our neck of the
cosmic woods. (Fusion becomes energy efficient only in the ultimate mass
centers of our universe – the Cosmic Cores.) For more on these finer insights
into the nature of things, do click on:
a request for the above test was extended to JET/EFDA, offering full and
upfront payment of costs. Letters to the US Department of Energy and to the US President
two specific Science news items, one before
and one after my letter to the White House, I would like to think that there
has been an indirect response to my appeal. A reevaluation of at least the US commitment
to the ITER Project may now be underway. For more on these, please click on: The ITER Letters.
– The ITER Letters –
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