A fusion future

Michel Claessens explains the possibilities of fusion power

Michel Claessens, Iter organisation.
Michel Claessens, Iter organisation.

In a global context of decreased accessibility to low-cost fossil fuel sources and an estimated three-fold increase in world energy demand by 2100, the energy issue is one of the major issues for this century. How will we supply this additional energy, and how can we do so without upsetting the fragile environmental balance of our planet?

Fusion energy may be part of the answer. The energy source that powers the Sun and the stars could provide a safe, non-carbon emitting and virtually limitless source of energy. In ITER, 1 gram of hydrogen will be heated up to 150 million degrees to allow fusion between nuclei.

This should release a power of about 500 MW, i.e. ten times the power that will be injected in the machine. Achieving such a “gain factor” of 10 would mean that fusion could become a genuine source of energy on Earth.

China, the European Union, India, Japan, Korea, Russia and the United States have joined together to launch one of the largest and most ambitious international science projects ever conducted: ITER, the Latin word for “the way”, which will bring fusion to the threshold of industrial exploitation.

On 28 June 2005, the seven ITER Members unanimously agreed to build ITER in Cadarache, in southern France. Since that date, the ITER Organisation has been established and 500 collaborators recruited; Domestic Agencies have been created in each ITER Member, and construction work launched (2010). The ITER fusion machine is a “tokamak”-type reactor (Russian acronym for “toroidal chamber and magnetic coils”).

Component manufacturing is progressing in factories throughout the world. Beginning in 2014, components for the ITER Tokamak—some of them exceptionally large and heavy—will be arriving in France from the 7 Members.

During the peak years of 2014-2017, on-site assembly and construction operations will require a work force of close to 4,000. ITER will become an operational laboratory in November 2020 with its First Plasma.

ITER is one of the most complex scientific and engineering projects in the world today. For the ITER Members, this translates to challenging R&D and industrial projects that are placing their laboratories and industries at the forefront of technological progress.

The complexity of the ITER design has already pushed a whole range of leading-edge technologies to new limits. Innovative solutions are being developed to address specific ITER challenges. ITER requires an extremely wide range of industrial systems: vacuum, remote-handling, optics, cryogenics, materials, high heat flux components etc.

ITER is a unique international project. The project relies on the close working relationship of a large number of participating nations, representing over 50 percent of the world’s population and 80 percent of the planet’s gross industrial product.

In the interest of advancing toward viable fusion energy, these nations are pooling scientific and technological knowhow and resources. Every day, men and women from 34 different nations are “inventing” new ways of working together, both here in Cadarache, and at the Domestic Agencies.

ITER is also an education project as the 34 participant countries have decided to learn together and share the new technology. If ITER succeeds, it will open the doors not only to a new source of energy on Earth but also to peace worldwide as the very large inventory of hydrogen (the fusion fuel) on Earth is expected to diminish geopolitical tensions.


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