The world’s first nuclear fusion plant is now halfway to ‘First Plasma’

Earlier this month, the director-general of the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor (ITER) announced that construction of the project had reached the halfway point. It’s an important milestone for the multi-billion-dollar facility being constructed in southern France. The goal is to begin generating plasma, an essential component of nuclear fusion reactors, by 2025.

ITER (Latin for “Way”) is a partnership of 35 countries, all hoping to share in the scientific rewards. “This gives us confidence as we face the remaining 50 percent,” Dr. Bernard Bigot of ITER told the journal Live Science.

When completed, the plasma circulating in the core of the reactor will be 270 million degrees Fahrenheit, or about ten times hotter than the sun. The massive superconducting magnets surrounding the core will be cooled to minus 452 degrees, as cold as the depths of space. “So many of the technologies involved are really at the cutting edge,” Bigot said.

Unlike traditional nuclear reactors, which generate power by splitting larger atoms into smaller ones, the ITER fusion reactor will combine hydrogen isotopes (deuterium and tritium). At extremely high temperatures, hydrogen gas can become plasma — sometimes called the fourth state of matter — where the electrons are separated from their nuclei.

iter nuclear fusion reactor halfway complete tokamak wikipedia
Wikipedia
Wikipedia

Most experimental fusion reactors use a tokamak, which is a superheated donut-shaped device surrounded by superconducting magnets that control the plasma inside. It’s basically a steam engine — the heat generated by the reaction is absorbed by the walls of the reactor and used to produce steam for electricity generation.

It takes a lot of power to create fusion, and the challenge is to make the reaction self-sustaining so it produces more power than is put into it. There are other fusion reactors in operation, but ITER is the largest, with ten times more plasma capacity than any other reactor. Still, it’s just a prototype. If successful, commercial fusion reactors would produce 10 to 15 times more power.

Wendelstein 7-X, a fusion reactor in Germany, recently went online for the first time, and may be able to generate self-sustaining plasma. However, Jonathan Menard of the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab told Business Insider that it’s unlikely to generate enough surplus energy to create electricity.

Another experimental concept envisions fusion reactions powered by lasers, but most scientists think the ITER project is the most promising. “So far, the laser based systems are pretty inefficient and we think the [plasma] fusion systems are closer to having net energy,” Menard said.

ITER is on schedule for “first plasma” in 2025, and by the 2030s they hope to generate ten times more power than goes into it, laying the groundwork for a clean energy revolution. “With ITER and fusion energy, we have a chance to leave a powerful and positive legacy for future generations,” Bigot said.

Product Review

This Porsche has a turbo, a hybrid system, and enough room for your whole family

The 2020 Porsche Cayenne Turbo S E-Hybrid is the most powerful Porsche Cayenne SUV model you can buy. It’s also a plug-in hybrid. Who said electrification was only about saving fuel?
Cars

France’s first-ever solar panel road appears to have some serious issues

France launched its first-ever solar road to much fanfare in 2016, partly in an effort to discover if the technology provided a viable route to greener highways. Recent reports, however, suggest it has some serious issues.
Mobile

The Sony Xperia 1 with Alexa is available for $100 off until August 26

Sony took the wraps off of three new phones at Mobile World Congress 2019, including the new Xperia 1, which is the company's new flagship phone and the first with a 4K OLED display with a 21:9 aspect ratio.
News

British Airways will test virtual reality headsets for first-class passengers

First-class passengers on British Airways will soon get another perk when the airline begins testing a new VR headset. For the rest of the year, customers on select flights can watch in-flight entertainment in virtual reality.
Emerging Tech

Astro the dog-inspired quadruped robot can sit, lie down, and… learn?

Move over Spot! Researchers from Florida Atlantic University have built a new dog robot called Astro. Thanks to deep learning technology, it promises to be able to learn just like a real dog.
Health & Fitness

We spit in a ton of test tubes to find the best and most unique DNA tests

DNA tests aren’t just limited to ancestry. You can test for your risks for certain diseases, the best workouts and diets for your health and fitness, and more.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Racing drones and robotic ping pong trainers

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!
Emerging Tech

Artificial tree promises to suck up as much air pollution as a small forest

Startup Biomitech has developed an artificial tree that it claims is capable of sucking up as much air pollution as 368 real trees. It could be a game-changer for cities with limited free space.
Emerging Tech

Mars 2020 rover now has a rotating array of drill bits for sampling Martian rock

Most the key components in the Mars 2020 rover are installed and ready to go. The next phase of construction was to install the bit carousel, an important mechanism for the gathering and sorting of samples from the Martian surface.
Emerging Tech

NASA selects landing site candidates for OSIRIS-Rex to sample asteroid Bennu

Last year, the OSIRIS-REx craft arrived at asteroid Bennu, from which it will collect a sample from the asteroid to be brought back to Earth. Now, the NASA team has selected four potential sites to choose from for the sampling mission.
Emerging Tech

NASA wants to send two more missions to Mars to collect rock samples

With its Mars 2020 mission, NASA hopes to collect samples from the surface of the planet. The challenge is how to get those samples back to Earth. Now, NASA has revealed its plans for two followup missions to Mars.
Emerging Tech

Eric Geusz: Apple engineer by day, spaceship designer by night

An Apple software engineer by day, artist Eric Geusz spends his nights drawing everyday household objects as amazing, science fiction-style spaceships. Check out the impressive results.
Emerging Tech

The black hole at the center of our galaxy is flaring and no one knows why

At the heart of our galaxy lies a supermassive black hole, Sagittarius A*. Normally this giant monster is relatively docile, but recently it's been a hotbed of unexpected activity, rapidly glowing 75 times brighter than normal.
Emerging Tech

SpaceIL’s crashed lander may have sent thousands of tardigrades to the moon

When the SpaceIL craft Beresheet crashed into the moon earlier this year, it left more than just an impact mark. Thousands of micro-animals called tardigrades were along for the ride and may have survived the crash.