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ITER Project, France
Nuclear Fusion

Project ITER, An Experimental Nuclear Fusion Reactor In France

Project ITER, an experimental nuclear fusion reactor in France

The ITER (International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor) fusion experimental reactor is a large-scale scientific experiment aimed at testing the nuclear fusion source. Currently, the ITER nuclear fusion reactor is under construction in Cadarache, in Southern France.

At the industrial level, nuclear fusion does not yet exist. Since the 1950s, research has been conducted on the use of the energy generated in the nuclear fusion of light atoms into heavier ones.

The development of nuclear fusion is considered very important for the future of atomic energy for two fundamental reasons:

  • The large amount of energy released in this process

  • The ease of obtaining the hydrogen isotopes necessary for fusion: deuterium and tritium.

Seven partners are participating in the ITER nuclear fusion project. The ITER Members are India, China, The European Union, Japan, Russia, the United States, and South Korea. You can find out more information about that in the ITER site.

Within the international programs through the magnetic confinement system, the EU and the United Kingdom built the “Joint European Torus” (JET). The experiments carried out at JET made it possible to demonstrate the possibility of maintaining the fusion process in plasma.

Once the ITER project is completed, the world's largest Tokamak will have been built.

What is the purpose of the ITER project?

The ITER nuclear fusion reactor will not produce electrical power. The objective of the ITER reactor is to solve critical scientific and technical problems in order to be able to use nuclear fusion in industrial applications.

Project ITER, an experimental nuclear fusion reactor in FrancePhoto:  ITER Organization / EJF Riche

It is calculated that the fusion device will have a gain factor of 10. That means that for every 50 MW of input the reactor will produce 500 MW of output.

One of the goals is for ITER to reach the goal of being able to produce energy continuously for about five hundred seconds. During this time it could produce approximately 500 M W gross. At the moment it is only an experimental test facility.

There is the idea of ​​another future project for a test fusion fusion reactor already less experimental. This test reactor would be more similar to that which could be used in a nuclear power plant, with the provisional name DEMO .

The purpose of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) is to develop the technology for obtaining clean energy through nuclear power on a commercial scale. If this fusion research is successful, the energy generated through nuclear fusion would be considered renewable energy due to the abundance of hydrogen.

What is Tokamak nuclear reactor?

A Tokamak is an experimental machine designed to harness fusion energy. Within the Tokamak the energy manifests itself in the form of heat.

To obtain the heat, the ITER Tokamak device uses very powerful magnetic fields to confine and control the plasma.

The heart of the Tokamak is a donut-shaped vacuum vessel chamber. Inside the chamber, the hydrogen is subjected to enormous pressures and temperatures. Due to these conditions, the hydrogen fuel is converted into a plasma to allow the fusion reactions of its atoms.

ITER will be equipped with a cooling water system. This system will allow managing the heat generated during operation. The internal surfaces of the vacuum vessel must be cooled to approximately 240 °C only a few meters from the 150-million-degree plasma.

When will the ITER reactor go into operation?

The construction of the ITER nuclear fusion reactor started in 2010. In 2015, the first large components were moved.

The forecasts are:

  1. First assembly phase in 2018

  2. Start-up phase in 2024

  3. Obtain the first plasma in December 2025.

  4. Start of the nuclear fusion operation in 2035.

The International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER), the world's largest nuclear fusion project began its five-year assembly phase on Tuesday, 28th July 2020. That day, French President Emmanuel Macron took the floor to support the start of the assembly of the masterpieces of the ITER fusion reactor.

Why is ITER located in France?

Initially, the three sites that were competing for the project were: Europe (Southern France and Spain), Canada, and Japan:

  • The Canadian Government showed interest in hosting the project in Darlington near Toronto.

  • Japan submitted its candidacy at Rokkan Homura.

  • France offered its Cadarache nuclear center.

  • Spain proposed its location in Vandellós I.

At the end of 2003, the European Commission decided to present the French Cadarache, which was the final winner, as a European candidacy. Therefore, one of the UE contributions to ITER is its location.

Project ITER, an experimental nuclear fusion reactor in France

What is nuclear fusion?

The nuclear fusion is a reaction in which two atomic nuclei (eg deuterium) become heavier nucleus (in the example helium). These reactions can produce a large emission of energy, in the form of gamma rays and kinetic energy of the emitted particles. This energy emission is appreciable decrease in mass by the famous Einstein formula E = mc 2.

Nuclear fusion does not require a non-renewable fuel as scarce as uranium. On the other hand, it is much more difficult to start.

To date, the balance point between the energy needed to accelerate and confine the plasma and that obtained from the fusion of some particles has not been reached. However, there are no theoretical reasons for this, but only technical reasons, which the international ITER project tries to solve.

What is the difference between fusion and fission?

Unlike fission, which is based on breaking a very heavy atom (uranium or plutonium, for example) and making them appear lighter.

Fusion consists of joining light atoms and make them a heavier one. The resulting radioactive waste has an extremely short half-life compared to fission. These can be around a day. That is, in about a day, they cease to be radioactive, or greatly reduce their danger, although in the case of uranium it can take more than 300,000 years to stop being radioactive.

Since nuclear fision is not viable yet, all nuclear power plants around the world use fision technology to operate.

Advantages of nuclear fusion

Nuclear fusion has many benefits:

  • Primary fuels are cheap, plentiful, non radioactive, and easy to find.

  • It is an intrinsically safe system. The fusion reaction is not a chain reaction.

  • It is clean. Fusion does not produce greenhouse effect gasses.

  • The radioactivity is extremly low.

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Published: May 6, 2014
Last review: September 23, 2020