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Nuclear Fusion Project Sees Cost Overruns, More Delays

The old joke that nuclear fusion is perpetually a decade away may seem unfair, but the world’s largest fusion project is once again facing more delays and billions in cost overruns.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, or ITER, has suffered at the hands of disrupted supply chains and faulty parts. And now, the project’s hopes of achieving fusion by next year is in serious jeopardy.

The project has seen a number of setbacks—including Covid-19. When all its ducks were finally in a row again post-Covid, the project was once again struck by disruptions—this time from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting sanctions. Then on May 14 of last year, ITER’s director general, Bernard Bigot—a man brought in to set things right after previous delays and cost overruns--died.

ITER aspires to harness nuclear fusion as the next power source—the same process that fuels the sun—via a machine called the tokamak, with aspirations of creating what is thought to be unlimited clean energy. ITER’s goal is to prove that a tokamak can produce 10 times more energy than is needed to generate plasma.

Back in 2006 when the project was initially conceived, it was estimated to cost about $6.5 billion, with a run date of 2020. Several hiccups later, and we’re staring down 2035 before ITER is able to run with both deuterium and tritium and reach its stated goals. As for the costs, it could run upwards of $64 billion, according to some estimates.

Bloomberg noted on Thursday that ITER’s delay could cause to slide into second place behind Commonwealth Fusion Systems LLC, which is working on a smaller version of a similar fusion project. That project is set to begin testing in 2025.

By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com

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