The success of this ITER project will lead us to huge amount of clean energy

iter project
tokamak, image source: newyorktimes

Scientists are doing their research to find the alternatives of energy, which is now derived from the fossil fuels. Due to continuous depletion of these resources, we have polluted our environment. Now, we are facing its consequences like drought, tsunami, melting of glaciers, cloud burst, increasing of sea level, heating of the earth surface, etc. scientists are experimenting to produce the clean energy at large scale. So that it can be used to power our houses without harming the environment at all. ITER project could be an answer for all these.

At Saint-Paul-Lez-Durance, France, a large, costly, complex stricture of physics experiment is taking shape. It is very huge and costly as well. But if it succeeds, it could produce enormous amount of clean energy and make invaluable contribution to reducing planet- warming emissions.

International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER project), is built to test the nuclear fusion, a atomic reaction that takes place in the sun and in hydrogen bombs, can be controlled to generate power.

iter project
images source:newyorktimes

It was first discussed in 1985 at a United States- Soviet Union Summit. In this ITER project European Union has 45 percent stake and the United States, China, Russia, and three other partners 9 percent each, has been united to take a crucial step towards the future of limitless electric power using clean energy.

This huge ITER project will produce heat, not electricity. But if it works- it can produce 10 times more clean energy than it consumes which smaller fusion reactors not able to do.

iter project
images source:newyorktimes
iter project
images source:newyorktimes

This ITER project is progressed and is fits and starts for years, plagued by design and management problems that have led to long delay and increase in cost.

The fusion reactions will take place in a doughnut shaped chamber called Tokamak. A concrete structure will support Tokamak. The components of Tokamak including giant super conducting electromagnets and a structure that at approximately 100 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall will be the largest stainless steel vacuum vessel ever made, are being fabricated in the participating countries.

iter project
Pillars at the ITER, images source:newyorktimes

The major technical problem in ITER project is to fit the parts, coming from different countries, with the precision of a fine watch and it’s a challenge. “Scientists need to be very sensitive about quality and precision. Because if something went wrong with precision and quality, Even if the project proceeds smoothly, the goal of “first plasma”, using pure hydrogen that does not undergo fusion, would not be reached for another eight years. A so-called burning plasma, which contains a fraction of an ounce of fusible fuel in the form of two hydrogen isotopes, deuterium and tritium, and can be sustained for perhaps six or seven minutes and release large amounts of  clean energy, would not be achieved until 2035 at the earliest”, said Dr. Bigot.

Fusion is very hard as well as very expensive. ITER project estimates the cost of the design and construction at about $22 billion.

In ITER project, Deuterium and Tritium nuclei will fuse and form helium, losing small amount of mass that is converted into huge amount of clean energy in the form of heat. Most of heat will be carried away by neutrons, which will escape the plasma and strike the walls of the Tokamak, producing heat.

In this fusion power plant that clean energy (heat) is used to make steam, to turn turbine to generate electricity. Other power plants do the same but, they use fossil fuels like coal, to produce heat energy which release harmful gases that increase our earth’s surface temperature.

There is no risk of a runaway reaction and meltdown as with nuclear fission and, while radioactive waste is produced, it is not nearly as long-lived as the spent fuel rods and irradiated components of a fission reactor.

To fuse, atomic nuclei must move very fast — they must be extremely hot — to overcome natural repulsive forces and collide. In the sun, the extreme gravitational field does much of the work. Nuclei need to be at a temperature of about 15 million degrees Celsius.

In a tokamak, without such a strong gravitational pull, the atoms need to be about 10 times hotter. So, enormous amounts of energy are required to heat the plasma, using pulsating magnetic fields and other sources like microwaves. Just a few feet away, on the other hand, the windings of the superconducting electromagnets need to be cooled to a few degrees above absolute zero. Needless to say, the material and technical challenges are extreme.

Although all fusion reactors to date have produced less energy than they use, physicists are expecting that ITER project will benefit from its larger size, and will produce about 10 times more power than it consumes. But they will face many challenges, chief among them developing the ability to prevent instabilities in the edges of the plasma that can damage the experiment.



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