Biggest Nuclear Boondoggle Ever: Taxpayers, Pull out Your Wallet, Costs Exploded Again

How the Nuclear Energy Lobby Eats up Global Taxpayer Billions

The well-funded lobbyists of the powerful nuclear energy industry are tirelessly working over governments around the world. Occasionally, there are minor setbacks, such as Fukushima or the current multi-billion-dollar scandal around the decommissioning costs of California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant, that threaten to expose just how horridly expensive nuclear power really is for taxpayers, ratepayers, and other stakeholders, from conception of the plant to final decommissioning and proper disposal of nuclear waste and contaminated materials – none of which has yet been accomplished and paid for.

But here’s the project that was first conceived in 1985, is still far from completion, and has now thrown back the date of first power generation to 2035, if it can ever be accomplished, and there are grave doubts it can.

The hoped-for experimental power generator would be a capacity of a measly 500 megawatts, or about the capacity of 62 top-notch wind turbines, generating electricity in places like West Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. A farmer can put up a few of those on his fields for extra income. At an installed cost of about $1.5 million per MW capacity, a utility-scale project of that size might cost $750 million. And the wind is free.

A smallish natural-gas-fired power plant generates that much power and costs even less, but the gas is not free. Bigger plants generate four times as much.

But it’s still considered sort of a research project. So OK. And it has now come up with new cost estimates which, so to speak, exploded. Taxpayers in the US and around the globe are on the hook.

Our hero is the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), currently being cobbled together in Cadarache in southern France. The backers include taxpayers in the US, Europe, Japan, China, Russia, Korea, and India. In the end, it’s trying to generate electricity from a sun-like nuclear fusion process. This goal has now been moved out to 2035 at the earliest.

The project’s Director-General, Bernard Bigot, told The Nikkei that there will be big delays and that construction costs will exceed the most recent estimate in 2010 by €5 billion ($5.5 billion). This takes the current cost estimate to €20 billion ($22 billion).

This time, Monsieur Bigot blamed rising labor costs.

In 2010, the original cost estimate had already been raised by €6 billion, from €9 billion to €15 billion. So in about a decade, the cost estimate has jumped from €9 billion to €20 billion, or by 122%! The Nikkei:

Costs snowballed as assembling the reactor with parts contributed by project members proved more challenging than initially thought. As a result, the ITER decided to delay heating of the first plasma until 2025 and achieving full-power fusion until 2035.

Once again, Monsieur Bigot was confident about meeting the newly delayed targets.

But I suspect that a few years from now, cost estimates will once again explode, and at the current rate, they’d hit about €26 billion by 2022, when further big delays will be announced. The chart shows the development of the estimates (dark blue) and what I think the revision will look like in a few years (in red):


Now remember, this project may never generate any electricity, and if it does, its capacity will max out at the level of 62 of today’s top-notch wind turbines.

On its propaganda site, ITER remains relentlessly optimistic:

One million components, ten million parts … the ITER Tokamak will be the largest and most powerful fusion device in the world. Designed to produce 500 MW of fusion power for 50 MW of input power (a power amplification of 10), it will take its place in history as the first fusion device to create net energy.

Note the phrase: “to create net energy.” That’s the hard part with fusion. Fusion has been accomplished, but so far it takes more energy to get fusion to occur than the fusion itself releases. Hence, net loss of energy. So not a good deal.

The additional costs will be allocated to the taxpayers of the ITER member nations, unless governments put a stop to this money-suck in Southern France.

The Time line of the project:

1985: Project conceived during summit between President Reagan and USSR General Secretary Gorbachev

2005: Cost estimate: €9 billion. Decision to site the project in France

2007: Formal creation of the ITER Organization

2007-2009: Land clearing and leveling (that was the easy part)

2010: Cost estimate raised to €15 billion

2010-2014: Ground support structure and seismic foundations

2012: ITER becomes a Basic Nuclear Installation under French law

2015: The first large components were delivered to the ITER site

2016: Cost estimate raised to €20 billion

For the rest, uncertainty reigns. The ITER Timeline still says that the year when “Deuterium-Tritium Operation begins” is “tbc” – to be confirmed.

Whether this happens or not by 2035, if ever, after many more billions in cost increases, by then probably pushing total costs past $40 billion, hundreds of companies and thousands of investors, engineers, government functionaries, and others will have walked away with one of the biggest taxpayer-funded boondoggle kiddies the nuclear energy lobby has ever been able to conceive.  We still don’t know how they got President Reagan to carry their water at that summit.

In the US, something strange happened with nuclear energy. In 2011, right before the Fukushima meltdown, and even a year afterwards, an unchanged 57% of Americans were in favor of nuclear power. But now, for the first time, the majority of Americans opposes nuclear power. Read…  What Happened to Nuclear Power in the US?

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  114 comments for “Biggest Nuclear Boondoggle Ever: Taxpayers, Pull out Your Wallet, Costs Exploded Again

  1. Nicko says:

    ITER and other fusion efforts is the holy grail of energy. It’s the ultimate renewable energy source. $40 billion? That’s just over a month of oil consumption for the US. The cost is peanuts in comparison to the global economy. Not to mention, associated technology spin-offs.

    In a world approaching 10 billion people in a little over thirty years, the earth will not survive without such advancements. I’m not sure if you’ll be alive to see it, but I sure will be.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Did anyone ever find the Holy Grail? Nope.

      • Thorium reactors.

        Well, that’s just my opinion . . . . . based on what I have learned
        from my betters.


      • Flying Monkey says:

        No but they did find the Castle Anthrax….. That is even better… ;)

      • BD Mac says:

        I’m sorry, but poor analog.

        Rightful exposé on the budget failures of ITER and possible staffing mis-managements, however please don’t diss this particular technology for all our sake.

        Let’s first separate nuclear industries since the article has convoluted two of them by mentioning the CA reactor.

        Fission is dirty (radioactive for 100,000’s+ years); yes a big mess of an industry technologically/safety-wise and from cost perspectives it would appear as well. The waste issue alone should’ve negated it as a global power source but we had a WWII so it got a pass it would seem, To aggravate frustration towards the “nuclear” industry further we’ve got the most recent revelations regarding TEPCO corruption, and the 3-mile island and Chernobyl accidents that still seem pertinent each time there is a Fukushima incident. Health scares about that industry will last for generations to come and rightfully so; a mess by any standard. I think it’s safe to say that even though fission nuclear power is highly efficient in terms of energy density, it is a fact that even uranium will run out within a couple hundred years at current projected burn rates and that its toxic waste will outlive the human race in all probability (buried somewhere). Without digressing further by mentioning thorium based reactors possibly saving the current mess of the fission nuclear industry (the design/theory type which was basically skipped after WWII in order to produce an insane amount of plutonium for weapons during the cold war); the whole fission industry is soon to be dead, gone, finished during this century. Maybe medical isotope reactors will run on a small scale, and nuclear fission subs still running around doing cold starts (hopefully not), but fission was birthed in a coffin. It’s only a matter of time before the final nails are in it. It will not be what supplies planet earth with the bulk of commercial power for the next millennia.

        Now, to deconvolute, with regards to the above explanation of fission power: FUSION, IS NOT FISSION, and an entirely DIFFERENT nuclear energy industry/project. I’m sure you know this. I just wanted to point it out to any readers that aren’t as up to date on the nuclear subject.

        At ITER a FUSION experimental reactor, proof of concept reactor, they’re trying hard to make theory turn into practice; a commercially practical source of power. Please be clear about this in your reporting. The two industries are very separate. This FUSION nuclear technology needs to be given the chance to evolve without the non-tech skeptics lumping in it with the failed fission industry (because of their mistakes and cost-overruns similar to what ITER is experiencing). The fission industry as it is just getting by year after year providing what it can with the outdated reactors (few new builds are making it to groundbreaking events in the West). That industry still with all it’s drawbacks provides 10+% of the world’s electricity supply (solar is only 1% but moving up quick). And you’ve got some philanthropists like Bill Gates and others trying to resurrect fission with TWRs, breeders, and LFTRs, but more and more it looks like that ship has sailed because of the “mess” aforementioned. Doubtful that’s the future. However, fusion just might be; just could be the main electricity producer.

        I’m not a nuclear industry professional, but I am a scientist and engineer in several fields, and you “non-techs” can please do all us green types a favor and do some more research on high tech before slamming an industry like fusion industrial power into the dirt and lumping it with the fission mess. Wind has it’s environmental drawbacks too, so does solar, they all seem to, but I think the former two are great going forward (the direction away from fossil fuels/fission), and will evolve in terms of cost and generation efficiencies over time, but they’re not the final chapter to energy production methods.

        As the post by Nicko above points out, the world is getting way too crowded and we need energy that can be produced in large quantities, very inexpensively (once the tech has matured), and with a virtually infinite fuel source (fusion farms the oceans for tritium/deuterium). If an energy source like this isn’t tapped soon and put to work, then the medical industry better get real good and fast with vasectomies (that’s only partially a joke). Cause we’ve reached or are reaching the limits to growth in a finite world (yes I’m preaching to the choir @ Wolfstreet sorry, but it needs to be said in light of the topic).

        Read this (it’d dated but gives u the basics): ( to get a good idea of just how GREEN fusion power will be (past tense; already is). It’s been a pipe dream since the 50’s but now plasma physics and material scientists are finally catching up to what’s needed to engineer such a colossal challenge as fusion. It needs time. Not extreme criticism.

        Last time I looked Wolf, the SUN was still up in our sky, still fusing hydrogen into helium following Einstein’s E=mc^2 equation to the last particle providing us with heat and light. I’d say that that is one of many “holy grails”, and it has been noticed at least, just needs to be engineered to be found. Note: I’m trying to not be crass here, just pointing out maybe something that has been taken for granted by all of us each day. If u remember; many cultures used to worship the Sun. Our spirtually bankrupt culture of politicians and banksters that seem to wanna run the show into feudalism and pre-enlightenment eras could learn a thing or two from the ancients. Maybe we all can.

        In all honesty, I don’t think by even 2050 fusion power will be producing commercial power (it’s that great of a challenge), but that doesn’t mean we stop the research and development (even if it’s billions and over budget). We’ve got the greatest example of the theory in operation going on right in our daytime skies. Let’s go with what works.

        Sorry for the diatribe. I just know (from reading this site for 5 years now) that you guys get pulled into the whirlpool of negativity (for all the right reasons I’ve inferred) when we live during overtly corrupt times especially in the world of finance you guys mainly report on.

        But hey in regards to the economy, no worries, Donald or Hilary will save us right? You watched the last two debates; u know what I’m saying. I’m psyched 2 C their plan take shape.


    • RepubAnon says:

      I wouldn’t call fusion “renewable” – once the hydrogen is fused into helium, it’s done. Of course, there’s lots of hydrogen around…

      I wouldn’t hold out much hope for practical fusion reactors, though. The joke: “practical fusion reactors are 20 years away – and always will be” is a painful description of the current state of the effort.

      • Chicken says:

        And, there isn’t much helium around as far as I know, unless some of the new natural gas wells are producing it.

        • Bob says:

          It consumes hydrogen, not helium. Hydrogen is plentiful (each water molecule has two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen)). Helium is what is produced by the fusion of two hydrogen atoms with the release of energy.

        • StanFL says:

          It will consume deuterium and tritium, rare forms of hydrogen. Tritium must be produced, as it rapidly decays. Deuterium lasts forever and can be obtained from water.

    • We have -and use- an operable fusion reactor already. It is far enough away to operate safely, i.e. it will not contaminate us in operation, in an accident (release of tritium, doubling the atmospheric tritium concentration in one accident alone) or after decommissioning, although it will probably blow up our planet some millions years in the future: our sun.

      • Dan Romig says:

        Buckminster Fuller stated the same thing back in his remarkable book ‘Critical Path’ in 1981. I tend too agree as well.

        Tepco’s Fukushima has done in the Pacific Ocean with radiation leaks.

    • Gregg Armstrong says:

      Fusion power works great in science fiction novels. But, humanity will never make it work in the real world.

  2. Lars says:

    Our Sun does NOT run on a fusion powered core as the current mainstream consensus physics community hypothesizes, our Sun is ELECTRICAL in 97% of its processes. Only about 3% of its energy output is a result of nuclear fusion processes in the outer layers above its surface, the other 97% of its energy output comes from its electrical processes.
    So, what are the French really spending all that money on ?

    • Vasile says:

      Very interesting, didn’t know that. Would you care to point me to some relevant technical/scientific sources of info? Thanks.

    • nick kelly says:

      It’s output may be electrical (its radiation is electro-magnetic) but the energy is created by the fusion of hydrogen atoms. Mass is transformed into energy in the process-the sun is constantly losing mass. As the formula E=MC squared indicates, you get a lot of energy from not much mass
      No process electrical or otherwise can produce power from nothing- this violates fundamental laws of physics- the conservation of mass and energy. Neither can be destroyed but one can become the other.
      As late as the 1930’s it was thought that the sun might only be 100K years or so old, because its fuel would have been used up by then.
      And it would have been if anything other that a matter- to- energy reaction was occurring e.g a chemical combustion of some kind.

      • ITER uses the fusion of deuterium (D) and (radioactive) tritium (T). Each D-T-fusion produces an intermediate nucleus which emits a neutron having an energy of 14.1 MeV and is thereby receiving a recoil energy of 3.5 MeV.

        These 17.6 MeV are
        (1) mostly turned into radiation, which Lars and Nick referred to as electrical energy, but part of the 17.6 MeV is
        (2) dispersed in nuclear reactions mostly in the reactor structure, e.g. for breeding T from lithium, and render stable reactor structure radioactive.

        The radiation energy (1) ends up as thermal energy and is eventually converted by turbines into electrical energy like in conventional power plants.

        Because of processes (2) a fusion reactor power plant poses a radioactive hazard.
        (a) Containment of the bred T inventory in an accident is yet unsolved, and its release from one fusion power plant might double the present atmospheric tritium concentration on the earth.
        (b) The waste from fusion power plants contains radioisotopes with similar half-lives as waste from fission power plants. Comparing the hazard of fusion and fission waste is presently not possible because we do not know enough about waste behavior
        (*) in the repository,
        (*) in the isolating rock formations enclosing the repository,
        (*) in the biosphere and food chain and ultimately
        (*) in the living organisms (particularly its long-term radiation damage).

  3. Charlie says:

    Wolf: You seem to be confusing apples and oranges. Fission reactors are a tried and true, practical and safe method for generating electricity, and there are several hundred such operational reactors world-wide. There are no operational fusion reactors at this time, because they are not, as you point out, currently practical. Also, for every installed wind turbine, a back-up power system is required to generate electricity during times when the wind does not blow; this inconvenient fact more than doubles the cost of wind power. As Nicko indicated above, nuclear power is ultimately the only practical means of generating electricity if fossil fuels are to be eliminated from the energy mix.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Are you KIDDING me: “…Fission reactors are a tried and true, practical and safe method for generating electricity…”

      How can you STILL say this nonsense after Fukushima and Chernobyl?

      And check out the total costs of decommissioning these plants, including San Onofre in California. NOTHING is more expensive and impractical long term than nuclear power.

      How much does the industry pay you to spread this nonsense?

      • Jean Monti says:

        I agree with you wolf, nobody know really where put nuclear garbage for more 1000 years minimum with not risk for future generations.
        About put cleaning energies when not sun or wind have a smart solution.

        • CrazyCooter says:

          If my understanding is correct – Thorium Molten Salt Reactors could actually (slowly) eat the waste through their processes – particularly the nasty stuff. The reactions in TMSR happen in a liquid – so fuel can be burned 100% – unlike fuel rods/pellets which sort of work like a cigarette when you smoke it as the physical changes make it physically unstable and only 30% or so of the fuel can be used before recycling is required. All those spend fuel rod pools are 60% unburned nuke fuel – scary!

          However, thorium can’t be weaponized – so it was abandoned in the 60s in favor of our current set up by which the militarized nuclear outputs are subsidized through the production of nuclear based electricity – and why the industry is so heavily subsidized.

          I think our current nuclear energy model is a complete clusterf**k – but what else isn’t – health care? pensions?

          After my own personal digging/reading/etc, I came to the conclusion that if humanity wants to have the lights on in 1000 years, we are (1) going to have to reduce the population by orders of magnitude and keep it there or (2) scrap our current nuclear infrastructure in favor of thorium based technologies.

          And lastly, I would point out the supply chain for our current nuclear industry is INSANE energy intensive – there is a LOT of energy that goes in to mining uranium where only a fraction of a percent of that ore (which is a small fraction of the rock mined/crushed/processed) is the proper isotope – which itself requires extensive processing such as centrifuges and what not. This is almost never included in the efficiency talk of nuke reactors.



        • Lars says:

          My estimation is that all nuclear reactors are designed with the main purpose of creating fissionable materials as a byproduct of the electric generating cycle, thus the non-use of the thorium process. This is also why the US Govt had agreements with numerous nations that we helped build nuclear reactors for, Japan, Korea, India etc, to take away their spent nuclear pellets, although it seems we never did take away any or much of their nuclear waste. This was initially so that they wouldn’t have the ‘depleted uranium’ (DU) so as to make DU munitions (in the 1980’s), which we used extensively in the two Iraq wars (1991 and 2003), as DU munitions are the ‘ultimate weapon’ against armored vehicles and heavy artillery. Scientific American had a dynamite article shortly after the first gulf war, in the mid 1990’s, exactly diagramming DU artillery rounds, and how they fly, and how they work. I have searched for it online, but suspect it has been deleted. I had a subscription to SA at the time and was totally amazed they’d have this kind of national security breach of an article. (should have saved that issue !)

        • Shoot it into the sun riding, inside of hardened cargo containers lifted by Russian heavy lift vehicles

          Safety could be an initial design element, rather than an afterthought, for a change.


      • DogmaSkeptic says:

        It is misleading, possibly disingenuous, to call fusion power “nuclear” power because it equates fusion with the existing fission industry and technology. The differences are too great, and lay readers will assume fission problems also apply to fusion when they don’t.

        For example, unlike uranium, fusion fuel will be essentially limitless and free (deuterium comes from seawater) like solar/wind, and the fuel and waste are not highly radioactive lethally toxic corrosive heat-generating metals that remain so for thousands of years like all fission types are, nor a large volume like coal ash. This article fails to mention that and the reader has to assume fusion has fission problems. There are other positive comparisons for fusion vs fission (can’t meltdown/Fukushima, no waste fuel storage…)
        Moreover, the “powerful nuclear power industry” lobby that is working over the worlds governments is exclusively for fission operations; it would be more precise to call it the Fission Industry. FI lobbyists don’t work for fusion because large portions of the fission industry will go obsolete when fusion is implemented (e.g. uranium mining/purification, waste storage/transportation, the “tried and true” reactor builders, etc).

        ITER and other ongoing fusion experiments are international research projects which, like space telescopes, are not structured or budgeted to be productive industrial-style. The science and engineering of plasma physics involved in designing fusion reactors is about where solid state electronics was in 1970; it’s too early to tell what the technology will look as it matures. For example, some research at MIT suggests that fusion reactors may be much more efficient at 1/10 the scale of ITER; small cheap reactors at the city/county scale is a plausible scenario. Trillion-dollar reactors are no more likely than billion dollar computers was the only future in 1970.
        Fusion energy science might be farther along if it’s success wasn’t so threatening to the oil and fission industries.

      • Al says:

        There is another way, with Thorium, Molten Salt Reactors, (this one is safe, uncontrolabe chain reaction can’t happen, it is just not possible since chain reaction does not produces extra neutrons, oposite, you need to feed it with neutrons and once you have a problem and emergency shut down, beam of neutrons that is artificially supplied is gone and reaction/reactor stops) you can use some depleted fuel from todays nuclear plants as fuel minimising radioactive waste this planet already have. They are safer, there is more Thorium than Uranium… there is quite a list of pros. The biggest cons? It can’t be used for producing military grade Plutonium and it never got a green light… Cant pull the name out of my head, something like liquid salt thorium something…

        • Thomas Malthus says:

          What is the point of discussing technology that has not proved to be feasible — and does not exist?

          We may as well discuss the merits of teleporter systems — how to fight the Klingons — and how we can fly at 5 times the speed of light.

        • Coaster Noster says:

          Thorium has its problems. I was favorably bent toward Thorium, until I read an article (Sci Am?? just don’t recall) that pointed out the many problems with Thorium that the booster do not discuss. After reading that….well, I figured thorium is not the answer either.

          Ocean wave energy will be the ultimate wind collector (waves are generated by wind, over hundreds of miles of fetch). However, human workers out at sea is vastly expensive. Autonomous seagoing vessels will be required to make it a viable energy source. And, those are the jobs of the future. Instead of nuclear subs and aircraft carriers, that don’t turn on a single lamp in my home, people building robot ships, to install large field arrays of ocean wave converters, which will power our society and provide jobs.

        • Jason says:

          Replying to Malthus- Molten salt reactors do exist, or at least did.
          “The Molten-Salt Reactor Experiment (MSRE) was an experimental molten salt reactor at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) researching this technology through the 1960s; constructed by 1964, it went critical in 1965 and was operated until 1969.[1]

          The MSRE was a 7.4 MWth test reactor simulating the neutronic “kernel” of a type of inherently safer epithermal thorium breeder reactor called the liquid fluoride thorium reactor. It primarily used two fuels: first uranium-235 and later uranium-233. The latter 233UF4 was the result of breeding from thorium in other reactors. Since this was an engineering test, the large, expensive breeding blanket of thorium salt was omitted in favor of neutron measurements.”

          A quick search on wikipedia shows that a working prototype was built, on a budget of 2 million (about 14 million in todays dollars) per year- so about 112 million over the programs 8 total year run in todays dollars. Unlike fusion the problem was not that we can’t get it to work, but that more research was required to create an economically viable reactor- the basic principles work, it is just a lot of engineering details need worked out. The cost to develop a reactor suitable for wide scale use was estimated at 400 million (2.8 billion today) so even including inevitable cost overruns, we could have safe nuclear energy for 1/100th of the cost of the f-35 project.

      • EyesWideOpen says:

        Exactly … the things are simply cash-cows that have only been around for 50-60 years, and the decommissioning costs have ALWAYS been considered, by their corporate boards, to be a cost absorbed 100% by governments left holding the hot potato – which is technically a bailout – when the profitability maxes out and the shareholders bailout into the hands of carbon hating morons looking to ‘diversify’ away from ‘dirty coal’ [muppets]. Nuclear Power corps should never have been allowed to be limited liability structures, and anyone who says they have been ‘safe and reliable’ are simply avoiding the much greater costs down the line from the seemingly cheapish energy costs they have provided in the mid-term.

        Corporate Nuclear – LIMITED LIABILITY COMPANY (in every way).

        Government Nuclear – Originally and ultimately a tax payer concern.

        … whilst all the cheap coal is demonized because of ‘toxic CO2’ pollution (plant food fertilizer).

        This world is totally ruled by ‘Professionals’ [criminal fraudsters] and the mass of Proles are the crop who are just lovin their servitude.

        • d says:

          “… whilst all the cheap coal is demonized because of ‘toxic CO2’ pollution (plant food fertilizer).”

          Humans need water and salt to live.

          Now go and eat 2 kilos of salt, in 1 sitting.

          If you survive.

          Go an drink 40 liters of water in 1 sitting.

          If you are still alive, think about the above, and balance, and the thing you wrote about producing TOO MUCH CO2.

      • Doug says:


    • Lee says:

      Well in the state of South Australia they went for renewables big time.

      Right now in that state there is 979 MW of electricity being generated.

      Of that 80 MW is from gas, 56MW from small scale solar, and a whopping 843 MW from wind.

      And what happens when the sun the sun doesn’t shine and the wind doesn’t blow? Well…………

      They import power from Victoria at huge market rate prices which has caused South Australia to have some of the highest power prices in Australia.

      Guess what happens when the wind blows too hard and the wind power turbines have to be shut down…………..

      Or it gets really, really hot in summer and the demand soars……………..

      • Thomas Malthus says:

        as I have posted Germany has run into exactly the same problem and are building coal fired plants at a rapid clip – and they are now operating two systems and paying some of the highest power rates in the world

        one has to wonder who made the decision to go down this road

        surely a 7 year old could figure out that the sun does not always shine and the wind does not always blow — and that people and businesses actually prefer to have the power on 24/7

        epic stupidity

        • CrazyCooter says:

          Not if you made a boat load of money selling the snake oil in the first place – that is smart (albeit unethical).



        • Thomas Malthus says:

          Corruption must be involved… no government could be so collectively stupid to do what Germany has done

          Oh wait — California is headed in the same direction … and Spain….

          Then of course there is the 7500 tax rebate on electric cars in the US — and the billions handed to Tesla — the so-called green option haha

          Green Cars Have a Dirty Little Secret

        • marty says:

          Not epic stupidity, but epic corruption. The whole alt energy complex is one giant scam, feeding off the “global warming” canard.

    • d says:

      “Also, for every installed wind turbine, a back-up power system is required to generate electricity during times when the wind does not blow; this inconvenient fact more than doubles the cost of wind power. ”

      This is an anti renewable straw man argument.

      all who make this argument refuse to concede the two styles can run in conjunction, wind solar tidal flow and hydro can run in conjunction with gas fire systems to produce a continuous reliable and much greener supply of electricity.

      Gas fired plants idle cheaply and start extra turbines in minutes. (They actually start them with a small bomb)

      I used listen to one shut down and start extra turbines very quickly twice a day (It was a good alarm clock). To cover the peak demand periods. The rest of the energy on that circuit is hydro.

      Not every country is monopoly bound and archaic like the US which dosent even have a continuous mono priced national supply grid, the only word applicable to that situation is Primitive.

      • CrazyCooter says:

        But you must concede there is a balancing act going on here – if all of the power for a system was generated from “green” sources, but wasn’t always available, the “dirty” sources would have to recapture all their capital+return from the periods in which they were able to produce. The fact that they spin up quickly makes them suitable – but there are other considerations as well – such as what is power sold at from a unit that only operates 20% of the time compared to the cost of power from a unit that operates 80% of the time? The latter is going to produce power at a cheaper cost. And, if allowed to be profitable (hint: it won’t be there if it isn’t), 10% capacity utilization or lower is going to be brutally expensive.

        So, in some situations these things can work together (as I think you correctly point out). However there will be other situations where the “green” stuff is overbuilt and lifts costs, perhaps significantly, because overcapacity is never a good investment!

        I think renewables are great (I am burning 100% hydro generated electricity right now posting on WS) and I made lifestyle choices (with consequences) that align with that – but I think there is too much “feel” and not enough “think” when it comes to this subject (broadly speaking – not directed at your post) and that makes it hard to strike the right, sensible balance that is “greener” and “still affordable” – so this subject inevitably turns into a us-vs-them sort of debate.



        • d says:

          “but there are other considerations as well – such as what is power sold at from a unit that only operates 20% of the time compared to the cost of power from a unit that operates 80% of the time? ”

          we resolved this decades ago, power is sold into the grid by generators at x, z, c Etc and comes out at y, industry, has a maximum demand peak period extra charge meter system. The rest is averaged out. With a margin to maintain and increase the grid, the grid has never long term lost money.

          The profit of the grid and the salary’s of the grid employees are controlled by an interdependent body. Its easy.

          America has to many Corrupt rent seekers, and politician’s hence will never master it.

          You want a power system that delivers energy to the society, or a power system that lines the pockets of corrupt rent seeker’s (The American system). You cant have both.

          Yes the grid is a monopoly, however it has a public Trust body standing over it, to ensure costs, namely salary’s (There are no Bonuses) and staff numbers stay low.

          America broke up Bell . Stupid.

          America would have been better served. if a Public trust body had been placed over the board to control its activity’s, in the public interest. Gouging, Excessive Salary’s staff numbers and bonuses not being in the public interest.

          America is a good example. of how not to run a: Democratic, Capatilist, socially and environmentally responsible system.

          Power, Rail, Communication, Water, and Road grid’s. are important national security item’s. They will never function properly, or in the interest of society, whilst corrupt rent seekers, are allowed to control them, or parts of them.

          There will probably be SOME dirty energy production facility’s required for several decades at least.

          The requirement is to keep them at the barest minimum % required to provide energy supply security . Which you (in Particular America) will never do, with corrupt rent seekers in the grid system.

        • Marty says:

          ” if a Public trust body had been placed over the board to control its activity’s, in the public interest.”

          Yes, oh I agree. Well just find a few saints that will always make the correct decisions to rule over us and make the world a better place.

          See, that was easily solved.

        • d says:

          “Yes, oh I agree. Well just find a few saints that will always make the correct decisions to rule over us and make the world a better place. ”

          State run, Bloats, and fails.

          Corporate run, Gouges, and fails.

          Corporate run, with state oversight, Gouges, Bloats, and fails.

          Corporate run with public trust oversight.
          Seem’s to work as the politicians dont go for the trust boards as the salary or meeting fees are to low, and they are term limited. Just enough public interest, anti corporate, anti everything, greenie lefty’s, get on them, to keep everybody honest.

          This system may not work in the current American or European systems, as both are simply to corrupt. If the American and European system’s are not improved, the nations /unions will implode.

          There is occasionally talk of a union between Canada and the US.As way of eliminating the insane US constitution and political system’s, has merit.

      • Thomas Malthus says:

        Um – Germany has some of the highest electricity costs in the world.

        Germany is building record numbers of coal fired plants.

        The sun does not shine at night or when it rains.

        Windmills produce no power when it is not windy.

        BMW and Klaus van Wienerbanger actually would like to be able to turn on a light at night.

        Therefore the Germans have no choice but to build coal fired plants — they can’t just build a few of them — they need to build enough so they have 100% back up power.

        Which they have done. Because businesses and people demand round the clock power.

        When you operate more than one system to do the same thing — the costs skyrocket.

        And that is why Germany pays double what the US does for its electricity.

        Sorry to burst your solar powered bubble. But those are the facts.

        But many companies, economists and even Germany’s neighbors worry that the enormous cost to replace a currently working system will undermine the country’s industrial base and weigh on the entire European economy. Germany’s second-quarter GDP decline of 0.6%, reported earlier this month, put a damper on overall euro-zone growth, leaving it flat for the quarter.

        Average electricity prices for companies have jumped 60% over the past five years because of costs passed along as part of government subsidies of renewable energy producers. Prices are now more than double those in the U.S.

        “German industry is going to gradually lose its competitiveness if this course isn’t reversed soon,” said Kurt Bock, chief executive of BASF SE, the world’s largest chemical maker.

        One government estimate projects the Energiewende by 2040 to cost up to €1 trillion, or about $1.4 trillion, or almost half Germany’s GDP and nearly as much as the country spent on the reunification of East and West Germany.

        Yet nearly 75% of Germany’s small- and medium-size industrial businesses say rising energy costs are a major risk, according to a recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Federation of German Industry.

        A similar percentage of the U.S. companies operating in Germany said the Energiewende had made the country a less attractive place for business, according to a separate poll by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. And for the first time since 2008, German companies cited rising overall costs at home as a motivation to invest abroad in a recent survey by the German Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

        “Germany’s current path of increasingly high-cost energy will make the country less competitive in the world economy, penalize Germany in terms of jobs and industrial investment, and impose a significant cost on the overall economy and household income,” warned Daniel Yergin, vice chairman of research firm IHS.

        BASF, which consumes as much electricity every year at its main German plant as the entire country of Denmark, said in May it would substantially reduce its investments in Germany as a result of the country’s energy policy. It said its plan for the next five years is to cut investment in Germany to one-fourth the €20 billion global total investment, from one-third currently, and that it would invest in Asia and the U.S. instead. BASF has more than 50,000 employees in Germany, about half the company’s total workforce.

        SGL Carbon, a maker of carbon-based products, in May decided to invest an additional $200 million to its plant in Washington state on top of $100 million previously invested instead of investing in its home base of Germany. The company, which makes carbon fibers used to lighten the body of BMW’s new electric car at the Washington facility, said electricity at the site costs less than one-third German rates.

        And there you have it…. this ‘renewable’ policy is driving investment out of Germany to places where electricity is far cheaper.

        Perhaps Wolf could write an article on what is the mother of all boondoggles!

        • d says:

          Germany goes coal, 1 after foolishly shutting down it nukes with out a proven capacity replacement, 2 as it does not want its energy to be dependent on Russia.

          Otherwise it would go gas renewable combination instead of coal renewable combination, which is what it is doing ,not what you claim coal only energy..

          I have never had an all solar/renewable bubble to burst.

          I have always known that a combination including at least gas, is necessary.

          You live in a country that combines, solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, gas and a little oil and coal.

          Yet you continuously beat the shill drum, fossil is the only way.

          Your snide sarcastic and caustic comments are unnecessary and i try not to reply in the same vein.

        • I (being a German) disagree on your description of the economic side of renewable energies. The German government’s Sachverständigenrat für Umweltfragen gives details that are quite involved

          A more simplified and rather crude explanation for my dissent with you is based on the crowdsourcing (EEG-Umlage) of the renewable energies costs, i.e. 6 cents/kWh which adds up to 0.7 – 1.5 € per day and average German household of 2.3 persons. With this we had an exponential growth of the renewables.

          But I agree with you: According to the WGBU, another council of our government, we are about to completely transform our society:

  4. Bruce Adlam says:

    With a lot of the world’s population in decline I’m not so sure we will get to 10 billion people

    • Felix_47 says:

      Have you spent any time in Afghanistan, Iraq or India or Pakistan recently? How about Honduras? I have and these are dystopian hell holes…..rapidly exploding populations and limited resources. Africa with birth rates exceeing 6 per woman comes to mind as well. The standard of living for the masses is dropping rapidly. Really the only real money coming into these places is from Uncle Sam. None of the natives want to stay in these places….they dream of the US and Germany or Sweden and are doing all they can to get there. Just as science enabled us to prolong life world wide we need to do our best to progress. Lack of CO2 neutral and conflict neutral energy is leading to all our current conflicts worldwide and the war budget worldwide is a lot higher than what is being spent on ITER. Unless we are prepared to aerosol spray sterilization chemicals over the world or force sterilization or force birth control like the Chinese do we have any other choice? The technical challenges of fusion will throw off economically useful technologies just as radar development in WW2 threw off semiconductors, digital computers, transistors etc. If we cannot develop this energy is our only solution going to be endless war? We are not going to feed billions without factory farming, power implements, and all the technology we can muster.

      • Thomas Malthus says:

        Global Population Explodes Higher by 90M

        The PRB’s Population Data Sheet for 2016 reveals that world population grew by 90 million over the last year, even higher than the 89 million estimated for 2015.

        That’s like adding another Philippines to the world … in one year

  5. Smitty says:

    Sounds like a really big “model”, not an actual economically viable machine.

    I’d scrap it and pull out immediately, let Slim Helu and Bill Gates fund the glory-with their cash.

    They can’t even make solar work.

  6. Raymond Rogers says:

    None of these should be subsudised. If solar, wind, and nuclear cannot operate in the free market system, then the heck with them.

    The problem with humanity is overpopulation. You wouldn’t need to worry about hoaxes called “climate change” and energy needs if there was less demand. With this we have to ask ourselves should we live in a world of ten billion with a North Korean standard of living or with less people with a higher quality of life?

    • night-train says:

      So, you are saying that Exxon was lying in the late 60s when their top notch interdisciplinary science team discovered that man’s activities were altering the climate?

      • Thomas Malthus says:

        There is no way to stop climate change without collapsing the global economy.

        So what is the point of the debate?

        I am 100% for burning more coal and more oil and more gas — because we have no choice

        • d says:

          You are wrong and you know it.

          There is a simply way to solve the problem.

          And many others at the same time.

          Population management.

          This will however impact the profits of the fossil fuel industry’s you shill for.

          So you will deride it, and the green energy replacements for fossil, as usual.

          You are just like your fossils a dinosaur.

      • CrazyCooter says:

        I disagree – unless we are engaging in pedantic debate.

        The Earth has gone though cycles before were CO2 was DRASTICALLY higher than it is today – in extreme cases to the point of ocean anoxic events (which ironically is where we get our oil as these conditions created the source rocks for some of the largest fields in production today).

        Humanity is a flash in the pan and is probably low on the list of “all time greatest transformers of Earth’s biosphere” given its (1) age and (2) the kinds of really insane things that have happened. Sort of the George Carlin line of thinking on the subject.

        In 100 years we will be drag racing plow mules in summer in hopes of making the next race – because indivudually we can be amazing, but in large groups we just can’t help but act like idiots. If this wasn’t true, the graveyard of old empires would be empty.

        Enjoy the day!



  7. Emanon says:

    Wolf, I think that you don’t understand the state of the art of fusion reactors.

    They are still experimental scientific and engineering projects rather than commercial enterprises, such as the 100 or so power reactors that generate about 20% of the electricity in the USA.

    Fission and fusion are two completely different processes. Fission, like inmates doing hard labor by breaking stones in prison, takes big atoms (uranium and plutonium) and makes them into smaller atoms. Fusion takes small atoms (hydrogen (tritium isotope) and helium) and makes them into bigger ones.

    The escalating cost of ITER is a good thing to question, however. It’s the old dilemma of big science vs. little science. Some things, such as particle accelerators, require big multi-billion-dollar investments. Fusion might actually be made commercially viable sooner if a dozen smaller projects are allowed to try higher-risk strategies, rather than doing One Big Project and nothing else for the next two decades.

    We just need to find one working solution, so if we gamble on ten cheaper projects and nine out of ten fail, then we still will have solved the problem with just a 10% “success” rate.

    The MIT fusion lab was just shut down as the DOE is diverting its budget to ITER. They mentioned that the records that they set there may not be broken for 15 years. That’s way too long to accept as a gap in active research.

    A good article on the MIT lab’s last day of operation (Sept. 30) is here:

    • Wolf Richter says:

      I fully understand the experimental nature of this.

      The point in this article: why should taxpayers pay tens of billions of dollars/euros to enable the nuclear industry to chase after its next big dream?

      We already know about the nightmare that its fist big dream has turned into: who pays for the damage caused by meltdowns? Who pays for decommissioning aging reactors? (check San Onofre for an answer). Who pays for putting nuclear waste into storage that will be safe for 100,000+ years? Currently, nuclear waste is just temporarily stored….

      We know who is NOT going to pay: the nuclear industry (stockholders, bondholders some with government-guaranteed bonds, executive compensation packages, pensions, etc).

      • Emanon says:

        Fusion research is still a scientific and engineering research project.

        It is NOT directly connected with commercial nuclear power companies because right now there are NO commercial fusion reactors. Nobody even expects to build any for at least 10-15 years.

        Does it make sense for the world to hedge its bets by spending a few billion a year for the next 20 years on something that may not even work?

        Well, yes. That’s why we research stuff in the first place: we don’t KNOW if something is workable or not.

        Compared to the trillions of dollars that will be invested in fossil fuels over the next two decades, it’s a relatively cheap hedge.

        We know that fusion can work as a power source because the sun has been using it for over four billion years. It remains to be seen if humans can get it to work here on Earth as a practical source of power.

        • d says:

          To many of those billions are ending up in french pockets having never been anywhere near the reactor project.

          This is what is being missed.

          The corrupt socialist french have taken this internationally funded project and turned it into another benefit the french, cash cow. Just as they have done with agriculture in, and with, the whole EU system.

          There is no other explanation for cost overruns of such nature.

          How could the Russian’s and American’s be so stupid as to let the totally corrupt french have a controlling interest (By the fact of it being in their territory) in such an investigative project.

          Yes it is worth investing in some R &D to see if it can be done, but not where and how it has been.

        • Bob says:

          Thank you, Emanon, for emphasizing that in many respects this really is basic research. And basic research never can promise results. You have made the point I wanted to present far better than I could have. I don’t mind paying for research such as this. It’s far better than the proposal to “modernize” our nuclear weapons at a cost of $1 trillion as proposed by Pres. Obama. Now THAT is a waste of money.

      • mark says:

        From what I’ve been reading, some significant research is being done in the private sector. Here’s one summary article highlighting a few of the players. Who knows if any of them will work in the end, but its nice to see some different ideas being tried.

  8. nick kelly says:

    Wow! I thought this was just another reactor nightmare story- dime a dozen, well a few trillion for a dozen, then I read FUSION!!!

    I’ve taught high school physics and like to keep broadly informed and I had no idea that the weird lab experiments where you inject a million times the power you get out to create a fusion process for a few nanoseconds- had progressed to the point where someone was going to produce a commercial reactor.

    My first question: where in heaven is the prototype? How long has it been operating?
    Please don’t tell me someone is trying to go from the blackboard to commercial production without at least a one- tenth scale reliably working prototype.

    Anyway- I’m off to read about developments in the field, which sure haven’t leaked out into the press.
    I’ve heard of Tokomak (sp?) but only in connection with lab work.
    I guess I’m falling behind.

    To the comments about progress going forward -great- but in measured steps. commercial production being the last one.

    • nick kelly says:

      On Friday Sept.30 2016, MIT’s Tokamak reactor set a record for the plasma pressure creating the high temperatures necessary for fusion.
      (Tokamak means contained by magnetic fields because a physical container wouldn’t be heat resistant enough and would also leach heat from the reaction, putting it out)
      The reaction lasted for 2 seconds.

      The one being built in France will be 600 times larger. The only logical reason for skipping the normal progression can only be that this size is necessary to produce a sustainable reaction. In other words (mine cuz I’m not sure what these guys are thinking) a one- tenth scale or so prototype wouldn’t work. Go big or go home ( where maybe you should have stayed)

      The amazing thing is a that such an iffy dream can be financed not as government research but as a commercial venture.
      These guys must be super salesmen. Sell the sizzle takes on new meaning.

      Far out baby, far out.

      • humpty Dumpty says:

        You and d and others have it right – a French govt operated research project is by definition a rat hole down which innovation, money, time and sanity will be squandered – there are very smart people in these projects that have zero control of the money that is doled out to satisfy political interests. For a primo example in the US look no further than the Hanford site where generations of families have ‘worked’ to accomplish nothing because it is in their interest to never succeed at the cleanup. The labor costs at Hanford are staggering, indefensible by any measure and of course, untouchable. Keep drinking.

    • nick kelly says:

      Sorry read intro a bit too fast- (never comment before reading!)
      It is an experimental project- not a commercial reactor under construction.
      It was so expensive I didn’t realize it at first.
      Well if France is in fact picking up half maybe it makes sense for the US and others to kick in.
      After all if the US just decides not to invade somewhere, the savings could pay for the whole thing 20 or 30 times over.

    • Mike B says:

      In addition to the ITER there is another more radical design that might solve some of the fundamental problems with the tokamak design.

      As I understand it, the computing power needed to design the complex superconducting magnets of the stelerator wasn’t even available until the late 80’s and the computer controlled machining and precision welding technology needed to build the containment vessel has only recently become cost effective.

      The ITER was the first out of the gate because it’s an ‘easy’ design but that doesn’t necessarily make it the most effective and that ALSO doesn’t mean that the fundamental concept is impossible. Just very very difficult and complex.

      As others have pointed out, a reliable, durable and cost effective fusion reactor would be a game changer for humanity on par with the taming of fire and the invention of language. I don’t consider it a boondoggle.

  9. Atilla says:

    What I often wonder is why Tidal power is never given any press. Cheaper than fission and more reliable than wind (unless someone Nukes the moon!).

    Possibly it’s a permitting thing. Underwater turbines would seem to be a sure thing with enough investment.

    • Wolf Richter says:

      I read about them quite a bit – so they’re getting at least some press.

    • MC says:

      The UK and France experimented a lot with tidal power back in the 60’s.
      The two big problems with it are environmental and maintenance costs.
      Even if one cares nothing about environmental costs, high speed turbines and salt water don’t go that well together. This means scheduled and extraordinary maintenance will drive costs up, to say nothing of the need to manufacture turbines and their ancillaries in corrosion-resistant materials.
      With natural gas cheaper than it was in the 80’s even using official inflation data, it makes very little economic sense.

      • d says:

        If you set them up in association with big freshwater rivers, and use sluices to create the continuous waves, what salt water issues.

        Much friendlier than dam’s

    • nick kelly says:

      Canada’s Bay of Fundy has been eyed for tidal for 50 years, with several working experimental turbines.
      The problem with wind is it’s intermittent, so is tidal but the intervals are predictable. This means if you want power to be available all the time, a given, you have to either store the power, or have other back up you can switch on quickly.
      In spite of the endless hype re: Tesla batteries, there is no practical means of storing large amounts of electricity.
      The most cost effective method of storing power on a large scale is to use it to pump water up hill, then let it run down to drive a turbine as desired.
      Everyone has areas of interest- I think small hydro run- of- river projects look good where I live because small creeks turn into raging torrents.
      But this is the time you need electric heat.
      There is no dam in run- of-river but of course the projects have all kinds of opposition, as does wind.

  10. Merlin says:

    Waste is the never-solved issue. In the photo below, every cylinder of depleted uranium ever used at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant since 1952 is still there.,-88.8111003,848m/data=!3m1!1e3

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Thanks for the link to the image. Great shot! This unresolved situation with the waste is really terrible.

      • Korkin says:

        The used nuclear fuel during long time is successfully processed in France and Russia. Result of processing is MOX-fuel reception.
        On August, 17th 2016, Russia.
        “The Beloyarsk atomic power station (it is located in Sverdlovsk area, Average Ural Mountains) has placed in operation on a total power its fast neutrons of the power unit № 4.”

        Main objective БН-800 – full testing of elements of the closed nuclear fuel cycle that allows to involve in operation now not used uranium-238 (depleted uranium) of an isotope which repeatedly to expand fuel base of atomic engineering to reduce to a minimum of a radioactive waste and for a reuse of the fulfilled nuclear fuel in other reactors.

        The ultraliberal economic policy led the American nuclear industry in decline and loss key Competences. I agree, now it is too difficult and expensive to the USA and Europe.
        I am sorry for bad grammar.)

      • WTFrogg says:

        The location of this “storage site” is even scarier: Really close to a major fault line ……

        Is the human race getting dumber or is it just my imagination ?

    • nick kelly says:

      And what if that waste falls into the wrong hands?
      You need immense technical know-how to produce even an A-bomb.
      You need almost no knowledge to make a dirty bomb- you just need the radio-active waste. To this you attach conventional explosive, which scatters the waste in a cloud.
      One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.

      • Chicken says:

        How safe is the waste from some kind of terrorist attack, are the containers easily broken open?

        • Thomas Malthus says:

          Better still… what happens when the economy collapses (as it will) and there is chaos…

          There are 4000+ ponds around the world…. this is what happens if a SINGLE ONE is not managed:

          Assuming a 50-100% Cs137 release during a spent fuel fire, [8] the consequence of the Cs-137 exceed those of the Chernobyl accident 8-17 times (2MCi release from Chernobyl). Based on the wedge model, the contaminated land areas can be estimated. [9] For example, for a scenario of a 50% Cs-137 release from a 400 t SNF pool, about 95,000 km² (as far as 1,350 km) would be contaminated above 15 Ci/km² (as compared to 10,000 km² contaminated area above 15 Ci/km² at Chernobyl).

          A typical 1 GWe PWR core contains about 80 t fuels. Each year about one third of the core fuel is discharged into the pool. A pool with 15 year storage capacity will hold about 400 t spent fuel. To estimate the Cs-137 inventory in the pool, for example, we assume the Cs137 inventory at shutdown is about 0.1 MCi/tU with a burn-up of 50,000 MWt-day/tU, thus the pool with 400 t of ten year old SNF would hold about 33 MCi Cs-137. [7]

        • The best and brightest are working on novel solutions to combine the hot waste with other materials – — from which the hot waste cannot be separated ever. See example of using glass below :

          Put the glass ( as one example ) in solid armored containers buried deep under the pentagon – – and there you have it, “Safe storage of decommissioned hot waste”


    • night-train says:

      Well, at least the waste produced at the Hanford Reservation in Washington State isn’t just still there. A lot of it has gone into the groundwater and migrated into the Colombia River.

      • Thomas Malthus says:

        Fukushima is also a model for disposing of waste. Just spray water on it and let it drain into the Pacific Ocean. Makes for awesome glow in the dark sashimi!

  11. Chicken says:

    I thought the new Toshiba reactor designs were capable of burning the waste to nothing? Or was that Hitachi?

    • marty says:

      The Japanese all look the same. ;-)

      • d says:

        That is not nice or necessary.

        • Wolf Richter says:

          I agree… the only two reasons I let it go are: the smile and a story…. I’m married to a Japanese. So 20 years ago, I was waiting for her in Tokyo at a busy intersection and couldn’t pick that girl out of a crowd of similarly dressed short-ish young women with dark straight hair and fairly round faces. Just could not. It shocked me. And it taught me a lesson. It’s a scene in my book.

          Reality is: the Japanese do NOT look all alike, not anymore than we do. But we white folks have to learn how to tell them apart. The markers we normally look at don’t work. But there are different markers, and they work great.

        • Thomas Malthus says:

          I think the reason that most people think all Asians look alike is because they all have the same colour of hair.

          Other than that – the look as individually distinct as any other people.

        • d says:

          “But there are different markers, and they work great.”

          Yes they do.

          I never have/had trouble telling them apart.

          Maybe I just naturally used different markers.

          The Japanese, Korean, and shores of the south china sea product, is considerably superior to the European and European ethnic product, in so many way’s.

  12. James McFadden says:

    As a plasma physics grad student in 1980, I recall reading articles that fusion was 30 years away. Talking to an older plasma physics prof, he told me that those promoting fusion were talking about fusion reactors in 30 years way back in 1950. And now here we are 35 years later and they are still talking about it being in the distant future. In 1980 I was wise enough to see the writing on the wall and switched to another sub-field.

    And don’t let anyone tell you that fusion will be clean when they finally find the magic formula. It will be dirty — very dirty. Best estimates when I last checked the highly radioactive reactor walls will need replacing every year. That means the reactor will be down during the refurbishment – so you will need backup power generation – which adds even more to the infrastructure costs. I was also told these things will have to be massive to make them even close to feasible – a single reactor bigger than 10 fission plants. Therefore when one goes off line the power will not be easy to replace.

    Fusion for any foreseeable future is a giant money sink. Should research continue? Probably at some modest level – research is good – and something might come of it someday. But investing in this type of centralized power generation using massive taxpayer-subsidized development, which will be true for fusion just like it is for fission, is a scam to create cash-cow profits for a dying industry and its investors. The Hinkley nuclear power plant being planned for the UK and built by China is a prime example – and rate payers will be stuck for decades paying high energy costs — and tax payers (and those down wind) will assume all the risks of an accident.

    This particular scam seems to be a gift to China so that the city of London can gain access to Chinese markets – a bad backroom deal where the ruling investor class will get to suck more money out of the working class – neoliberal economics at its worst – trickle up economics.

    • Thomas Malthus says:

      Thanks for the dose of reality

    • Marty says:

      This reminds me of software projects that are heavily computational. Should the research start now and run for 20 years, or should we wait for 18 years when the technology has advanced so that the project can be completed in 2 years?


  13. MC says:

    Cadarache already houses one of the three Tokamak built in France, the Tore Supra.
    It has been in activity since 1988 and it has been the most successful Tokamak in history, which is really nothing to boast about, as it means it functioned non-stop for 6 minutes and 30 seconds.

    The first Tokamak went operative in 1960 in the USSR and since then this concept has held an unhealthy fascination over the mind of central planners worldwide.
    Financing the building of a few, small scale research Tokamak, such as the TCV in Lausanne, would have been fine and would have been a “pocket change” project to see if any good would come out of the concept.
    In over 50 years of research what the world’s best physicists understood is that getting a Tokamak to work reliably, such as any other power-generating device, is impossible. Apart from the difficulties of plasma physics and the need to deal with “microdébris” (the byproducts of plasma production in the real world), a Tokamak presents phenomena known as disruptions, which cannot be avoided and which result in the erosion or melting of the equipment.
    Disruptions can only be “mitigated” and one of the aims of ITER is on how to do that while having something akin to continuous plasma generation.

    It can be argued all of this is for the higher good as, even if nothing practical comes out of it, it’s knowledge.
    Technically speaking ITER should be the final word on Tokamak, meaning the project that will either make it work or deliver it to the history books. After over 50 years it would be about time.
    But while ITER and its budget (50% of which is covered by France) balloon out of proportions, DEMO is already being planned.

    DEMO will be the prototype of an industrial Tokamak. Yes, before the feasibility of Tokamak is definitely assessed, it has already been decided the technology will work, end of story.

  14. Dan Romig says:

    In the 1950s when work was being done on the H bombs and fusion, John D. Lawson came up with the “Lawson criterion”. First published in 1957, this was a calculation of how much electron density, temperature and confinement time was need to produce fusion.

    It takes an immense amount of heat and pressure to squeeze two hydrogen atoms into helium. Engineers may be able to do so in a small and momentary event, but it is not likely that fusion will be sustainable for electric generation.

    Of course, a few hundred years ago, not many humans thought we could fly through the air like birds. Good luck to those physicists working on it.

    • nick kelly says:

      RE: heavier than air flight. I think its not the best example because birds demonstrated it was possible. Men flew gliders several hundred yards long before the Wright bros.
      The constant demonstration by birds inspired guys as far back as Da Vinci to sketch man- carrying wings and helicopter blades.

      The only thing missing was power- in the case of the Flyer it was the motorcycle engine of Glen Curtiss.
      The difference in the fusion reactor is that the only place fusion is known to happen for more than a few minutes is the sun.
      My point is that by 1900 heavier- than- air flight was an achievable goal worth pursuing. Fusion on earth looks like having fundamental theoretical problems.

  15. Andy says:

    Yes, this project has been a nightmare. That is what happens when you get so many parties together to colaborate. This is also why many interested parties have gone out and started other projects.

    Basically cold fusion could be an excellent source of energy, ie a holy grail.

    Fusion has been underfunded, purposfully, for decades in the US.

    An interesting tidbit. Art Sandberg owns a start up that thinks they have cold fusion solved.

  16. Kevin Beck says:

    This shows why the public treasury needs to be segregated from the spending choices of politicians.

  17. Jeff says:

    President Nixon started fiat currency petro debt $ system & now US has 20 Trillion debt. Nixon went to China & so did manufacturing & jobs. Finally buried a ‘PROVEN’ energy solution called Thorium Nuclear Energy. It can power Earth for 1K+yrs, clean, safe, it’s waste only dangerous 150yrs & does not make nuclear bombs. Why was it buried? It works so well it replaces coal oil gas & uranium. Since fiat $, US been in constant state of wars in world & currently destroying Middle East.
    Thorium Energy in 4 Minutes

  18. Edward E says:

    It appears that amongst the world of nuclear confusion, the only nuclear fusion joke is having the last laugh.

    Personally, geothermal seems the best way to go. Especially if co-produced with oil and gas drilling using the green machine and there are sure to be other opportunities that can be developed. There are always costly bird slicers that don’t function properly and it takes an enormous amount of cement foundation and greenhouse gases just to produce one.

    Could we just use US elections as a source of energy, plentiful windbag power?

    We sometimes go fishing at night down by Nuclear 1 on Lake Dardanelle near Russellville, the fish have been seen to glow in the dark, we call that night-fission.

  19. Lune says:

    I agree with a lot of your blog but here, imho, you’re way off base. ITER is a research project. One of those big science, moonshot projects that only government can fund. This isn’t a handout to nuclear companies. Most of that money is going to universities, research labs, and high tech engineering and manufacturing firms.

    It needs to be this big because the big problem with tokomak designs is that the amount of energy spent keeping the plasma from touching the walls of the reactor is more than the energy generated from the plasma. However, since surface area increases by x^2 while volume increases by x^3, the bigger the scale, the better that ratio works in your favor. That’s why years ago most of the independent fusion teams around the world combined their efforts and funding into ITER. ITER’s prime lobbyists weren’t nuclear companies who don’t really care about a technology that’s decades away. It was the international physics community.

    It’s sort of like particle accelerators: one massive accelerator is far more useful to researchers than a dozen small accelerators.

    Will ITER succeed? Who knows. Plenty of fusion scientists believe tokamak designs are inherently inefficient. Which is why we also fund other strategies (like lasers and even cold fusion). But I think spending the equivalent of a week’s worth of the global oil exploration budget on a high risk, high reward moonshot project like this is *exactly* what the government should be funding. And even if it fails, the spinoff improvements in tech like superconductors, metallurgy, etc will likely make the project worthwhile anyway.

    Now let’s talk about the F35 fighter jet for an example of colossal waste :)

    • Wolf Richter says:

      I’ve talked about the F35 (I’m an equal-opportunity kinda guy) – great video:


      • Lune says:

        :-) The F35 is one of the few projects so wasteful that it draws bipartisan disgust.

        One note you might find interesting: I’m not a nuclear physicist and I don’t know how accurate this is, but it makes sense: the reason why current fission-based nuclear reactors produce so much dangerous waste is because *that was the point*. The original reactors were specifically designed, and utilized materials and fission reactions, specifically to produce weapons-grade fissile material. They were never designed to produce electricity. These are called ‘research’ reactors because they actually consume electricity. At one point, Oakridge was using 1/7th of all electricity produced in the U.S.

        After the War effort, scientists merely converted these processes into energy-plus commercial reactors, because researching completely new fission processes, etc. to optimize power generation rather than plutonium production would be akin to funding a new Manhattan Project.

        So theoretically, there are fission processes that yield very little waste products. But we never developed them because we just piggy-backed on the massive defense research into weapons-grade breeder reactors.

        That said, given the alternatives in renewables, I’d rather we fund a Manhattan Project for that than another Manhattan Project to redesign nuclear plants…

  20. Ishkabibble says:

    I’m now retired, but for a few years in the 1980s I worked as a laboratory technician in a US PWR power plant that was nearing the end of its construction.

    I was one of a number of technicians who were ensuring that its vast number of systems were clean — including the insides of the reactor vessel and the loops that included the steam generators and reactor-coolant pumps. I got to stand inside inside a nuclear reactor vessel.

    (We were told by a nuclear physicist that if a fresh spent-nuclear-fuel bundle were to be raised above the surface of its storage pool, and a person who was standing 100 metres away were to start running toward it, that person would drop dead before reaching it.)

    In short, although the block-diagrams shown to visitors of that place were quite simple, compared to a fossil-fuel power plant, the complexity of the systems required for a nuclear-fueled power plant to operate safely is almost beyond comprehension for a single individual. (And the complexity of fossil-fuel power plants is no walk in the park, even for a scientifically-inclined individual.)

    Many of the problems of fission, fusion, etc. can be eliminated by eliminating the need for them to be constructed, and there is no better way to do that than by, first, reducing the human population by simple attrition to say 1 billion; second, increasing the efficiency of the use of electricity and, third, by using electricity only in applications where there is no alternative.

    As to the first, the goal of humanity should NOT be to cover the surface of planet earth with people. The reasons why are so obvious that I won’t waste any key-strokes spelling them out, but I will say the that concept of “growing to prosperity” is a horrible, tragic myth.

    The reasons for the second — increasing efficiency in the use of electricity — are just as obvious.

    For just one example of the third, all energy that is ultimately used by consumers for heating things such as water, homes, food, drying laundry, etc. should be provided by the sun, locally. A lot of this bone-simple, energy-reduction technology was engineered as a response to the oil embargo / “Energy Crisis” back in the 1970s. There is little complexity to this technology and most DIYrs can inexpensively maintain these systems themselves.

    But what IS the most difficult impediment of them all to doing the above is “politics”. That is, how will people be “managed” to do what is in their best, long-term survival interest? WHO is going to decide that the population is too high? Etc.

    Regardless, one thing is absolutely certain. If humanity continues doing whatever you want to call it has been doing for the last thousand years, humanity is not going to make it to the end of this century, let alone the next thousand years. Mother Earth will become uninhabitable for humans.

    Therefore, “what has been going on” must be changed and that means that the individual human behavior of 7 billion human beings must change. But a completely corrupted political system of vested/invested interests can / will not do that.

    Contrary to what Adam Smith said, a bewildered herd of selfish individuals who only act in their own self-interest interest will also not be capable of organizing enough to circumvent the political system and doing what must be done.

    One, and only one, concept can save humanity from itself and, luckily, it has no complexity. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The first step to adopting this ironically-repellent concept is the most difficult — overcoming a lifetime of brainwashing and coming to the realization that it is indeed the one and only way to conduct all human interaction.

    Because this very day we see right in front of our eyes where all of our selfish, greedy, “competitive” behaviors toward our fellow humans have led us, maybe we can finally start to do what has always been right.

    • Thomas Malthus says:

      Rat Island is a small island in the middle of the ocean thousands of miles from any other land.

      It supports a small population of rats — this population grows to no more than 100 depending on how much food is available.

      A ship washes up on the shore of rat island – it is filled with grain.

      The rats start to feast on the grain — their population grows into the thousands.

      Then the grain runs out.

      We will be faced with the same problem when the global economy collapses because the cost to find an extract oil is too high — when the economy collapses the oil that is in the ground will remain in the ground.

      As we can see we are no different than the rats. We are just more clever at kicking the can further so that our population is now monumental in size.

      Extinction level event imminent

  21. Yemhek says:

    Not quite fully articulated in previous posts: the current state of materials science, and the current state of plasma confinement technology, do not permit a magnetic-confinement system to be economically or pratically feasible.

    This has been true since the 1960s, despite many forward strides made in research and theory using experiemental reactors.

    The primary problem set is initiating, stabilizing, and maintaining a plasma in confinement. I believe that this set of problems is tractable, and will be overcome eventually (although, as pointed out in previous posts, this ususally requires a great deal of power input to the system to maintain magnetic fields, cooling, and so forth, at least in Tokomak designs).

    The secondary problem set is not so tractable; the materials used to fabricate the reactor, and all its subsystems (plumbing, wiring, sensors, etc.) cannot long withstand the extraordinary conditions produced within the reactor. The combination of thermal stress, energetic photons (X-ray and gamma), neutron flux, other energetic subatomic particles, and chemical reactions (for instance, absorbtion of monoatomic hydrogen into metallic alloys), all add up to a reactor that can’t operate for long without complete replacement of all parts, even those not directly exposed to the plasma. Imagine a 50-tonne confinement vessel, made of carefully-concocted stainless steel alloy, that becomes so brittle (and radioactive) that it must be replaced every nine months. Extrapolate to other elements of the infrastructure: piping, valves, sensor inlets and sensors, process control elements, structural supports, and so forth. That adds up to an immense amount of high-tech gear that has to be replaced often — and the stuff that’s being replaced is now radioactive hazardous waste.

    The third set of problems have to do with the fact that nuclear power, whether it be from fission, or fusion, requires a gigantic pyramid of industrial capacity and resources to produce, at its tip, an output of “usable” energy. Meanwhile, the externalities — disposal of toxic, radiaactive waste that will outlive civilizations, intake of huge amounts of resources from regions that may not be able to sustain this extraction for long (water, especially), the energy inputs (and toxic outputs) of extraction and refining of the input fuel (deuterium, tritium, urianium, whatever), and many undeserved subsidies stolen from taxpayers, legislated by captured politicians — are never accounted for when new nuclear “energy” projects are pitched or “priced.” Market be damned; no nuclear power plant has ever been able to pay for itself (that’s just construction and operation, never mind disposal of waste, maintenance, or decommissioning) without massive subsidies and guarantees.

    This is somewhat analagous to the semiconductor industry, which consumes insane amounts of physical resources, industrial capacity, and intellectual effort to produce your smartphone, all the while forcing the externalities (pollution, labor abuse, extraction and depletion of scarce resources, etc.) onto populations that can ill afford it. The difference is, the semiconductor industry is somewhat less dependent on subsidies (in some countries).

    Generally, I’m not buying the happy talk about fusion. I grew up in Los Alamos, New Mexico, during the “boom years” when the AEC transitioned to DoE, and everyone was scrambling for ways to apply the fruits of war-oriented science to peacetime applications. I’d guess that the research moved things forward, in a way, but very few of the promises and rosy projections ever paid off for the general public. And yeah, fusion research at LANL, Livermore, and other labs, was, and is, a lot of promises that never seem to go anywhere useful or sane.

    • Ishkabibble says:

      Very well said. I agree 100%.

      Again, if the human population were getting smaller, as it should, nuclear power would be unnecessary.

      The problem is that in order for “investments” in whatever you want to call the present economic system (in which a very small percentage of the population owns/controls that vast amount of wealth, both OLD and new) to “turn a profit”, a rapidly-expanding population that, in turn, requires/forces “economic growth”, is REQUIRED.

      Because the earth very likely cannot provide for the present population, let alone one that is wildly expanding, another economic system MUST BE ORGANIZED, and I do mean ORGANIZED (just is the present US economic system is ALREADY organized by the State for [and is therefore dependent upon] PERPETUAL WAR).

  22. Julian the Apostate says:

    Wow. Hot button issue. I only have one observation: the rather cavalier way “population control” is tossed around. Throws me back to the Eugenics movement in the U.S. and the Nazis picking up that ball and running with it. Statism was on the rise then, as now. That didn’t end well. Population control? Control by whom and for what goal? If as in the rat island example someone decides to start killing “rats”…you won’t have to wait for grain to run out. There is a tendency in these comments to blame Capitalism for the increase in population while giving the world’s statist politicians a pass. And true Gilded Age Capitalism has left the building. Thank you. Thank you very much.

    • d says:

      “population control”

      NO Population Management.

      No gas chambers, no religious ethnic selection. No mass graves none of that.

      Thats what has been done to us, repeatedly for over 2000 years, and we will not allow it on an industrial scale, ever again.

      Rwanda and the Balkan conflictg were beyond our reach at the time and they were not industrial scale events

      NEVER ANGINA dosent only apply to us.

      Just a simple 1woman 1 child policy until we resolve the issues in the problem areas.

      China has shown the pitfall in this policy, so gender based abortion. Must be controlled in the areas where such a policy must be applied.

      The Planet is simply a huge farm mange the stock level or deal with the failure to manage the stock level.

      The planet stock level of humans, is over 3 times what is long term sustainable.

      A framer who overstocked his land to that level in the west, would be legally forbidden to farm in the future. Based on cruelty to livestock conviction.

  23. Flying Monkey says:

    It is not a criticism but…

    “measly 500 megawatts, or about the capacity of 62 top-notch wind turbines, generating electricity in places like West Texas and the Oklahoma Panhandle. “… that is about 8 MW per turbine and that is pretty big. FYI from a physics standpoint the power in the wind is proportional to the area the rotor sweeps and the wind speed cubed.

    8 MW seemed quite large to me. I rode my bike cross country a few years ago and saw all the wind turbines. I live in Germany and a 3MW is a really big one inland.
    … listed as 3 MW

    It looks as if the monsters are close to or off shore.

    Thanks for your effort and website!

  24. Wolf Richter says:

    You don’t know how many other comments I blocked. I stopped that whole nonsense conversation.

    Maybe you don’t realize how self-contradictory and nonsensical your energy and population comments are. Especially as a pair!!!! And they’re sheer propaganda for big oil. After about the 20th comment, I get really, really tired of them. This is not a site for repetitively posting the same propaganda. I won’t let this stuff dominate the comments section and drive off readers and commenters.

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