Millions of components will be used to assemble the giant reactor, which will weigh 23,000 tonnes and the project is the most complex engineering endeavor in history. Nearly 3,000 tonnes of superconducting magnets, some heavier than a jumbo jet, will be connected by 200 km of superconducting cables, all maintained at -269 ° C by the world’s largest cryogenic plant.
French President Emmanuel Macron kicked off the assembly phase, alongside senior officials from ITER members, the EU, UK, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States. Shinzo Abe, Japanese Prime Minister, said: “I believe disruptive innovation will play a key role in solving global problems, including climate change, and achieving a sustainable carbon-free society.”
“Allowing the exclusive use of clean energy will be a miracle for our planet,” said Bernard Bigot, CEO of ITER. He said the merger, alongside renewables, would allow transportation, buildings and industry to run on electricity.
But Bigot said: “Building the machine piece by piece will be like putting together a three-dimensional puzzle on a complex timeline. [and] with the precision of a Swiss watch. The Iter project was conceived in 1985 but suffered delays.
Nuclear fusion releases large amounts of energy when heavy hydrogen atoms fuse together, but this requires a temperature of 150 m C, 10 times hotter than the core of the sun. Hydrogen is obtained from seawater and it only takes a few grams, but huge magnets are needed to hold the plasma in a donut-shaped vacuum chamber known as a tokamak.
Like conventional nuclear fission reactors, the process itself does not produce climate-warming carbon dioxide, but fusion reactors cannot melt and produce much less radioactive waste.
The Iter project will be the first to achieve a “hot” or self-heating plasma and is expected to generate 10 times more heat than what is introduced, far more than any previous attempt. It will also use a significant amount of electrical energy when in operation, to power magnets and scientific instruments, but it is intended to be a full-scale fusion proof of concept, not a design for a future commercial reactor. .
Among the components being assembled is the 30-meter-diameter cryostat, made by India, which surrounds the reactor and maintains it at the extremely low temperature required. One of the electromagnets, called the center solenoid and built by the United States, will have the magnetic power to lift an aircraft carrier.
Many private sector companies are pursuing nuclear fusion via much smaller devices, including UK-based Tokamak Energy which has raised £ 117million in investment. Its executive vice president, David Kingham, said: “We welcome Iter’s progress which we see as a great science project and a major endorsement of the tokamak devices.”
“But we are convinced that faster progress is possible, driven by the need for more carbon-free energy and made possible by private investments, modular designs, new materials and advanced technologies,” he said. declared. ITER engineers say their giant project is the size that proven technologies can provide.
Other nuclear fusion companies include Tri Alpha Energy, which harnesses particle accelerator technology and works with Google, General Fusion, which uses a vortex of molten lead and lithium to contain the plasma and is backed by Jeff Bezos from Amazon and First Light Fusion.