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 simple:
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!)
Bethe, Hans 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.
Encyclopedia Britannica (1999)
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 simple questions:
<![if !supportLists]>1. <![endif]>Are you quite certain of the stability of fuel particles, deuterium and tritium, up to or near temperatures where they are expected to fuse?
<![if !supportLists]>2. <![endif]>If yes: Does any literature anywhere carry this empirical verification for these two specific particles?
<![if !supportLists]>3. <![endif]>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
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 Technology
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
fusion power 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, leakages discounting.
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.
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>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.]
<![if !supportLists]>· <![endif]>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.)
The Hard Evidence
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 criteria…
 Phys. 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. Takahashi.
 Phys. Rev. Letters, 69, 2164-2167 (1992); “First observation of bound-state b- decay”
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. Sümmerer.
Summary Report of an IAEA Advisory Group Meeting, March 1999; pp 99-105
[Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung,
The impact of nuclear masses and lifetimes for both nuclear physics and astrophysics is also addressed.
Schottky mass- and lifetime-spectrometry of unstable, stored ions, Fritz Bosch, J. Phys. B: At. Mol. Opt. Phys. 36, 585-597 (2003)
Says geochemist Douglas Hammond of the
University of Southern California (USC) in
Tweaking the Clock of Radioactive Decay, Richard A. Kerr, Science 286, 882-883 (1999)
Sorry, Dr Hammond: There are no exceptions.
In physics, if there is even a single exception to a rule, then that rule is wrong.
"The exception tests the rule." Or, put it another way. "The exception proves that the rule is wrong." That is the principle of science.
If there is an exception to any rule, and if it can be proved by observation, that rule is wrong.
Richard Feynman (Nobel 1965), The Meaning of It All, Addison-Wesley (1998); p 16
In the tokamak, the radioactive tritons, too, would suffer the same fate of a shortened half-life, not to mention the “stable” deuterons.
The 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,
Sorry Dr Born, Dr Einstein,
Simply in Newtonian space and time, keep the mesons in their high motions of origin, and they'll have an extended life.
Conversely, reduce the speed of any such decay-prone mono-nucleonic shrapnel or whole particle, and death comes sooner.
In the lab, this is easily demonstrated today with (the mono-nucleonic) neutrons by reducing their ambient temperature (and, thereby, their speeds).
The next box bears testimony.
(See 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,
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
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:
(1) Fusion Energy and
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
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
20 June 2006
– The ITER Letters –