The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor, the largest “artificial sun” in the world built by the 7 major economies, has made progress recently by having entered the 5-year assembly phase, and is expected to commence the first plasma test in 2025 by proving the potential in power provision from the nuclear fusion technology with actions.
Situated in Southern France, the ITER is funded by 35 countries, including EU, China, India, Japan, Russia, South Korea, and the US, where the EU serves as the organizer for the ITER facility and has invested roughly 45.6% of the total cost, and the remaining 6 countries each contributed 9.1%. The research primarily focuses on the study of the technology and engineering of the Tokamak nuclear fusion technology, and evaluates the relevant feasibility from experimental study on plasma physics to the nuclear fusion power plant with large-scale power production, while also proving that the reactor does not derive negative impact.
The nuclear power plant commonly seen nowadays is of the nuclear fission technology, and adopts uranium-235 or plutonium as the fuel. Despite the result of stable and enormous power, the harmful radioactive waste, storage of nuclear waste, and safety, are all factors behind nuclear fission plants’ unpopularity. The nuclear fusion technology places deuterium and tritium atoms under high temperature and pressure, and the polymerization triggered will then derive neutrons, helium, and substantial amount of energy, which can be used by manufacturers for power generation.
Deuterium is an isotope of hydrogen, and can be obtained from seawater, where tritium can also be gathered from the collision between neutrons and lithium. Nuclear fusion is easy in fuel obtainment, creates less radioactive contamination, and is not prone to the issue of carbon emission. A successful construction in controlled equipment that is able to achieve a continuous and stable energy output, as well as integrate the nuclear fusion technology into power plants, will lead to a substantial availability of power.
However, nuclear fusion development is no easy task. The ITER is the largest Tokamak equipment in the world that measures roughly 30m in both height and diameter, 23,000 tons in gross weight, and includes approximately 1 million independent components and 1,200 units of packaging engineering, with an installed capacity of around 500 MW (required input of 50 MW). The overall plan commenced in 2006, and began piling in 2010, where the initial plan regarding the first production of extreme thermal plasma in 2020 and business operation by 2023 has been deferred multiple times due to incessant budget exceedance, and the initially anticipated EU€10 billion has been increased to EU€20 billion. The first plasma test is expected to commence in December 2025, with the deuterium-tritium fusion experiment starting in 2035.
Now that the ITER has officially entered the assembly phase on July 28th, Emmanuel Macron, President of France, commented that the greatest progression in this world is often derived from bold stakes and bumpy paths. Ian Chapman, CEO of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority (UKAEA), commented that the research team hopes to conclude the plasma test within 5 years. Despite lasting merely several milliseconds, and that a further installation of other components and parts is required, it proves that the magnet is able to function normally, which indicates an adequate milestone in the commercial scale of nuclear fusion.
(Cover photo source: ITER)