David Shukman, Science editor, BBC News wrote
" 'Critical phase' for Iter fusion dream"
His longer TV package is now on iPlayer on the "Reporters" program
5 minutes and 27 seconds in this fusion news item begins. Later on in Professor Steve Cowley, UK Fusion Director says
"What we've learnt is that it's scientifically feasible to generate energy from fusion. What we haven't yet learnt is whether we can do that a commercial rate you want to pay for your electricity?"
I would add:
What I haven't yet learnt is how much money JET, MAST and ITER teams needs to spend, before we find out that we will definitely not be able to generate electricity from fusion at a commercial rate?
Now I have a sneaking suspicion, that with an expense budget of a few hundred pounds, a group of very talented final year undergraduate engineering students, say from Imperial College, could actually determine what say £100 per MWh buys you in terms of fusion capital infrastructure, operation and maintenance and then eventually decommissioning.
In fact Professor Steve Cowley happens to be a professor at Imperial College, so he could act as a mentor or secondary supervisor to help support the primary engineering supervisor in helping this go forward.
A band of intellectually courageous free radical undergraduates could at least begin to sketch out to us all, under what conditions spending £13+ billion on ITER, JET and MAST etc can lead us to obtain an answer to the affordability question.
My feeling is that the scientists have already decided, via the method of rigorously unspoken groupthink, that we will inevitably need to spend another £20+ billion on DEMO or K-DEMO or what ever else, before we can get close to answering the make or break critical engineering questions surrounding affordability. The summit forever lies in the mist, so to speak.
The reason I mention Imperial College is that I did study there in 2008 and 2010. However the humanities department I was studying at decided that it was best for them to drop out of the university, and relocate to Kings College London. Inviting me along or letting me stay were both suddenly found to be against the deparmental and university rules. (just in case you think you misread this - the university department left me rather than me leaving the university department - I know, I know this is always supposed to happen the other way around).
As part of the uniquely designed Imperial College, UCL and Wellcome Trust education I experienced, I sustained two mental breakdowns, and a mental disability I never knew I had before.
Imperial College were powerless to stop all this, because a department at Imperial College is fully entitled to do as they please and leave the university when they want to. The authorities kept me informed of the situation and kindly returned my money in full.
It is amazing what academic endevour can achieve in the face of adversity.
Although mental illness is normally a taboo subject, I have to admit to all this openly just in case there are engineering students who on examining the fusion issue for themselves start trusting my judgement and understanding of the real world, more than Professor Steve Cowley's. If you feel tempted to appoint me as your project mentor/secondary supervisor you should realise that my observations on the fusion issue have not sprung forth without ignition.
Also I must warn you in advance that inter-institutional barriers may be put in your way to stop such things from happening. Just try it and see all the strange behaviours that can emerge in the face of known mental disability.
"Don't let the bu**ers grid you down", as another Imperial College Professor helpfully reminded me recently. ( ** stands for ff perhaps, he didn't say; I think the sentiment is that professors don't change their mind they just get pensioned off when the absurdity of their position becomes overwhelming)
If you don't trust my judgement and understanding of the real world, then that's fine, just enjoy this as an eccentric and satirically written piece instead.
P.S. If you want to join the existing fusion research and development programme as a neutral or agnostic, then take care not to end up on camera spouting groupthink absurdities, if your boss has long since given up the intellectual fight.