ITER - the solution of World's enegry problem

ITER is on building. Image source: ITER Collaboration.

In Cadarache, near Aix en Provence in Southern France, one of the biggest scientific collaborations on the planet is underway.

Known as ITER, meaning “the way” in Latin, the international nuclear fusion project is aimed at creating a new kind of reactor capable of producing unlimited supplies of cheap, clean, safe and sustainable electricity from atomic fusion. It will weigh 23,000 tonnes - three times the equivalent of the Eiffel Tower and cover a space the size of 60 football field. When the main building containing the reactor is complete, it will rise 60 metres into the air and reach 10 metres below the ground. Currently estimated at 16 billion euros, it has trebled since the initial estimations back in 2006. Its design is centred on heating a cloud of hydrogen gas to 10 times hotter than the core of the sun, some 150m degrees celsius, inside a ring-shaped container called a tokamak, which has superconducting magnets fixed around it like hoops fitted on a circular curtain rail. These magnets create an overlapping set of fields that keep the electrically charged gas inside from touching the sides of the tokamak and therefore losing energy. It can produce 500 megawatts of power, 10 times its predicted input.

“The biggest advantage is the fuel used, which is hydrogen,” says Mr. Bigot. “There is a lot of hydrogen in nature. You find it in the sea and in lakes. So we have an endless source of fuel for millions of years to come. Another advantage is the way we will handle the waste: radioactive waste is produced, but its lifespan is very short: just a few hundred years, compared to millions of years in the case of fission.” Also, according to Bernard Bigot, in the event of a problem, nuclear fusion can be easily interrupted, which is not the case for nuclear fission, where radioactive energy continues to be produced even after the process has been halted.

Iter’s first supplies of commercially produced energy could start in 2050. Creating a replica of the Sun’s on Earth – an ambitious dream perhaps, but one these scientists firmly believe in.
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