Energy

Assembly begins on ITER, the world's largest nuclear fusion reactor

Assembly begins on ITER, the w...
A look inside the pit of the ITER tokamak reactor
A look inside the pit of the ITER tokamak reactor
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A look inside the pit of the ITER tokamak reactor
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A look inside the pit of the ITER tokamak reactor
A schematic of the ITER tokamak reactor
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A schematic of the ITER tokamak reactor
Crowd attends the ceremony marking the beginning of the assembly phase at ITER
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Crowd attends the ceremony marking the beginning of the assembly phase at ITER
French president Emmanuel Macron addresses the crowd at ITER
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French president Emmanuel Macron addresses the crowd at ITER
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Lured by the prospect of nearly inexhaustible source of clean energy, scientists have been investigating nuclear fusion reactors for decades, but a new facility taking shape in southern France will provide them with their biggest proving ground yet. ITER is set to become the world’s largest fusion device when completed in 2025, and has just moved into a vital phase with the assembly of the millions components now underway.

ITER, or the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, has been in the works since 1985 and is one of the most ambitious energy projects humankind has ever undertaken. It is a collaborative endeavor involving thousands of scientists and engineers from 35 countries, all working to usher in a new era of renewable energy based on super-hot, high-speed reactions taking place inside the Sun.

These reactions see hydrogen nuclei smash into each under the forces of extreme heat and gravity, fusing together to form helium atoms and releasing monumental amounts of energy. Reactors like ITER are known as tokamaks, and seek to recreate these reactions inside donut-shaped chambers, where massive magnetic coils guide and compress streams of ultra-hot plasma to cause the hydrogen atoms to fuse.

A schematic of the ITER tokamak reactor
A schematic of the ITER tokamak reactor

A number of experimental tokamaks are already in operation around the world, but all will be dwarfed by the seven-story ITER. Construction on the building to house the reactor was completed last November after nine years of labor, setting the scene for tokamak experiments that will host streams of plasma 10 times thicker than those in action today.

Rather than actually produce electricity for consumers and industrial applications, ITER is designed to demonstrate that fusion devices can generate energy on that kind of scale. In doing so, it is hoped that it can lay the foundation for future machines that actually capture that energy to produce electricity, while also demonstrating the safety of such a large nuclear fusion device.

There is a ways to go before that happens, however. The machine assembly phase was kicked off at the ITER site in Saint-Paul-lès-Durance today, with French president Emmanuel Macron and leaders from seven ITER member countries attending with the help of video conferencing.

French president Emmanuel Macron addresses the crowd at ITER
French president Emmanuel Macron addresses the crowd at ITER

“There are moments when the nations of the world choose to overcome their differences to meet a particular moment in history,” said Macron. “The decision to launch ITER in the mid-2000s was one of those moments. ITER is a promise of peace. When the US, Russia, China, Japan, Europe, India and Korea contribute their best scientists and expertise for the common good, it is proof that what brings together people and nations is stronger than what pulls them apart.”

This assembly phase is expected to take five years, and will require the successful integration of millions of parts built all around the world. This process has been carefully orchestrated, but at its busiest will require around 2,000 workers to piece together the different components. All going to plan, ITER is expected to achieve its first plasma in 2025.

A video of the ceremony can be seen below.

ITER Live : Start of Machine Assembly

Source: ITER

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6 comments
Jose Gros
After decades, and huge money spent, the ITER has a look. Probably, a good approach is magnets kept under cryogenic conditions, an early report about legend of nazi sauces said it had 'Electromagnetic turbines burning Helium'. He is an inert gas, never burns, so it can act only as cooling or cryogenic, superconductivity conditions keeper. What about testing materiales under a heavy flow of Neutrons? Around 2015, ITER had no plans for this. A worldwide dimension hoax? Blessings +
michael_dowling
This thing is a major waste of taxpayer money. Even if sustained fusion can be demonstrated,tokamak type reactors will never be an economical source of power. For one,the reaction will generate fast neutrons,which will make the reactor vessel intensely radioactive,and necessitate reconstruction every few years,hardly conducive to generating electricity in an economical way. Read this article if you doubt what I am saying: https://thebulletin.org/2017/04/fusion-reactors-not-what-theyre-cracked-up-to-be/
guzmanchinky
I'll bet this is incredibly challenging when it seems new ways to solve fusions problems are discovered every month or two. It's like building a ship while scientists are screaming "wait! we've figured out how to use seawater as fuel!" or "wait! a new missile makes this obsolete!" every other week...
FB36
IMHO, humanity definitely/absolutely needs fusion power, because it could really take humanity to a whole new level (which cannot ever be done using solar & wind power etc)!

For example, titanium is an extremely durable & strong & light material & Earth has plenty of it, but AFAIK, it requires so much electricity to mine/process!
Imagine, if we had so much (clean) electricity, we could build all kinds of land/air/sea vehicles, buildings, roads, even whole cities from titanium!

Imagine, we could build a global permanent water pipeline network (& do seawater desalinization) & provide plenty water to everywhere on Earth (for agriculture & forests etc)!

Imagine, very tall poles w/ very powerful infrared heater lamps (etc) on top!
Imagine, using many of them in cities/towns to turn winters to springs/summers!
And/or, using many of them in agricultural fields to grow any hot climate (even tropical) crops/trees, even in coldest places on Earth!

& no doubt, there would be many new hi-power techs, once humanity has enough electricity power for them (just like we use computers & internet today, in far more different ways than their inventors could ever imagine)!
Kpar
Michael Dowling is right on the money. Fusion power to run a steam engine will cause ablation of the stainless steel cooling jackets, requiring replacement every few years- and that steel will be as radioactive (almost) as the spent fuel rods now accumulating from the fission reactors- in amounts of megatons of highly radioactive waste.

Another approach is required. Fusion power is forty years away, just like it's always been...
Douglas Bennett Rogers
When I took controlled fusion in 1972, the material of choice for the first wall was niobium, because it had minimal swelling and neutron activation. ITER will only run a half hour a day so money can be saved with steel. An operating reactor with a Q of greater than one will provide a large development incentive, the way the Wright Flyer spurred rapid development of aviation. This is already in play, as the size of ITER could be reduced by a factor of 3 with the use of existing high temperature superconducting tapes. There is a plan in place to build DEMO, which is several copies of the final result of ITER, with output to the grid.