Krivit’s ITERation – Deja vu all over again

Krivit must be lonely, there is no news confirming Widom-Larsen theory, which has now been out for a dozen years with zero confirmation, only more post-hoc “explanations” that use or abuse it, for no demonstrated value, so far.

But, hey, he can always bash ITER, and he has done it again.

First of all, I’ve reported on his older bloviations

December 25, 2016 Krivit’s con-fusion re power and energy

January 21, 2017 Krivit continues con-fusion

As well, we have this page that addresses those issues:

December 25, 2016 Steve Krivit on excess energy in fusion experiments

There were more, but Krivit (1) took down some pages where he was accused of false statements and (2) filed A DMCA takedown request to inhibit my attributed quotation of him (though he commonly quotes other copyrighted pages).

So last month he put up a new post:

And here is the “abstract,” which Krivit permits to be reproduced.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is the largest and most expensive science experiment on Earth today. Public outreach for the experimental fusion reactor, under the direction of Laban Coblentz, the head of the ITER communications office, has led journalists and the public to believe that, when completed, the reactor will produce 10 times more power than goes into it.
What Krivit provides is information that, misunderstood, might do this.
Notice that Krivit is claiming that “journalists and the public” have been “led to believe” this “thing.” As I showed previously, Krivit did not understand power, energy, heat, and that heat energy out is almost always greater than energy in, and “power” is misleading. What Krivit failed to show, before, is that anyone was actually and significantly misled. Nothing that Krivit has reported is new information. Anyone who has been following fusion power (and I’ve been following it since I was a teenager, that’s more than 50 years) knows what he claims. But Krivit may not have known it, and may have personally been “misled.” I.e., misunderstood.
It will do no such thing. The $22 billion reactor is designed to produce only 1.6 times more thermal power than it consumes in electric power. Using a more conservative calculation, the reactor will lose more power than it produces.
Krivit is a yellow journalist, always looking for scandal, everything is designed to produce an emotional point. He is not a science journalist, his understanding is poor. What is ITER to “consume”? What does that mean? It is an experimental reactor, and experimental devices often have major support around them, that dissipate power. An experimental reactor is not designed, generally, for power production. Rather, ITER is designed to demonstrate an operational fusion reactor, that releases fusion energy, which will show up as heating.
There are many support activities for ITER, including maintaining the superconducting magnets at the necessary temperatures, as well as setting up the magnetic fields, which is a one-shot cost, that is, the energy necessary to do that is peak power consumption, not steady consumption. In fact, much of that energy could be recovered when the magnets are shut down, it’s actually stored in the magnetic fields, but, again, with an experimental reactor, one would not bother with that complication. That power would just be dumped, probably as heat.
The planned output power of the reactor has been reported correctly, but the input power for the reactor has been widely reported, incorrectly, as 50 megawatts. The actual input power value, rarely discussed publicly, will be significantly larger.
Krivit has his own meaning for “input power” which allows him to create this confusion. One thing is true: some reporting on ITER has been sloppy. However, has anyone who had a decision to make actually been misled. Krivit has not shown this, at all. His complaint is that “they are misleading.” He has not shown this as any kind of intentional deception. Rather, a complex scientific issue might be misunderstood. That does not amount to deception unless deception is intentional. Krivit implies intention to mislead, by using a “double meaning.”
For decades, some proponents of thermonuclear fusion research have used a double meaning for the phrase “fusion power” yet failed to inform the public, the news media, or legislators about the existence of this dual meaning.
Krivit has not yet explained what he is talking about, yet is strongly asserting this “double meaning” as if it is an existent thing. That’s his interpretation, not a fact. People have been studying plasma fusion reactors for more than fifty years. “Input power” to the reactor refers to what heats the plasma, it is really “input to the plasma.” Depending on reactor design, there may be many other uses of power involved. An assessment of practicality must consider all these, to be sure. But a proof-of-concept reactor, not necessarily.  Again, has anyone actually been misled?
This ambiguity has caused non-experts to think that power production rates from large-scale thermonuclear fusion experiments show greater technological progress than has actually occurred.
Can he name such “non-experts” and where would what they think matter? I can think of legislators who approve budgets, and key there would be their advisors. Have their advisors, experts, been misled and did those experts in turn mislead the legislators? Krivit imagines a meaning for the statistics published, that they never meant, and then reacts to his own imagination.
As a result, people who are not fusion experts think that ITER will achieve a power production rate, or power amplification, six times larger than its design specification. ITER will produce power at a rate of only two-thirds of the rate it will consume power, when comparing electric power input to equivalent electric power output.
Who are these “people”? First of all, ITER is not at all designed to “produce electric power output.” It will generate heat and heat only.
Some fusion proponents have used the secondary meaning of “fusion power” to convince non-experts that the record-setting 1997 fusion experiment in the Joint European Torus (JET) reactor in the U.K. had produced thermal power at a rate of 65 percent of the electric power consumed by the reactor and, therefore, that the reactor had come close to producing power at a rate equal to the rate of power consumed.
This is massively confused. What “secondary meaning” of “fusion power”? I would interpret that word to mean heat released by fusion and the absorption of fusion products. I suspect that here he is referring to “input power,” that is the plasma heating input. The other inputs are engineering issues, and with the JET reactor, pure electromagnets were used, which dissipate enormous power for the very strong magnetic fields needed for plasma confinement. But that is not “consumed” by the plasma, it does not heat the plasma, and this is replaceable by using superconducting magnets, which require no power to maintain (other than keeping them cool, and that depends greatly on the construction and engineering).
Power is not “consumed,” except in ordinary speech, which isn’t really accurate. My little electric heater does not “consume” 1.2 kilowatts, rather it converts that electric power to heating power, and almost all inputs to a fusion reactor generate heat, in the end.
JET was not designed to demonstrate practicality, not even close. Using ordinary electromagnets to create the magnetic fields would blow that out of the water.
In fact, in that experiment, the reactor produced power in heat at a rate of less than 2 percent of the power in electricity it consumed.
This is, again, quite misleading. All the input power produced heat. In a practical reactor configuration, this heat would be harnessed, almost all of it.  Here is what Krivit actually says about his “discovery:”
When I first learned that some thermonuclear fusion representatives had been promoting fusion results with a secondary meaning of the phrase “fusion power” — one that drastically changed the perceived importance of the data — I didn’t believe it.
But anyone who understood fusion power and the difficulties and progress would have known the meaning of “fusion power,” which Krivit is still not using correctly, as near as I can tell.  I mean anyone, not just experts. I’m not an expert, I simply have followed the field for many years. The “secondary meaning” Krivit is complaining about is the ordinary meaning, used by anyone considering these experiments, used for many years.
What Krivit apparently thinks of as the “primary meaning” would be the peak or sustained — he’s not clear — power input of the entire installation, not just the reactor. Let’s put it this way. If someone invested in ITER thinking that ITER was going to supply power to the grid, they were stupid and ignorant. But did anyone think that?
Apparently Krivit did. Q.E.D.
Coblentz and the ITER communications group have used the same double meaning to promote the publicly funded $22 billion ITER reactor, under construction now in southern France.
Fusion research insiders know that the current primary goal of ITER is not to demonstrate power amplification of the reactor.
Krivit introduces this term: power amplification. I am not a “fusion research insider” and I know what Krivit asserts as the esoteric knowledge of the “insiders.”
Instead, they know, the main goal is the power amplification of the fusion plasma, a significantly different measurement.
Indeed it is. But that is exactly what all these reactors have been designed to study. The release of energy from a plasma. Until one comes to the point of actually generating fusion power (this is the real meaning, release of energy from a plasma in which fusion is taking place), accessory power (such as the energy involved in setting up magnetic fields and in maintaining them) is of little interest. Obviously, if there is a long-term goal of practical energy release (which could be heat or electricity), then all these other power inputs to the full system become important. Meanwhile, Krivit consistently presents the actual statistics in such a way as to minimize their apparent significance.
Fusion experts say that non-experts understand the distinction, but nearly all evidence, as shown for example in news coverage by The New York Times, Scientific American, Bloomberg, Forbes and BBC News, is to the contrary.
I haven’t seen Krivit show this. Further, nobody should be writing about scientific subjects without consulting those who know the topic. I have little doubt that Krivit can find examples of misunderstanding. Since I have been in high school, I’ve been aware that, whenever I know something directly and well, ordinary news articles commonly contain plentiful errors.
The double meaning of the phrase “fusion power” went unnoticed for years and has misled experienced journalists, scientists, members of the public and elected officials.
Examples? We know that Krivit was misled, because he says so. If this misunderstanding is rampant, it should be easy to show. Where is it?
What Krivit is asserting is something he calls the “real efficiency,” a measure he invented, that would apply to a full system used for power generation. How this plays out:
Krivit reports some numbers for JET: Heat output of 16 megawatts, heat input of 24 megawatts. He then says that this was not “65% efficiency,” but only “at best, 2%. “
First of all, those are peak power numbers, not energy. Of immediate interest: for how long was this power sustained? (not very long!)
The Wikipedia article on JET uses the term “fusion power” to refer to the 16 MW figure as the highest obtained. I see nothing there about efficiency. However, if the figure of 24 MW was plasma heating, then the full heat output would be 40 MeV. However, that is just from the plasma. There would also be a lot of heat from those electromagnets! Krivit is apparently considering all facility power inputs, not just fusion heating inputs.
Okay, Krivit does quote a “science journalist,” Charles Seife, from Sun in a Bottle. Krivit is right on this. Seife was indeed Wrong. Nice quote to find. p. 207:
JET got 6 watts out for every 10 it put in. It was a record, and a remarkable achievement, but a net loss of 40 percent of energy is not the hallmark of a great power plant.
Seife here, as in many places, is sloppy. He is basically a debunker, one more yellow journalist. The full title of the book is “The Strange History of FUSION and the Science of Wishful Thinking.” Uh, what exactly is the “science of wishful thinking”? I know what it is, it’s a catchy title for a book that is sometimes an entertaining story but that is mostly about how stupid other people are. Present company excepted, of course. Or not of course. Seife certainly goes after “cold fusion,” and calling it by another name (LENRs is Krivit’s fav) would not change that one bit.
So, the basic error is that the output was not 6 watts. That was fusion power. The reactor heat output would be 16 watts out for 10 watts in. There is no “net loss of 40 percent of energy.” One would think Seife would know that, so I chalk this up to sloppiness, a lack of clear thinking. It happens. Seife’s education was in mathematics, not physics, which might explain this.
However, Krivit’s point is different. His point is that Seife wasn’t considering the full power input of the JET facility. What was that, by the way? There is no authoritative figure, but Krivit relies on his being told “700 MW.” However, it is characteristic of Krivit’s confusion that this would be peak power, not sustained power input, and it is not clear what relationship it bears to the actual fusion reaction. In general, in considering JET, the very considerable power used to (1) set up the magnetic field and (2) maintain it because of heating “losses” in the electromagnets was not considered, and there is a very good reason for that: except for setup power, which is one-shot, power to maintain the magnetic fields is very low, with superconducting magnets. Using 700 MW is where the 2% comes from. Krivit then uses this to impeach ITER, which is using superconducting magnets.
Krivit says about the Seife quote: “Science journalists had thought that the publicized output efficiency (65 percent of the input power) of the JET reactor was based on a calculation that included all power-consuming systems of the JET reactor.” And then he points to Seife, but Seife does not consider “all power consuming systems” at all, and only looked at plasma input and output. As an experiment, which is what JET was, that would be completely correct.  What is sometimes called “breakeven” — a misleading term as used, is actually an energy doubling, not the same out as in. It’s double out as in. (But “in” doesn’t include all systems. For that, one would want to look at a full engineering budget.)
By the way, peak power input to JET was probably substantially higher than 700 MW. They used flywheels to convert grid power to rotary motion, then this power was dumped into the magnets. A lower level of power would be needed to maintain the fields. And “power” is not what one would really be concerned with in a practical plant, other than being able to supply necessary peak power, but energy, i.e., the integral of power. In any case, the COP of Jet was 1.6 for a short time. I forget how long.
Krivit also quotes a Time journalist, Lev Grossman, from 2015:
“The goal for all these machines is to pass the breakeven point, where the reactor puts out more energy than it takes to run it. The big tokamaks came close in the 1990s, but nobody has quite done it yet.”
That is basically sloppy writing. Again, Grossman is using the standard definition of power input to a tokamak, that does not include what might be called “overhead.” Overhead should not increase as power increases. In any business accounting, overhead is considered separately, particularly if it does not scale with the goods purchased and sold. Some costs do scale, some not. Krivit completely ignores the difference. The big one, moving from JET to ITER, is the magnetic field power. It approaches zero in ITER (but it will never get there, there are losses to be considered. Krivit does not come close to a genuine accounting.)
Krivit does present a list of writers who made allegedly “incorrect” statements about plasma fusion (including himself). However, many of these statements are correct with the appropriate meanings of terms. Krivit is complaining that others are using words in the “wrong way.” It’s ontologically naive, and he ought to know better.
Krivit is correct, again, that many have made mistakes in writing about fusion. But Krivit continues to err himself. Using a figure for sustained input power which I do not know is correct, but it might be, 300 MW, of which 50 MW is actual plasma heating power, and fusion power of 500 MW as predicted, he has:
“In no way does a constant input of 300 MW of electricity qualify any reactor as self-sustaining. At best, ITER will take a 300 MW flow of electricity, a high-grade form of power, and turn it into a 500 MW flow of heat and warm the planet.
Krivit makes this mistake again and again. The heating power of the full system would be roughly 800 MW, not 500. Some of that heat may be able to replace electrical power (for example, heat may be used to power refrigeration without conversion to electricity.)  And, quite clearly, ITER was not designed to generate electrical power and those who have implied it was were simply in error.
I looked at the Wikipedia article on ITER: The lede does reflect the misleading intepretation Krivit is exercised about. Breaking it down from the lede:
The ITER project aims to make the long-awaited transition from experimental studies of plasma physics to full-scale electricity-producing fusion power stations.
Hogwash. I’ll be looking to see if this is supported in the text.
The ITER fusion reactor has been designed to produce 500 megawatts of output power for around twenty minutes while needing 50 megawatts to operate.[3]
First of all, ITER produces “heating power,” and at least the 50 MW plasma heating power would add to that. I.e. fusion heats the plasma beyond the input heating. Secondly, “to operate” inplies all operational power inputs, which is simply incorrect. Even the 50 MW may be misleading, then, because of the conversion inefficiencies from electrical power to plasma heating power. However, plasma heating might not necessarily be continuous, there are many details I don’t know — and Krivit is not even close to recognizing the issues. A truly operational fusion plasma might not require input plasma heating at all. I don’t know the operational details planned.
Thereby the machine aims to demonstrate the principle of producing more energy from the fusion process than is used to initiate it, something that has not yet been achieved in any fusion reactor.
Initiation power is another issue. There is, indeed, much confusion over “breakeven,” which is a rather artificial point. As COP is often calculated, this would be COP 2.0. (which is not considered adequate for electric power generation because of conversion inefficiencies, but it could be fine as a “heating amplifier,” if cheap enough. Rossi, for example, if he’d actually had reactors that worked, could have sold heat to heating co-ops in Sweden; if his additional heat was cheap enough, this could be profitable below COP 2.0. However, in fact, if one can make COP 2.0, with heating input and output, one can increase the COP by improving reactor insulation.
So … note 3 was used as source for what was written before that note. That source is correct and the text synthesized from it is not. That’s Wikipedia for you.  To repeat that text:
The ITER fusion reactor has been designed to produce 500 megawatts of output power for around twenty minutes while needing 50 megawatts to operate.[3]
The source [3] has::
Iter is designed to produce 500 MW of fusion power during pulses of at least 400 seconds. Critically, the machine is expected to demonstrate the principle that it possible to get far more energy out of the process than is used to initiate it.
To the Wikipedia editor, “fusion power” is the same as “output power,” but, in fact, power inputs generate heat and fusion power adds to that. Then the source talks about initiation energy, which the editor confuses with energy “to operate.” And the editor brings in 50 MW from another source. 50 MW might be correct for “initiation power” but not for “operating power.”
By the way, in terms of assessing how close ITER might be getting to commercial power producting, I’d certainly want to know the repetition rate. How often can it produce 400 second bursts of power?
The body of the Wikipedia article, however, seems accurate:
ITER is designed to produce approximately 500 MW of fusion power sustained for up to 1,000 seconds[17] (compared to JET’s peak of 16 MW for less than a second) by the fusion of about 0.5 g of deuterium/tritium mixture in its approximately 840 m3 reactor chamber. Although ITER is expected to produce (in the form of heat) 10 times more energy than the amount consumed to heat up the plasma to fusion temperatures, the generated heat will not be used to generate any electricity.[18]
Except for that nasty word “consumed.” Power is not “consumed.” It is energy moved from one place to another, in this case, it’s dumped into the plasma, heating it, and then the fusion power adds to that (assuming that input power is maintained). (there are factors I’m not considering.)
Note 17 does not support the text. Further, it is not independent reliable source. Note 18 is a dead link.  Ah, Wikipedia! Used to drive me crazy.
The article gives the objectives of ITER:

ITER’s mission is to demonstrate the feasibility of fusion power, and prove that it can work without negative impact.[26] Specifically, the project aims to:

  • Momentarily produce ten times more thermal energy from fusion heating than is supplied by auxiliary heating (a Q value equals 10).
  • Produce a steady-state plasma with a Q value greater than 5. (Q = 1 is breakeven.)
  • Maintain a fusion pulse for up to 8 minutes.
  • Ignite a “burning” (self-sustaining) plasma. (i.e. ‘ignition’ see Lawson criterion)
  • Develop technologies and processes needed for a fusion power station — including superconducting magnets and remote handling (maintenance by robot).
  • Verify tritium breeding concepts.
  • Refine neutron shield/heat conversion technology (most of the energy in the D+T fusion reaction is released in the form of fast neutrons).
There is nothing there about what Krivit wants to see and thinks ITER is being “sold” to do. Some might indeed think that, whoever edited the lede thought that, “The ITER project aims to make the long-awaited transition from experimental studies of plasma physics to full-scale electricity-producing fusion power stations.”
What would be accurate is that ITER might make some steps toward that goal, not that ITER will actually “make the long-awaited transition,” not even close. From the article:
ITER is not designed to produce electricity, but made as a proof of concept reactor for the later DEMO project.[70]
Note 70 is a reference to the Levv Grossman article in Time that Krivit quoted as being wrong.

Author: Abd ulRahman Lomax


2 thoughts on “Krivit’s ITERation – Deja vu all over again”

  1. Abd – welcome back!

    In general, research returns a lot more money than has been invested, but it can take a long time to reap the benefits and those benefits can be difficult to translate into purely money terms the way the accountants like to have things. I don’t know how much ITER is actually costing each one of us each year, but it’s probably less than 10 euros or so, and I give more than that to the very occasional beggars I meet. NASA did the sums on what the space race cost the US public, and stated that for every dollar it cost it returned 17 dollars to the US economy (and that’s without costing the pride or the time saved when washing up after using a Teflon pan). I’m pretty sure that there will be spin-offs from the high technology developed for the race to fusion, too, apart from the knowledge of what is possible and what isn’t. New techniques for measurement may be used in other fields and give real benefit, even though difficult to quantify.

    As regards the energy and power sums, a lot of people get those wrong. It’s a problem of the way our language works, in that people often talk about consuming energy or power because they pay money based on the energy that comes down the wires to them, and don’t realise that that energy cannot be destroyed. What they are actually charged for is for the passage of energy through their systems to be dissipated in either what’s being made (if it embodies energy) or, more usually, dissipated to the environment as lower-grade energy (waste or lost heat at a lower temperature). Since at the moment we can’t effectively de-randomise that heat energy, and the heat-engines we have are limited to 2LoT, then that low-grade heat is largely unusable to do work. That passage from high-grade to low-grade energy is termed consuming the energy, and it requires a change in language in order to change the way people think about it. There are similar semantic problems with the concept of work that require redefinition in order to achieve a clear view of what is actually happening.

    Given the very high effective temperature of the plasma, the Carnot efficiency of the conversion of that to output work could be almost 100% if we find the right methods. Indeed, that alone could be worth the money spent on ITER if such a method is invented in the process of getting ITER running.

    Personally I think the medium-term future is better served with better fission systems, yet for long-term future it’s also obvious that fusion will be the way to go. Whatever happens, we need to have people who are working in both and finding out more about how they can be made to work better. If we don’t increase our knowledge, we won’t achieve that clean and cheap power that is needed to drive the future civilisation which (barring a crash and descent into barbarism) looks to be requiring a lot more electrical power per person on the Earth. Given cheap power, everyone can have enough food and water and (maybe more important) time to get educated without risk of starving. I think it was Arthur C. Clark who defined the level of civilisation by the amount of energy the average person could control. Lowest level of around 100-200W (one human power) may seem idyllic, but only from a distance…. In some ways, purely looking at the watts controlled may be a bit simplistic, and we should be looking at the processing-power an average person controls as well. A modern phone has greater capacity than the mainframes I started on.

    I think ITER will continue no matter what Krivit says. The only thing that could derail it is the emergence of a better idea that is shown to work. We know that ITER is only a stepping-stone anyway, and it’s possible that someone will have that next great idea while working on ITER – it’s hard to predict when or where such breakthroughs occur, but it’s really going to need competent people who are thinking about it rather than being stuck in a job where they can’t try out odd ideas. It’s thus an investment in the future, even if what emerges isn’t what we expected. I think it’s likely that we’ll find something better than ITER and the Tokamak route, but that if we hadn’t gone that way it wouldn’t emerge. Knowledge is not organised in a pyramid but in a net, and before you can understand one bit you need to understand various connected bits, which also in their turn need several connected bits and so on, so the sum of knowledge proceeds by going round in circles improving the knowledge each go-around.

    1. ITER might be a horrible investment, but if the promoters of ITER have been trying to convince people that this is almost ready-to-go, and that JET was and ITER will be operating power plants with net generation after conversion back to electricity, which is more or less the Krivit Story, they have been doing a lousy job.

      So people who aren’t paying attention (like Seife or some journalists who write and are not fact-checked) misunderstand. The real story here is that Krivit was crazy-wrong and then blames everyone else for it. They misled him. It’s more or less a repeat of what Krivit did within the LENR field. He was naive about “fusion” and then thinks that the experimental results which tend to indicate that some kind of fusion is happening are some kind of deceptive conspiracy.

      It is true that, in isolation, some statements about ITER could, in theory, be misunderstood, but only if the reader is utterly ignorant of the context, of the history, of what is actually going on. So what Krivit does is to redefine “input power” for a tokamak, in a way that neglects and sets aside the core investigation, which is what happens in a plasma, and then claim that statements that use what he acknowledges is the standard definition among experts, are “wrong.” In the process, he confuses energy and power. The fusion engineers are trying to light a match that will burn by itself, more or less. (some statements about ITER suggest that it will reach “ignition,” where the self-heating of the plasma will continue the reaction, i.e., enough energy will be retained to keep it fusion-hot, without “input power,” but ITER was not engineered for power production, just for testing the plasma and other aspects of such a reactor. There are massive problems, as anyone who has followed hot fusion would know.

      Krivit has some more stories on this, I haven’t studied yet. However, his older writing was classic Krivit. He reinterprets what people say to him to make it favorable to his ideas.

      Could various press releases about this be misinterpeted? Definitely, by the ignorant. Should press officers attempt to avoid this? Of course they should! But is there some campaign of disinformation? I’ve seen no evidence of that at all. Just as nobody is making up heat/helium data in order to prove “fusion.” (In general, Krivit does not understand the issues, and he thinks that “fusion” means “d-d fusion,” instead of d-d fusion being an example. )

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