Assembly of world's largest nuclear fusion reactor begins in France

Yolanda Curtis
August 1, 2020

"ITER is a promise of peace". According to The Guardian, scientists assume that the new project could become a breakthrough in energy sector thanks to the environmental friendliness of nuclear synthesis.

Besides Macron, leaders from the European Union, China, India, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the United States declared the start of a new energy era with the official start of the assembly of the world's largest fusion device at ITER. The project dubbed Iter Project is a US$23.6 billion dollar project that is expected to replicate the reactions that power the sun and is meant to demonstrate fusion power can be generated on a commercial scale.

French President Emmanuel Macron said in a message broadcast to an event on Tuesday, July 28, to mark the official start of assembly that nuclear fusion "holds promise for the future".

However, the project has faced assorted delays as a result of financing issues, budgetary overrun and, most recently, set-backs due to COVID-19.

In late May, the 1,250-ton soup bowl-shaped cryostat base - the heaviest single piece - of the ITER was positioned in the so-called tokamak pit near Cadarache in southern France, marking the official start of the main equipment installation of the largest worldwide scientific research cooperation project in the world, a Chinese group participating in the project had told Xinhua.

The launch of ITER assembly phase is made possible by the arrival of components from all over the world in recent months.

These have been produced by ITER consortium member states, who contribute to the project mainly in kind, by manufacturing components in national factories and laboratories before shipping them to France for assembly.

Its "Tokamak" nuclear fusion reactor will comprise about a million components in all, some like its hugely powerful superconducting magnets standing as high as a four-floor building and weighing 360 tonnes each.

"Constructing the machine piece by piece will be like assembling a three-dimensional puzzle on an intricate timeline", said ITER's director general Bernard Bigot. This involves systems engineering, project management, machine assembly logistics, and risk management.

The ITER project is running five years behind schedule and has seen its initial budget triple to some 20 billion euros ($23.4 billon).

ITER could produce its first plasma at the end of 2025-beginning of 2026, and the reactor could reach full power in 2035. This will be an easy task as a pineapple-sized amount of fuel is comparable to 10,000 tonnes of coal. If operated continuously and connected to the electric grid, that would translate to about 200 megawatts of electric power, enough for about 200,000 homes.

A commercial fusion plant will be designed with a slightly larger plasma chamber, for 10-15 times more electrical power.

A further advantage: the fuel for fusion and lithium to help manage the reaction is found in seawater and is abundant enough to supply humanity for millions of years.

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